Well Passover has passed over. Of course with the end of the Passover, we try to return our kitchen back to normal. Pesach dishes, pots, pans and utensils are wrapped and boxed and stored away for another year. Hopefully everything will return to normal by the time Shabbat begins. As my wife and I get just a little bit older, and our home is now filled with three teen-agers who quite capable young people, we expect them to help us prepare for Pesach and to clean up after Pesach. Well our son disappeared into his room, claiming he was tired. What’s so amazing about that idea is that he did not have school the first day after the Pesach holiday. He could have stayed up but he opted for bed. Ironically, he always asks to stay up, but if cleaning up, and schlepping boxes are involved, he discovers fatigue. As for our teen-age daughters, well for about 15 minutes the sixteen year old helped and then she collapsed upon the sofa. The fifteen year old couldn’t find the motivation to help unless she had Chametz…a sandwich, a bowl of cereal, anything really. However it took an hour of complaining about how there was nothing to eat, before she ate. When she was finally ready to help, she provided a whopping ten minutes before she lost interest and grew tired. I just about lost it. My poor wife and I are wrapping and packing, and cleaning and they were doing next to nothing. I was tired, and aggravated that these capable young people did so little. I made several hurtful comments concerning their lack of consideration and maturity. Before anything worse came out of my mouth, I stepped outside, calmed down, and collected my thoughts. I thought about what had just transpired. I thought how I should have behaved differently, behaved in a manner that would have de-escalated the tension as opposed to escalate the tension. Then I thought about what I could do to rectify the current situation. When I walked back in, the kids had gone upstairs. My wife said that they were very upset and went upstairs. Although she agreed with me, she thought I had been a bit harsh and clearly they were hurt by what I said. Personally, I don’t like apologizing to my children. However in this particular case, it was absolutely the right thing to do. I went upstairs, and spent some time with each child, explaining that I should have known better. I apologized for failing to act more like an adult and parent. My apology was contrite and heartfelt. They also apologized to me. We talked some more, hugged and then I said good night to each of them. I realized that had I not apologized first, none of them would have apologized to me, and we would have missed an opportunity to discuss the fact that as each of them grow older, we, the parents, expect our children to take on more responsibility in helping around the house.
This Shabbat, we resume the weekly Torah Readings with Parsha Shemini. Divided into three chapters, Parsha Shemini begins the narrative aspects of the book of Leviticus. Until now, we have read God’s speaking to Moshe about all the various Korbonot (offerings) and Moshe speaking to B’nai Yisroel and the Kohanim about all the Korbonot (offerings). Now, Aaron, the Kohen Gadol, begins his preparations for and then engages in the actual slaughtering of the Ram as part of his own Sin Offering. First the Kohen Gadol must be without blemish, without sin, and ritually pure before he begins serving as the conduit between the individual/community and God. When the Kohen is ritually impure and attempts to approach God inappropriately we learn the results, as does Aaron (Lev. 10:1-2). Finally, we learn how the individual/the community can aspire to be holy without Kohen Gadol’s involvement. We learn this by the Torah’s enumeration of all the animals that are prohibited for consumption.
The Parsha begins with the word VaYehi: It was on the eighth day; Moses summoned Aaron and his sons, and the elders of Israel (Lev. 9:1). In the Talmudic tractate of Megillah (10b) we are taught that the word VaYehi often serves as foreshadow for troubling events. The Midrash teaches that this parsha occurred on the first of Nissan, an incredibly happy time since it serves as an indicator of Zman Cheiruteinu – the Time of our Freedom and the Pesach holiday. However this is a bittersweet moment. The sweetness is the fact that the community is gathering together for the dedication of the Mishkan. The bitterness lay in the fact that a Mishkan is even necessary. Prior to the sin of the Eigel Zahav (Golden Calf), there was no need for a place for Bnai Yisroel to gather and engage in communal and individual Tshuva. Following the sin of the Eigel Zahav, we as individuals and as a community required a central gathering place to atone for our sins, and engage in Tshuvah. Next we read Vayomer El Aharon Kach Lecha Eigel ben Bakar L’Chatat – [Moshe] said to Aaron: Take for yourself a young bull for a sin offering…(Lev. 9:3).What sin offering? What did Aaron do wrong that a Sin offering was required? Precisely because of Aaron’s involvement in the Golden Calf debacle, he needs to atone. So Aaron must bring a Chatat offering, a sin offering. Aaron must admit his sin, atone for it, and seek a spiritual return to God (Tshuvah) prior to serving on the behalf of the people. Even more powerful than Aaron’s fulfilling this obligation is the fact that Aaron’s two remaining sons, the Elders, and the entire assembly will bear witness to Aaron’s humbling of himself. Not only will Aaron know that he is worthy to serve on behalf of the people, but the people will know as well.
Our sages hold Aaron in very high esteem. While the Rabbinic Sages are troubled with the way he handled himself during the incident of the Golden Calf; it is here in Parsha Shemini, when Aaron publicly humbles himself, we understand Aaron’s meritorious conduct. Aaron’s behavior provides a powerful lesson for any individual in a position of authority or leadership. Our ability to engage in heartfelt Tshuva does not diminish our authority but rather enhances it.