They had much more to do than merely conduct the rituals and services in the sanctuary. They had skills and responsibilities far beyond the walls of tabernacle and temple.
Their task included, as this week’s portion explains, assessing medical evidence: “The kohen shall examine the plague” (Lev. 13:3). It was a real duty carried out by real people in the real circumstances of the time.
It also had metaphorical implications. If something was wrong in the state of society, the kohen had to be able to recognise the problem – and to take action to find a solution.
Why the kohen? Didn’t he have enough to do in the sanctuary that he needed this extra burden?
Apparently not. A kohen, like any form of spiritual leader, had to be aware of his surroundings. If something was out of order it was not just an economic or political or some other adjectival issue. Everything was spiritual.
The quality of society was a partnership between man and his Creator. Between them stood the kohen.
He was not an ethereal being, Divinity incarnate. He was a human being like any other, but he had a God-given status that enabled him to convey earthly problems to God and transmit God’s messages to the earth.
Was the task too hard? Hard it certainly was, but God equipped the kohanim to handle it.