Shmini: Aharon’s Example

Copyright 2011 Neal Joseph Loevinger

Torah Portion: Shmini

“He said to Aaron, ‘Take yourself a calf for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering, [both] unblemished, and sacrifice them before God.  . . .’ ” (Vayikra/ Leviticus 9:2)

This week’s Torah portion is Shmini, so named because it begins on the eighth day of the inauguration ceremony for Aharon and his sons as they became the priests who served in theMishkan, or portable Sanctuary.  On this eighth day, when their service begins, the first order of business is for Aharon, the High Priest, to take a calf to make an offering for himself before the Israelites make their own offerings.

OK, so far, so good. Our friend Rashi comments  that the language of “take for yourself a calf”   [kach l’cha egel ] means that Aharon should take this calf for his own edification, to let him know that theegel, or calf, that he offers now, at the beginning of his service in the Mishkan, is a sign that he is forgiven for his participation in the building of the golden calf [also egel.]

In other words, “take for yourself a calf” means: understand that your past mistakes do not prevent you from acts of great service and devotion right now. Right at the heart of the priestly service was a gigantic example of the idea that forgiveness and reconciliation are the Divine Attributes, made manifest in Aharon’s very being and standing close to the sacred center of the ancient Jewish nation.

Perhaps, then, it’s especially appropriate that Aharon was the High Priest, for he not only performed all the rituals of atonement and celebration, he lived out the fundamental spiritual values of falling short and rising up, making mistakes and experiencing forgiveness. To put it another way- the Mishkan was not only inaugurated with priestly rituals, but with love and t’shuvah, [returning/ repenting] which are the moral core of Judaism itself.
Shabbat Shalom,

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