Shabbat Parashat Shemini| 5765
When to Put the Issues on the Table (or the Altar)
Our parasha begins with a description of the korbanot that begin the service of the Mishkan (Tabernacle). Aharon brought an egel (calf) as a chatat (sin offering) for himself, whereas, on Bnei Yisrael’s behalf, he brought a sair (goat) for a chatat and an egel as an olah (burnt offering) (Vayikra 9:3). What was the significance of these korbanot?
The Sifra (ad loc.) said that Aharon required atonement for his participation in the sin of the Golden Calf (chet ha’egel), while Bnei Yisrael needed not only atonement for the chet ha’egel but also a goat for the selling of Yosef by their forefathers. (The brothers had slaughtered a goat to disguise their crime and claimed that Yosef had been killed by a wild animal). The commentaries make much of the connection between these two historic sins and the status of Bnei Yisrael in comparison to Aharon. Rabbeinu Bachyei points out that Aharon brought a chatat for his involvement in the chet ha’egel because that is the korban one brings when he violates a serious sin without foreknowledge of sin. Indeed, Aharon felt he had to deal with a no-win situation and had no idea what the results of his participation would be. The olah, on the other hand, is for sins of the heart, including certain premeditated sins (see Ramban on Vayikra 1:4). Thus, it was appropriate for Bnei Yisrael’s role in chet ha’egel.
But the question still begs. Even if these elements of atonement were necessary, it seems a little inappropriate that at the grand opening of the Mishkan, such prominent, public attention was given to some of the most depressing moments in our history. One can answer that there was no choice but to receive atonement before commencing with the service, but it still seems that something could have been arranged earlier or later.
Upon second thought, we can find a very positive message in the korbanot in question. When one has a fragile relationship with an associate, it is prudent to keep points of tension or contention under wraps. Otherwise, the entire relationship could be endangered. But a strong relationship can withstand bumps on the road. Not only is it possible to survive the airing of issues, but it is, at times, wise to do so and clear the air.
Hashem was informing B’nei Yisrael that as serious as the selling of Yosef and the chet ha’egel were, He still loved them enough to maintain His relationship with them. Additionally, with the opening of the Mishkan, they would have an effective, reliable system of making amends for even serious shortcomings. The instruction to make amends sent home the message that indeed there was an opportunity to do so.
While we do not presently have the opportunity to use korbanot to further our relationship with Hashem, we can and should use the gift of mitzvot and tefilla to do so.
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