When I was a kid in shul (synagogue), there was an older gentleman who always used to sit at the end of the row, mumbling to himself. He was never satisfied. The air-conditioning wasn’t set right, the minyan (quorum of ten) arrived late, the chazzan (prayer leader) took too long, and the rabbi spoke too softly. He wasn’t the easiest guy to get along with, but at least he came to shul.

One week, as the Sefer Torah was being removed from the ark, I heard him kvetching to himself, “Why does that Kohen chap always get the first aliyah?”

Why indeed? And why does his cousin the Levi get the next slot? It hardly seems democratic; just because you come from a family of Kohanim (priests) or Leviim (Levites), why should that qualify you for extra honor? We should make them take their turn in the back of the queue like the rest of us plebs. What have they personally ever done to deserve their seat at the front of the bus?

In Temple days, the priestly caste was singled out from their brethren to serve the L‑rd and bring blessing to the nation. The Leviim would sing during the service and the Kohanim would offer sacrifices. Recipients of gifts and tithes from their fellow Jews, they would spend their lives teaching Torah to the community and serving G‑d on our behalf.

Nowadays, they do less and get less in return. The relatively small measure of honor paid to them is more of a historical reference to their ancestral heritage than a reflection of their personal celebrity. Kohanim get the first aliyah at every Torah reading and the five silver coins at a pidyon haben (redemption of a son). They bless the crowd in shul on holidays and occasionally receive other subtle marks of respect. Leviim get the second aliyah and not much more.

However, those public marks of respect aren’t really what being a Levi or Kohen is all about. Success in life is about giving, not receiving. The true measure of distinction of the priestly families was in their role of following in G‑d’s ways and teaching Judaism to others.

But you don’t need to be born to a family of priests to live like one.

The Rambam, Maimonides, teaches:

Not only the tribe of Levi, but any one of the inhabitants of the world whose spirit motivates him, and he understands with his wisdom to set himself aside and stand before G‑d to serve Him and minister to Him and to know G‑d . . . he is sanctified as holy of holies. G‑d will be his portion and heritage forever and will provide what is sufficient for him in this world like He provides for the priests and the Levites.1

How wonderful. How egalitarian. We can all be priests. We are all able to achieve holiness. We may never be singled out for the relatively minor distinction of the first aliyah, but we have the infinite opportunity to attain greatness in our service of G‑d and service of the community.

Don’t focus on the pettiness of class distinction; look instead to your relationship with your Creator. G‑d has a system—He is guiding you to your destiny and applauding you for your efforts.