On the eighth day, after the seven days of inauguration, Moshe called to Aharon and his sons, and the Israelite elders. He said to Aharon: “Take a calf for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering, unblemished, and offer them before Hashem. Then you (Aharon) shall speak to the Children of Israel, saying: ‘Take a goat for a sin offering and a calf and a lamb for a burnt offering,’ etc.”
We can easily understand why the first offerings had to be brought as atonement for the sin of the Golden Calf. We also understand why Aharon had to atone for his part in the sin before beginning service as the kohain gadol. But why is it specifically Aharon who must instruct the Israelites about their sin offering? Why would Moshe not be the one to instruct them, as usually happened? There seems to be a lesson for us here. It is about Aharon, his character, and maybe his qualifications to serve.
Later in the parshah, immediately following the death of Aharon’s two sons, Nadav and Avihu, Moshe apparently consoles him with the words, “[Hashem said], ‘With those close to Me shall I become sanctified!’” The implication is that Moshe considered the sons of Aharon to be among the greatest of Israel, despite their having been punished by G-d with death for an obvious major sin.
Moshe found some merit in the punishment. And Aharon was silent! Rashi says he received reward for remaining silent. Why? Should he have complained? He had just been consoled by Moshe! What should he have responded?
It is also a bit surprising that Moshe immediately consoled him. Do we not learn that one should not console his fellow when the corpse is lying there in front of him?
The Israelites were no doubt somewhat surprised that Aharon was chosen to serve as the High Priest. After all, was not the Golden Calf of his making? Do we not say that the adversary cannot become the advocate? Was Aharon personally truly so holy and great and fit for the job?
To answer these questions, Aharon was instructed to atone with the sin offering. This placated the people. But then, when his sons were punished with death, the questioners were once more aroused. “Why were these two sons unfit for service?” In their minds, the old questions came back. These were Aharon’s boys, weren’t they?
When one sees his children go astray, he feels the pressure. He senses the accusations; people question him and what he must have done to bring up such children. He feels compelled to do one of two things. Either he will try to justify them or make excuses for them. Or he will claim that what they do is not due to his influence, but that they are adults who make their own decisions. “They did not learn this from me!” All of this comes from personal partiality. The parent tries to salvage his own reputation.
Aharon was always known for loving peace and pursuing it. To make peace, one needs to negate the self. One must be totally impartial, to risk humiliation and to ignore personal attacks on one’s reputation. By doing this, one removes any vestige of mistrust and being upset with his fellow. Once he feels this way within himself, he is ready to influence others to do the same. The Torah says that Hashem tells Moshe, when he chooses him to lead, that his older brother Aharon will not harbor jealousy. Rather: “He will see you, and in his heart, he will rejoice!”
A kohain serves as a liaison, either an agent of Hashem to the people or an agent of the people to Hashem. He is not serving as an independent free agent. It is most important that he does nothing to further his personal agenda, to seek honor for himself or his family, or to manipulate matters to bring him glory and greatness.
When the events that led to the Golden Calf took place, Aharon should have remained silent. When he saw that Chur was murdered by the mob, he was a little worried about further bloodshed. He was worried about himself, as well. That was when he spoke up and said: “Whoever has gold, let him remove it.” True, it was a situation of pikuach nefesh, danger to life. However, there was a tiny element of partiality. For that, he needed to atone before he could approach the service of kehunah.
Part of his atonement was that he himself would speak to Israel, instructing them about their offerings. This way he would atone for having spoken to them about the gold.
When his sons died and Moshe said something to find some sort of merit with them, this was a test. Aharon could have agreed. Or he could have protested that indeed they sinned, and they were punished, but that they did not learn this from him. Had he responded in either of these ways, it would have contained a small measure of partiality. Therefore, he said nothing. And for this, he was rewarded. With his reaction, Aharon proved that he was the greatest and the most highly qualified kohain. PJC
Rabbi Shimon Silver is the spiritual leader of Young Israel of Greater Pittsburgh. This column is a service of the Vaad Harabanim of Greater Pittsburgh.