Summary of my shiur given in February 2014
Before revelation (Shemot 19:3-6), God defines the nature of our special relationship with him in that we will be an:
Am Segula (treasured people)
Goy Kadosh (a holy nation)
Mamlechet Kohanim (Kingdom of priests).
On the last of these three definitions, Rabbi Yitzchak Etshalom points out three questions:
1. What does Kohen mean here (as applied to the entire nation)
2. Was this promise ever realised?
3. Why does the term ‘Mamlechet Kohanim’ never appear again in Tanakh, despite the other two terms featuring many times during the prophets chastising/encouraging the people?
To answer questions one/two, obviously there are three opinions:
Rashi – Kohen=Princely/Nobility. This was fulfilled as the Jewish people were described as the children of God – the King of kings.
Nachmanides – Kohen=Servants. Again this was fulfilled post Sinai through our acceptance of the law.
Seforno – Kohen=future teachers of the nations of the world in Messianic times. Not yet fulfilled then…
According to all three interpretations, we are still left with question three above – why is this concept never mentioned again in the rest of Tanakh.
Did God change his mind?
According Rabbi Yitzchak Etshalom, the answer is that ultimately the task of every single Jew as a descendent of Avraham, was to be a blessing to all people, bringing Godliness into a Godless world. Originally, this was to be achieved via every single person becoming a prophet – each person being a conduit and connection to God directly. How would this be possible? This would have been achieved via mass revelation at Sinai, had it not been that the Jewish people rejected revelation ‘lest we die’ and relied on Moshe instead.
It was as a result of this, with God’s acquiescence, that the Jewish people were relegated to being an am segula/goy kadosh, but the mamlechet kohanim status was reserved for the future, as Isaiah says
“Kohanei Hashem Tikareiu – Kohanim of Hashem you will be called”.