Q. Why does the Torah call us a “kingdom of kohanim”?
A. The source of the phrase is Ex. 19:6 and it is not just a slogan. It breaks down the barrier between the kohanim and people.
In some cultures the priesthood was an exalted caste with special privileges and responsibilities. In Judaism the ordinary person was a priest in that sense. Certain roles needed an actual priest, a descendant of Aaron, but in terms of learning and living by the Torah every Jew was equal.
Christian Europe often locked up the Bibles and only allowed access to them by the priests. Judaism did the opposite. It regarded the Torah as “the inheritance of the (whole) community of Jacob” (Deut. 33:4). It taught that whoever withholds knowledge of the Torah from a person is as though he robbed him (Sanh. 91b).
It honoured scholars but would not let them insult the ordinary person; when Rabbi Yannai found that a guest could not say the Grace After Meals, he said, “A dog has eaten at Yannai’s table!” and the guest retorted, “The Torah belongs to the whole congregation, not just to Yannai!”
It built up a spiritual democracy whereby every individual could get to God and did not need a priest to convey his prayers or to bring him forgiveness.