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While it only takes a good set of priestly genes to be a Kohain, qualifications for the position of Kohain Gadol (High Priest) are a little more complicated. The first Kohain Gadol, Aharon, was appointed by his brother, Moshe Rabaynu as per Hashem's command. Ever since then, it has been the job of the Sanhedrin (Jewish Supreme Court) to pick from the pool of available Kohanim and choose the best qualified one, once the former Kohain Gadol has died or left his position.

Basically, there are five qualities to look for in a candidate for the position of Kohain Gadol:

  • Wisdom,
  • Beauty,
  • Strength,
  • Wealth, and
  • Years.

Wisdom.

Not just good old common sense. We're talking Torah. The Kohain Gadol must be versed through and through with Torah wisdom. There's a good reason for that too. When the Kohain Gadol performs the Avodah (service) in the Bait Hamikdash, he represents all of Klal Yisroel (the nation of Israel). He needs to have a perfect understanding of every ritual and what it means in order to fulfill his task.

Beauty.

The candidate for the "Great Kahuna" also has to be very handsome. I know what you're thinking, but how would you like it, if you had to show up to an important appointment and someone handed you a dusty old pair of jeans and a ripped tye-dye tee-shirt. Even if you bathed and brushed your hair, you'd still be embarassed. The point is, we need to be proud of our leaders and when it comes to the Kohain Gadol, he needs to be cheered on by very enthusiastic crowds on Yom Kippur if we expect him to represent us with full kavanah (concentration). The Torah understands this and therefore urges us to "put our best face forward."

Strength.

The Kohain Gadol has to be strong. Not that Superman is in the running, but it does take strength to perform some of the more tiring tasks of a Kohain Gadol. For example, the Kohain Gadol has the distinct responsibility to welcome Leviyim into the fold with a shake - not just a hand shake, but an up-down-back-and-forth-in-the-air full body shake. Aharon, the first Kohain Gadol was first to perform "the kahuna shake." He lifted and shook 22,000 Leviyim in a single day (maybe he was Superman after all...)!

Wealth.

The Kohain Gadol must be richer than all the other Kohanim. That rule applies to Jewish kings and Jewish leaders too. That way there's no chance that he will be bribed.

And, finally,

Years.

The Kohain Gadol must be mature. No youngsters need apply. That's because with age comes life experience and wisdom.

Now, one thing you need to know about these qualifications are, that they're more like guidelines. Actually, the only real solid criteria for the "Great Kahuna" is Torah wisdom. All the other qualifications can be modified or reached with a little creative accounting. For example, qualification number four, where the Kohain Gadol's got to be richer than all the other Kohanim...

Once there was a Kohain known as Pinchas the stone-cutter. He was nominated by the Sanhedrin to be the next Kohain Gadol. When the Kohanim went out to see him, they found him in a quarry cutting stones. Immediately, they showered him with barrels of coins until the entire quary was filled. In this way, they qualified him to become Kohain Gadol.

But then there are the weak and ugly Kohanim. How could they ever qualify - you ask. The answer is in the oil. It is the job of the Sanhedrin to annoint the Kohain Gadol with oil. This oil has the power to make the ugly handsome and the weak strong. Did you know that after the future King David was annointed, he grew tall and muscular enough to fit into King Saul's armor?

As for age, the fact is that the Sanhedrin always gave first consideration to the former Kohain Gadol's son. That way there was a continuity in the line of the "Great Kahuna." Worried about the youth factor? The annointing oil could also add a little grey to the Kohain Gadol's beard, if that's what it took to be the "Kohain HaGadol MayEchov" - The Kohain who is greater than his brothers.


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