The Torah portion of Ki Tissa contains two of the longest aliyahs in the Torah. The first aliyah contains 45 pesukim (verses) and the second 47.
The reason for the unusual length is that a Levi is supposed to receive the aliyah that includes the story of the sin of the golden calf since they were the only tribe that did not participate in the sin.
So we extend the aliyah of the Kohen until just before that story, and then the story of the golden calf is read for the aliyah of the Levi. Some say that a Kohen may also get this aliyah (which is not so practical as that would make the first aliyah 92 pesukim long) as they are also part of the tribe of Levi.
Others say that the story should specifically be in the aliyah of the Levi since Aharon (who would become a Kohen) was involved in that sin.
All agree that if there is no Levi, a Kohen should receive the aliyah.
It is noteworthy that, despite Aharon’s involvement in the sin of the golden calf, G-d chose him to be the Kohen Gadol (High Priest) in the Mishkan and the patriarch of all future Kohanim. The commentaries explain that, although Aharon helped build the calf, he was in no way guilty of idol worship.
- Aharon felt that his life was in danger since the people had murdered his nephew Chur for protesting against their idolatrous plan. (Although one must give up one’s life rather than worship idols, this was not ordinary idol worship, see below. In addition, although Aharon made the calf, he never intended to worship it.)
- The Ramban explains that the Jewish people never intended to worship the calf as a god but it was rather simply to replace Moshe and guide them through the desert. As they said, “Come on! Make us gods that will go before us because this man Moses, who brought us up from the land of Egypt, we don’t know what has become of him” i.e., the calf was to fill the role of Moshe. Thus, as soon as Moshe came down from the mountain and discovered their sin, they submitted to his will and allowed him to destroy and crush the calf. Had they been worshipping it as an actual god, they would not have allowed him to destroy it without protest. Also, when Moshe asked Aharon to explain his actions, Aharon replied, “They said to me, ‘Make us gods who will go before us, because this man Moshe, who brought us up from the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.'” This explanation minimized his guilt as he was explaining that the calf was not actual idol worship but was merely to provide guidance in the absence of Moshe.
- According to the Sefer HaKuzari, the reason Aharon agreed to make the golden calf was so that those Jewish people who had pagan beliefs would worship it and could then be killed and weeded out from the Jewish people. In this sense, he was acting in a similar way to Yehu, King of Israel who called for a great sacrifice for the Baal in order to identify all the priests of the Baal and then kill them. Despite these good intentions, Aharon was faulted by G-d as he brought out the people’s potential for sin to actuality.
The rest of this article will focus on the Kohanim Gedolim (High Priests) of the era leading up to the first Bait HaMikdash (Holy Temple).
The Descendants of Eily
As explained in last week’s Parsha Halacha, G-d was angered by the sins of the sons of Eily, the Kohen Gadol, and sent the prophet Elkanah to inform him that the Kehuna would be stripped from his family and given to the descendants of Elazar. In the words of the prophet, “And I shall raise up for Myself a faithful priest, who will do as is in My heart and in My mind, and I shall build for him a sure house, and he shall walk before My anointed all of the days.”
This transition did not occur immediately, rather it took place gradually over the course of several generations.
The two sons of Eily, Chofni and Pinchas, were killed by the Phillistines in battle and the Ark of the Covenant was captured as had also been foretold by the prophet.
When Eily heard the news, he fell down backwards, broke his neck and passed away. This took place on the tenth of Iyyar.
Subsequently, the Phillistines destroyed the Mishkan in Shiloh. The Mishkan was rebuilt in the city of Nov.
In the City of Nov
The grandson of Pinchas, son of Eily, was the Kohen Gadol during the reign of King Saul. He was Achiyah, son of Achituv, son of Pinchas, son of Eily HaKohen.
According to Josephus, his father Achituv was the Kohen Gadol before him.
A year or so later, when (the future King) David was running away from King Saul, he was aided by Achimelech, the Kohen Gadol in the city of Nov.
He was given food
and the sword of Goliath whom David had killed some time earlier. Some say that this Achimelech was one and the same as Achiyah (mentioned above)
while others say it was his brother.
When King Saul found out that the Kohanim had aided David, he considered them to have rebelled against him, and he had them all killed. He did this despite the insistence of Achimelech that they had assumed that King Saul was on friendly terms with David, who was Saul’s son-in-law and general. The verse records that 85 Kohanim wearing linen robes were killed on that day.
Wearing a linen robe (ephod) was a sign that they were fit to be Kohanim Gedolim
or that they were students of the prophets who were worthy to receive Divine revelation.
In total, 305 Kohanim were killed on that day.
In addition, Saul sent people to annihilate the wives and children of the Kohanim that were in the city of Nov.
Only one person managed to escape – Evyatar, the son of Achimelech, who later became the Kohen Gadol in the time of King David.
This was a fulfillment of the curse of the prophet who had prophesied to Eily, “Behold days are coming when I shall cut off your arm and the arm of your father’s house.”
After escaping the massacre of his family, Evyater was given refuge with David who promised to protect him.
Evyatar stayed with David and his camp while they evaded King Saul. During this time, when David needed Divine instruction, Evyater would ask questions on his behalf, using the Urim VeTumim which he had rescued from Nov.
Later, he served as the Kohen Gadol in the Mishkan which was rebuilt in Givon.
Years later, when his son Avshalom rebelled against him, King David asked Evyatar to inquire as to who would emerge victorious in the upcoming civil war. Evyatar did not receive an answer through the Urim Vetumim and was unable to advise King David. So King David asked the same question of Tzadok, the Kohen, (see below) who received the answer that King David would be the victor. This is alluded to in the verse, “Tzadok also [came], and all the Levites with him, bearing the Ark of the Covenant of G-d: and they set down the Ark of G-d, and Evyatar went up.”
This is interpreted to mean that Tzadok carried the Ark of the Covenant as a sign of his new position whereas Evyatar “went up,” i.e., was removed from his position. The Talmud says that if a Kohen is unable to receive an answer to the question posed to him by way of Divine inspiration, we do not consult with him in the future.
For this reason, after the passing of King David, Evyatar lost his position as the Kohen Gadol, and it was transferred to Tzadok. This fulfilled the prophecy of Elkanah that the position of Kehunah Gedolah would be transferred out of the house of Eily.
Towards the end of King David’s life, when his son Adoniyahu tried to declare himself king, Evyatar sided with him while Tzadok sided with Solomon, the son to whom David had promised the kingship. When Solomon prevailed, he dealt with Evyatar in a relatively benevolent manner. He said, “Go to Anatot to your own fields, for you are deserving of death, but on this day I will not put you to death, because you carried the Ark of the L-rd G-d before David, my father, and because you were afflicted wherever my father was afflicted.” The Zohar says that King Solomon actually sent him back to his birthplace Nov, but it was called Anatot which indicated poverty, since it had been made desolate. 
Tzadok, the Kohen
Although Evyatar was the main Kohen Gadol in King David’s era, there are several verses that indicate that Tzadok was also a Kohen Gadol at that time.
It has been suggested
that, after he slew the Kohanim of Nov, King Saul appointed Tzadok as the Kohen Gadol. And although King David appointed Evyatar as the Kohen Gadol, Tzadok maintained that status as well. It is possible that during the time that the Ark was in Jerusalem and the Mishkan in Givon, Tzadok served in Givon (as the verse says, “And Tzadok, the Kohen, and his brethren, the kohanim, were before the Tabernacle of the L-rd in the high place that was in Givon,”
) while Evyatar served in Jerusalem.
The Midrash says that had Tzadok been alive in the time of Ahraon and his sons, he would have been greater than they were.
As mentioned above, when Tzadok was able to answer King David’s question with Divine inspiration while Evyatar was unable to do so, it was taken as a sign that he was to become the Kohen Gadol.
Tzadok anointed King Solomon as the king.
A few years later, King Solomon built the first Bait HaMikdash.
G-d chose the descendants of Tzadok to be in the position of Kehunah Gedolah eternally.
May we soon see them serving in the Third Bait HaMikdash!
The longest single aliyah in the Torah (as opposed to an aliyah that is comprised of two or more aliyot when two portions are joined) is Shishi (the sixth aliyah) of Ki Tavo which contains 64 pesukim. The fourth aliyah (Revi’i) of Naso contains 48 pesukim. The second Aliyah of Pinchas contains 46 pesukim.
Sefer Chayim, 9:23
cited in Kaf HaChaim, 37.
Rashi on Exodus, 32:5 based on Vayikra Rabbah. See also Targum Yonatan on that verse
See Shach 10 on ibid that the authorities disagree as to whether one must give up one’s life rather than transgress a “minor” sin that relates to idol worship.
Despite this, 3,000 Jewish people were killed for having worshipped the Golden Calf (verse 28). It would seem, that, unlike the rest of the Jewish people who merely wanted a guide, these 3,000 people actually worshipped the calf as a god. Indeed, to avoid this kind of confusion, it is forbidden to seek guidance from a molten image in the first place.
Kings II, 10:18
, see ibid, 2:34
See Rambam, Laws of Bait HaBechirah, 1:2 “When Eily died, it was destroyed.”
Antiquities of the Jews, book 6, chapter 6, section 5
Samuel I, 21: 1 – 10
Since there was no other bread in the city, he was given the Lechem HaPanim, the showbread which is usually reserved for the Kohanim.
Toldot HaKohanim HaGedolim (published in New York, 1933), by Rav Yekutiel Yehudah Greenwald, page 26
Talmud Yerushalmi, Sanhedrin, 10, Halacha 2
Rambam, Klei HaMikdash, 10:13
Antiquities, ibid, chapter 12, section 6
Samuel I, ibid, verse 20
See Sanhedrin 95b that had Evyater not escaped from that massacre there would have been no descendants left in the house of David. This is because King David was somewhat responsible for the death of the Kohanim as he should have realized that asking them for help could lead to tragedy.
See Samuel I, 23: 2 and 4 and 11 and 12 and 30:7 and Samuel II, 2:1 and 5:18
Yoma, 73b and Rashi D.H. Shne’emar Vaya’al citing the Seder Olam
See Samuel II, 8:17
and Chronicles I, 16:39
Toldot HaKohanim HaGedolim, page 27
See note 35 and Sotah 48b
See Ezekiel, 44:15 and 16