In concluding its discussion in Parashat Tzav of the mincha (grain offering), the Torah discusses the distribution of the offering among the kohanim (7:9-10). The Torah appears to distinguish in this regard between different types of mincha sacrifices, awarding some types exclusively to the kohen who tended to the sacrifice, whereas requiring others to be distributed among all kohanim. Rashi (7:9), however, citing Torat Kohanim, clarifies that in truth, all mincha offerings – and, in fact, all sacrifices – are distributed among the kohanim of the beit av – the shift serving in the Temple that week. All sacrificial food which the Torah grants to the kohanim is divided among the kohanim of that week’s beit av.
The Torah presents this law by stating that the food is given to the kohanim “ish ke-achiv” – “each like his fellow” (7:10), indicating that all members of the beit av receive an equal share. However, the Gemara in Masekhet Pesachim (3b) relates a story which appears to indicate otherwise. The Gemara tells of three kohanim in the Beit Ha-mikdash who were discussing the sizes of the portions they had received. (Rashi explains that they were speaking of their portions of the lechem ha-panim, the special bread which sat on the table in the Temple all week and was then eaten by the kohanim on Shabbat.) One kohen lamented that he received just a portion the size of a bean; a second shared that his portion was the size of an olive; and a third complained that his was the size of a lizard’s tail. (The Gemara relates that the third kohen’s mention of a lizard’s tail was deemed inappropriately crass, prompting the officials to research his pedigree, and they found that, indeed, this kohen was actually not qualified to serve in the Beit Ha-mikdash.) This account certainly seems to suggest that different kohanim received different sized portions of the sacrificial food – in direct contradistinction to the implication of the verse in Parashat Tzav, which instructs that the sacrifices are distributed among the kohanim “ish ke-achiv.”
The Chatam Sofer, in his commentary to Masekhet Pesachim, explains that in truth, all these kohanim were given portions of the same sizes, but they perceived them differently. The first kohen, the Chatam Sofer explains, lamented the small size of his portion, which he regarded as insignificant as a small bean, but the second retorted that in his view, this small portion received by each kohen was as considerable as an olive. In Halakha, the consumption of the volume of an olive is considered a significant act of eating, and thus the second kohen’s response meant that he felt privileged and blessed to receive his small portion of hallowed food. The third kohen replied that to the contrary, the priesthood, in his view, is like a lizard’s tail after it is severed, which convulses, appearing alive, when in truth it is lifeless. The priesthood, in the eyes of this kohen, has an aura of stature and distinction, but is, in truth, worthless – as evidenced by the small portions of food kohanim receive.
The Chatam Sofer’s reading of this story demonstrates how different people can observe the same reality but perceive it in three drastically different, and even opposite, ways. One person sees the blessings presented by current circumstances, whereas others complain about the situation, focusing their attention on what is missing and what could be better. People who receive an “equal portion,” experiencing the same reality, react very differently. We must strive to see all we are given in life as a “ke-zayit,” as a precious blessing to appreciate and be thankful for, rather than complain about the larger portion which we desire but are as yet denied.