Shabbat Parashat Shemini | 5770
Parashat Hashavuah: Getting Close or Spiritual Daredevil?
On the eighth day of the inauguration of the Mishkan, Hashem commanded Aharon to start bringing sacrifices (Vayikra 9:2-3). Moshe then told Aharon: “Kerav el hamizbeach” (approach the altar) and bring the sacrifices (ibid.:7). Rashi explains the quoted words by saying that Aharon was embarrassed and afraid to step forward until Moshe told him not to be embarrassed because Hashem had chosen him.
Rav Moshe Feinstein asked what the convincing was needed for. Would Aharon have refused to follow the Divine command had he remained embarrassed? He answers that a kohen is not supposed to do his service just as one who carries out that which he is required to. Rather he is to be aware that he is serving because he is blessed with a special kedusha that makes him appropriate for the job. This is why before doing nesiat kapayim (duchenen), the blessing includes the otherwise extraneous phrase, “Who sanctified us with the sanctity of Aharon and commanded us…” To have this feeling, Aharon had to be convinced that he was indeed worthy of the great responsibility with which he was entrusted.
Let us follow the original positions of Moshe and Aharon and see where their disagreement leads. Aharon wanted to serve with a high level of humility and cautiousness, whereas Moshe (the most humble man in the world (Bamidbar 12:3)) wanted him to have a “little swagger.” Moshe prevailed. The next thing we know, on the same day that started so propitiously, Hashem struck down Aharon’s sons, Nadav and Avihu, for bringing “a foreign fire that Hashem had not commanded.” How could they have done such a rash thing? Without getting too specific, we do see that they showed overconfidence in their level and their ability to innovate in their service. Going back to our discussion above, it seems that they related to the “the swagger” Moshe had referred to, just that they took it too far. Doesn’t it turn out that Aharon’s hesitancy was prudent and that had Aharon had his way, his sons might not have been as bold as they were?
Moshe’s immediate response to the tragedy, in Hashem’s name is, “Bikrovay ekadesh” (Vayikra 10:3), normally translated as “I will sanctify Myself through those who are closest to Me.” In other words, by being strict with those closest to Him, Hashem makes Himself more feared/respected (a difficult concept). Perhaps we can suggest a secondary meaning. Moshe, using the same root as above, was saying that the thesis is still correct; Hashem wants kohanim to approach Him with a confidence about their worthiness. Even if there is a danger that it could be exaggerated and lines could be crossed, that will be dealt with as necessary, including strictly. However, having kohanim serve with a dread of their task, finding it overly demanding for their spiritual capabilities, is not a viable option. Aharon’s “response” of silence (ibid.) may thus not only be an acceptance of his sons’ deaths, which it is, but also of the need to carry out his and his descendants’ priestly obligations in the demanding and dangerous manner it was intended.
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This week’s Hemdat Yamim is dedicated in loving memory of