Parashat Shemini begins with the description of the events of the first day Aharon and his sons officiated as kohanim in the Mishkan. When the time came for Aharon to slaughter and tend to the special sacrifices offered on that day, Moshe instructed him, “Approach the altar and perform your sin-offering and your burnt-offering…” (9:7).
Rashi, citing Torat Kohanim, famously explains that Aharon needed “prodding” because he was hesitant to approach the altar and assume the lofty role of kohein gadol: “For Aharon was ashamed and afraid to approach. Moshe said to him: Why are you ashamed? You were chosen for this [role].” It is commonly understood (as the Ramban explains) that Aharon is described as being “ashamed” and reluctant to assume this role because of the sin of the golden calf, which he had facilitated. He feared that this grave sin rendered him unworthy of the role of kohein gadol.
Rav Simcha Bunim Sofer, in his Sha’arei Simcha, suggests explaining Moshe’s response to Aharon in light of the Shulchan Arukh’s ruling concerning the role of sheli’ach tzibur – leading the prayer service in the synagogue (O.C. 53:15-16). The Shulchan Arukh draws a distinction between an officially appointed shali’ach tzibur, who should approach the lectern to perform his duty without any hesitation, and one who does not have a set position, but is asked to lead the service on a given occasion. In the latter case, the one asked to serve as shel’iach tzibur should at first hesitate as an expression of humility. Instant consent would bespeak an element of arrogance and overconfidence, and thus one is required to first hesitate before accepting the invitation to lead, unless he serves as the permanent sheliach tzibur in the synagogue.
Accordingly, Rav Sofer suggests that Aharon hesitated as an expression of humility, but Moshe reminded him that “lekhakh nivcharta” – Aharon was appointed to this role. His status was not that of somebody who happened to be invited to lead on one occasion, but rather that of a permanent sheli’ach tzibur, as he received the formal appointment as kohein gadol, a post he would hold forever. As such, there was no need for him to hesitate.
Moshe’s response to Aharon’s hesitation assumes special significance in light of the common understanding, that Aharon felt ashamed and unworthy because of his having made the golden calf. Moshe did not reassure Aharon by insisting that God had forgiven him for this mistake, or that Aharon’s sincere intentions – hoping to stall until Moshe arrived – significantly mitigated the severity of his failure. Rather, he simply stated, “You were chosen for this role.” All Aharon needed to hear was that “lekhakh nivcharta,” that he was the chosen sheli’ach tzibur. The fact that he was designated for this role made his prior mistakes and failings immaterial. Once he was named as the kohein gadol, he was to accept and fill the position with confidence and conviction.
Moshe’s response to Aharon, from this perspective, is directly relevant to each and every one of us, as well. We must realize that “lekhakh nivcharta,” that we have been chosen for a unique role in this world. The fact that God created us and has kept us alive to this day proves that we have something unique to accomplish today. And once we realize that we have been formally “appointed,” that we are each a “sheli’ach tzibur” in some way, our past mistakes and failures will no longer hinder us. We will approach our day the way an officially appointed sheli’ach tzibur approaches the lectern in the synagogue, confident and composed. Moshe did not tell Aharon that he should not feel shame or remorse over his past mistake – and neither should we ignore our failures. It is expected, and appropriate, to experience remorse for our mistakes. However, this remorse should not undermine our confidence and conviction as we approach the unique role for which we have been chosen, our joy and enthusiasm as we recognize that God has assigned us a special task which only we are capable of filling, and our fervor and determination as we wholeheartedly embrace our individual mission.