We read in Parashat Tzav of the special mincha (grain) offerings that were offered by each kohen on the first day he served in the Mikdash, and by the kohen gadol each morning. The Torah introduces this section by saying, “Zeh korban Aharon u-vanav” (“This is the sacrifice of Aharon and his sons” – 6:13), and the Midrash (Vayikra Rabba 8:1) draws a connection between this verse and a verse from the story of cheit ha-eigel (the sin of the golden calf). After Moshe returned from atop Mount Sinai and witnessed the people’s worship of the calf, he asked Aharon what had happened, and Aharon explained the sequence of events, telling his brother that the people brought him gold which he then threw into fire, “va-yeitzei ha-eigel ha-zeh”- “and this calf emerged” (Shemot 32:24). The Midrash finds it significant that the word “zeh” which is used in reference to the golden calf, the event which marked Aharon’s moment of failure and shame, is also used in reference to his lofty stature as kohen gadol. In the Midrash’s words, “With [the word] ‘zeh’ he was shamed, and with the word ‘zeh’ he was lifted.”
How might we explain the connection drawn between these two contexts?
The word “zeh” is often viewed in Midrashic literature as a term that connotes something visible that can be clearly identified. As Rashi (Shemot 32:2) explains, Aharon’s intent in collecting gold and fashioning a calf was to stall, assuming that by the time the people would actually produce and worship a graven image, Moshe would return and the people would recognize their mistake. Aharon believed that the project of producing a golden image would be fairly innocuous, and would not cause any trouble by the time Moshe returned to the camp. He was mistaken, of course, and failed to realize how swift and significant the repercussions of his idea would be. The people responded enthusiastically to his call for gold, and the calf was fashioned far quicker than he imagined. He never thought anything significant would come of his plan to produce a golden image, but in the end “va-yeitzei ha-eigel ha-zeh” – it resulted in an actual idol that became an object of pagan worship.
Just as seemingly innocuous actions can lead to disastrous consequences, many mitzva acts that we perform seem minor, insignificant or not impactful, but in truth yield far-reaching effects. The rituals performed by the kohanim inside the Beit Ha-mikdash did not outwardly appear to influence the nation, but it in fact did. This, perhaps, is the significance of the phrase “zeh korban Aharon u-vanav.” The sacrifices offered in the Temple courtyard truly had a tangible impact upon all Am Yisrael, even if they appeared detached and dissociated from the nation.
The Midrash thus alerts us to the fact that our actions have much farther-reaching consequences than we often think. The wrongful acts that we commit can have a significant impact upon our surroundings, whereas the mitzvot we perform, even in the privacy of our homes and away from public view, are likewise very meaningful and impactful not only for us, but for others, as well. We should never belittle the importance or impact of even our seemingly minor decisions, or of the seemingly meaningless words we speak or actions we perform, because they all could potentially yield significant and far-reaching effects.
(Based on Rav Baruch Yitzchak Yissachar Leventhal’s Birkat Yitzchak, Parashat Tzav)