Man, in Search of G-d
Rabbi Reuven Mann
This week’s Parsha, Shemini, describes the inauguration of the Mishkan; the wilderness Sanctuary which was the precursor to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. This was an awesome occasion marked by great joy, as the Creator Manifested His Presence in the midst of Klal Yisrael (the community of Israel).
Fire descended from Heaven, and consumed the sacrifices that had been offered by the Kohanim (Priests). “And a fire went forth before Hashem, and consumed upon the Altar the elevation-offering and the sacred-fats; all the people saw and sang glad song and fell upon their faces” (VaYikra 9:24).
However, the euphoric state did not last long. Inexplicably, the sons of Aaron–Nadav and Avihu–of their own accord, brought an incense offering which had not been commanded by Hashem. This brought forth another Heavenly fire which had tragic consequences.
In Judaism, our task is to seek to understand–to the greatest extent possible–the Will of Hashem, and implement it without distortion. Human originality and creativity has its place in the scheme of things, but not in the most sensitive area of the Temple Service.
(It is interesting to note, that a famous Jewish Theologian titled his classic work, “G-d In Search of Man.” I disagree with the intent behind this title, and would more accurately describe the character of our religion with the phrase, “Man, in Search of G-d.”)
It is important to consider that the inauguration services were conducted by Aaron and his sons. This comes as somewhat of a surprise, due to the prominent role he played in the sin of the Golden Calf. This was so egregious that, “Hashem became very angry with Aaron to destroy him; so I prayed also for Aaron at that time” (Devarim 9:20). One might have thought that this would have disqualified Aaron from serving as Kohen, but “Hashem’s thoughts are not our thoughts…” (Yishayahu 55:8).
However, the sin of the Golden Calf did leave its mark on Aaron. Rashi informs us, that he was “embarrassed and afraid” to perform the inauguration services until Moshe said to him, “Why are you embarrassed? For this you have been chosen!” (Rashi, VaYikra 9:7). Finally, Aaron was able to compose himself and muster the confidence and resolve, to properly perform the inaugural services.
Why, indeed, was Aaron not rejected from the Kehuna (priesthood), as a result of his catastrophic participation in the sin of the Eigel HaZahav (Golden Calf)? I believe that the answer is, that sin does not necessarily taint a person for life. Everyone makes mistakes, and transgresses at some point in their lives. The key challenge in life, is with regard to how one responds to spiritual defeats and setbacks.
The truly righteous, are not broken by their failings. They have absolute faith that Hashem forgives the sinner, if he engages in scrupulously honest and genuine repentance. In fact, the Rambam teaches us that, “In the place where the Baal Teshuva (penitent) stands the pure Tzadik (righteous one) cannot stand” (Hilchos Teshuva 7:4, Sanhedrin 99a).
Aaron sinned in a grievous matter but he did not seek to escape his responsibility. He was the individual most suited to be the Kohen Gadol (Chief Priest), because he was beloved by the people for the great role he played in spreading peace among all segments of the nation.
In designating Aaron to be the Chief Priest, Hashem demonstrated that sin does not necessarily destroy a person; and with proper Teshuva (repentance) can, in fact, enable him to reach a level which was otherwise unattainable.
May we have the strength and courage to acknowledge our Aveirot (sins), engage in genuine repentance and strive to transcend them, by reaching ever higher levels of moral perfection.
I am pleased to announce that my newest book, Eternally Yours: G-d’s Greatest Gift To Mankind on VaYikra has been published, and is now available at: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B09SHRXS3Q
I hope that my essays will enhance your reading and study of the Book of VaYikra and would greatly appreciate a brief review on Amazon.com.
—Rabbi Reuven Mann