Parshas Shemini (5773)
This week’s Torah portion, Parshas Shemini, begins with the inauguration of the Tabernacle that the Jewish people built in the desert as a place in which G-d’s Shechinah (Divine Presence) could dwell.
As part of the inauguration service, Moses tells his brother Aaron, “Come near to the Altar and perform the service of your sin-offering and your burnt-offering . . .” (see Leviticus 9:7).
Why did Moses instruct Aaron to “come near” to the altar? It almost sounds like Aaron was hesitating for some reason and Moses had to coax him to approach the Altar and perform the service.
Rashi cites a Midrash that explains what was going on behind the scenes: “Because Aaron was afraid and embarrassed to approach the Altar [because of his role in making the Golden Calf]. Moses said to him: ‘Why are you embarrassed? It is for this [to fill the position of High Priest and to serve in the Tabernacle] that you have been chosen!’”
This Midrash is difficult to understand. After all, Aaron knew that he was chosen for the job of High Priest and that he was meant to serve in the Tabernacle and to represent the Jewish people in front of G-d. Yet he still felt guilty and was ashamed to occupy this lofty position because of his role in making the Golden Calf. If so, how did Moses expect to calm Aaron and to encourage him to fill this role by telling him that “it was for this that he was chosen”? Of course Aaron was chosen for the job – but he still felt ashamed!
Many explanations of this enigmatic Midrash have been offered over the past 2000 years … and I would humbly like to add my own to the list:
One of the most fundamental teachings of Kabbalah (Jewish Mysticism) – as handed down to us by both Rabbi Chaim Vital and the Vilna Gaon (see the Vilna Gaon’s commentary to the Book of Jonah) – is that we were placed on this earth to make a tikkun, or rectification, of the main spiritual flaw that caused us to transgress in our previous life – and it is our job in life to find out what that flaw is and to get working on fixing it.
The Vilna Gaon teaches us that the way for a person to know which flaw from a previous life he is here to fix is by identifying the transgression or spiritual challenge that is most recurring in his current life. Alternatively, the sin or transgression to which one is most attracted in this life is likely due to the fact that his neshamah (soul) had been accustomed to this forbidden pleasure in a previous life. Hopefully, these indicators can help a person figure out what he needs to focus on in this life and what he needs to fix.
Once a person gets that clarity, and knows exactly what he is here to fix, he should pursue that goal no matter what comes his way – for this is the reason why he was put here on earth.
This is what the great Rabbi Yisrael Salanter meant when he said: "The world says: If you can't go through, then you have to go back. But I say: If you can't go through - then you still have to get through!"
Whether we like it or not, whether we feel up to the task or not, whether we consider ourselves unfit or unworthy or ashamed to do what needs to be done - we have no choice but to get the job done and to make the necessary tikkun in our lives, and the sooner the better – so that we don’t have to come back another time!
I believe that this is what Moses was telling Aaron (and all of us) when Aaron was ashamed and embarrassed to approach the Altar and to fulfill his destiny as High Priest. He was saying to him, “What is the point of being embarrassed and ashamed to approach the Altar? It is for this job of High Priest that you were chosen, and you have no choice but to fill this position. It is your destiny and the very reason why you were placed here on earth! So come near the Altar and start the service!”
May we all merit to get the clarity to know what our main purpose and mission is here on earth, and to fix our spiritual flaws as soon as we can!