Shemini

  • Rav Yaacov Steinman

Parshat HaShavua
Yeshivat Har Etzion


PARASHAT HASHAVUA

 

PARASHAT SHEMINI

by Yaacov Steinman

 

A. Two Completions of the Mishkan

Chapter 9 of Sefer Vayikra describes the first sacrifices offered in the mishkan. It is quite clear that this was an inaugural ceremony, with special sacrifices being brought both by Aharon (who had spent seven days getting ready for this role) and by the Jewish People. This is made evident from the conclusion of the chapter - "And fire came forth from before God, and consumed the burnt-offering and the fats on the altar, and all the people saw and cheered, and fell on their faces" (9:24).

Of course, we all remember that the inauguration of the mishkan appears to have been described at the end of Sefer Shemot, without any particular ceremony at all. After describing how Moshe constructed the mishkan, on the first day of the first month, Parashat Pekudei concludes with the words, "The cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the glory of God filled the mishkan" (Shemot 40:34).

The exact temporal relationship between these two descriptions is disputed by the commentators, with Rashi arguing that they are, in fact, contemporaneous, and the Ramban contending that our parasha occurred immediately after what is described in Pekudei. But even the Ramban agrees that the conclusion of Pekudei, quoted above, is no more than a general description which is described more fully in our parasha. While the Ramban's approach alleviates the difficulty in having two distinct descriptions of the same days, the question remains: What is the significance of the Torah's distinction between the construction of the mishkan and the preparations of Aharon and his sons to serve in it, a distinction emphasized by placing the two descriptions in two different books? If the story had been continuous, as the Ramban contends, then why not continue Sefer Shemot until the end of chapter 9 of Sefer Vayikra, without the need for the concluding - and misleading - verse at the end of Pekudei?

There is an important difference between the appearance of God's glory on the mishkan at the end of Shemot, and that which is described in our parasha. In Shemot, the Torah tells us that Moshe put the mishkan together, and then, without any further ado, God's glory filled the mishkan. In our parasha, even after we substitute the preparations of the priests in place of the construction of the mishkan, we still do not find that God appears immediately after the preparations are finished (which was described in the previous parasha). Rather, when speaking to the congregated People of Israel, Moshe says, "THIS is that which God has commanded you to do, and God's glory shall appear to you" (9:6). What's more, in a subtle hesitation, even after the sacrifices are properly brought, there is no response from God. Aharon finishes the entire procedure and descends from the altar - and yet receives no response (9:22). Only after Moshe and Aharon enter the tent and then emerge and bless the people a second time, does it say, "And the glory of God appeared to all the people" (9:23), followed by the verse I quoted at the beginning, "And fire came forth from before God, and consumed the burnt-offering and the fats on the altar, and all the people saw and cheered, and fell on their faces" (9:24). In Shemot, all that is needed for the Presence of God is the tabernacle, a home for the Presence. In Vayikra, a "welcoming ceremony" is a prerequisite. What does this signify and what lies behind this difference?

 

B. Aharon and Moshe

If we examine closely the relationship between the sacrifices brought on this day and the descent of the glory of God onto the mishkan, we find a note of ambiguity. But first, let me list all the textual difficulties in this parasha.

1. (9:1) Moshe, on the eighth day, calls "Aharon, his sons, AND THE ELDERS OF ISRAEL." What was the purpose of calling the elders? (See Rashi.)

2. (9:3) "And you (singular) shall say to the People of Israel: Bring a goat...." Why does Moshe TELL AHARON to tell the Jews what to do? (See Ramban, who claims that, despite the singular verb, it was the elders who were commanded to tell the Jews what to bring, which answers both questions to some extent.)

3. (9:6) "Moshe said, This is what God has commanded to be done, and the glory of God shall appear to you." This verse is not followed by any instruction whatsoever. For lack of an alternative, it must refer to the previous instructions (9:3-5), where the Jews were commanded to bring sacrifices. Why, then, was this verse separated from the instructions by the statement that they indeed fulfilled the commands (9:5), especially since the content of this verse seems to be no more than a repetition of the conclusion of verse 4 ("... For today God shall appear to you")?

The most noticeable difference between the two parshiot we are comparing is the main character. The construction of the mishkan at the end of Sefer Shemot is totally Moshe's accomplishment. The entire Parashat Pekudei is characterized by the repeated emphasis on Moshe's centrality. Here, the process is centered on Aharon. This is clearly indicated by our second question - even the command to the Jewish people to bring sacrifices is entrusted to Aharon, rather than being performed directly by Moshe. What is more, Aharon brings personal sacrifices on this day (in a manner reminiscent of the Yom Kippur service in Parashat Emor - which was the subject of last year's shiur on Parashat Shemini).

I would like to suggest that this difference is a key to understanding the two roles of the mishkan which are distinguished by these two parshiot. What does Moshe do in the mishkan and what does Aharon do there? The answer is clear - Moshe meets with God, and Aharon conducts the divine service, the bringing of the sacrifices. These are the two purposes of the mishkan: a) the place where the sacrifices to God are offered; b) a place where man meets God. (See Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, "Be-inyan Beit Ha-bechira", in his Kovetz Chiddushei Torah, pp.135-141, where the Rav zt"l explains that there are two different mitzvot in the Torah concerning these two aspects of Mikdash.)

This is clearly indicated by the verses concluding the two parshiot.

1. Sefer Shemot:

"The cloud covered the TENT OF MEETING ('Ohel Moed'), and the glory of God filled the mishkan. And Moshe could not enter the TENT OF MEETING, for the cloud settled on it, and the glory of God filled the mishkan."

(Shemot 40:34-5)

The symbol of the presence of God on the Tent of Meeting is the cloud - concerning which we have already read in Parashat Ki Tisa: "When Moshe would enter the tent, the pillar of cloud would descend and stand at the entrance of the tent, and [God would] SPEAK WITH MOSHE" (Shemot 33:9).

2. Parashat Shemini:

"And fire came forth from before God, and consumed the burnt-offering and the fats on the altar, and all the people saw and cheered, and fell on their faces." (9:24)

The symbol of the presence of God here - on the altar - is the fire which consumes the sacrifices. In both cases it says that the glory of God appeared to the people, but these are two different manifestations of the glory of God: one, a cloud into which Moshe can enter, symbolizing privacy and intimacy, and one a consuming fire from God, which symbolizes acceptance.

 

C. Shemot and Vayikra

We now understand the separation of the two parshiot. Before the mishkan can become the sanctuary of sacrifices, we must first learn of the consecration of Aharon, which took up the second part of the previous parasha (Tzav) and also the basic rules of sacrifice, which constituted the first parasha (Vayikra) and the first half of Tzav. This, though, is more than a necessity for intervening parshiot. To a great extent, this distinction between the meeting of God and Moshe, and the worship (avoda) of Aharon, is the distinction between Sefer Shemot and Sefer Vayikra. The construction of the Tent of Meting is the logical conclof the giving of the Torah at Sinai, and its permanent concretization. God spoke to the Jews and gave the Torah at Sinai; in the Ohel Moed He will continue to teach (Moshe) and reveal Himself and His Torah. Sefer Vayikra is not about God speaking to Man, but rather about Man - Aharon the priest as a representative of Israel - worshipping and serving God. There is a mishkan (Ohel Moed) of Shemot, in which Moshe is the major figure, and a mishkan (altar) of Vayikra, in which Aharon has the central role.

We can now answer question #1 from our list of textual difficulties. Why were the elders called together with Aharon? The answer is, for the same reason that the people were instructed to bring a sacrifice together with Aharon. The service in the Temple and the mishkan is entrusted to Aharon and the priestly class ONLY as representatives of all Israel. The Tent of Meeting is a place for the individual, alone with God. The mishkan-altar is a place for Israel as one, as a corporate body - Knesset Yisrael. Hence, the actual carrying out of the "construction" of this mishkan, which is the bringing of these inaugural sacrifices, should be done not by Moshe, nor by Aharon as an individual, but by Israel, with Aharon as the main representative. This body is "Aharon and the elders, speaking and commanding Israel."

(Rashi's explanation [9:1] that the elders were called in order that they bear witness that God has chosen Aharon as priest does not contradict this point. On the contrary, it highlights the necessity that Aharon act within the framework of national consensus. This explains the importance of the dispute concerning Aharon in Sefer Bamidbar, a tension which is lacking regarding Moshe's position, even in Parashat Korach).

Most importantly, we can now understand the implication of the opening point of today's shiur. Unlike the presence of God on the Tent of Meeting, which is initiated simply by the building of the mishkan, the Presence of God on the altar requires actions on Man's part, a process of approaching God and requesting, praying, beseeching Him to accept our offerings. This is called "le-ratzon" in the Torah, and is the subject of the 17th berakha of the daily prayers - "Retzeh." "This," says Moshe, "is what you must do, in order that God appear to you." You must bring propitiatory sacrifices. Rashi and other commentators, following the comments in the midrash, sees in the particular sacrifices brought on this day - two calves - a clear hint to the golden calf. Whether or not the Jews, and Aharon in particular, will be able to offer sacrifices which will be ACCEPTABLE to God is an open question. The sin must be atoned for, and there is considerable anxiety within Israel whether this will take place. This, I believe, is the reason that the Jews "cheer" ("vayaronu") when the divine fire consumes their sacrifices, even as they fall on their faces. The fire, even as it is awesome and perhaps even terrifying, is also a relief for their mounting tension and anxiety.

 

D. Cause and Effect

But, you may argue, this explanation for the two aspects of mishkan actually undermines the significance of the last point. Once we define the second aspect of mishkan as the place for sacrifices, then it is no longer apparent that special preparations are needed for this mishkan, as opposed to the Tent of Meeting. The only ceremony that is performed here is the bringing of sacrifices. This, perhaps, is no more than the parallel to the construction of the mishkan by Moshe. The mishkan of meeting requires a tent, the mishkan of sacrifices requires sacrifices. Why have I insisted that, in contradistinction to the Tent of Meeting, the initiative here lies firmly on the Jews and on Aharon?

The answer is the explicit emphasis of the verse I quoted at the outset. Moshe makes a special point of addressing the Jews AFTER they have prepared the sacrifices, and tells them, "THIS is that which God has commanded you to do, and God's glory shall appear to you" (9:6). This verse clearly reads like an instruction manual - do the following, and then, as a result, God's glory will appear to you. It is precisely the "hanging" nature of this verse, which refers to what has already been done rather than serving as an introduction to what comes after, that makes it clear that Moshe wishes to stress to the people that it should not be taken for granted that the mishkan will be successful in attaining the goal they have been yearning for. I believe that this is the source for the anxiety perceived by the Sages as running throughout this parasha. The people are on edge, and Moshe tells them - just do the following, and we shall finally succeed.

And yet, as I mentioned earlier, there is a note of ambiguity about the relationship between these sacrifices and the acceptance and appearance of God. Just two verses earlier, Moshe tells Aharon to tell the Jews to bring these sacrifices, "for today God will appear to you" (9:4). Here, the opposite appears to be true. Moshe says, "Today God will appear, so you should bring some sacrifices." The sacrifices are not the CAUSE of the appearance of God, but a proper reaction to it. How can both these relationships be true? Why does Moshe tell the Jews (through Aharon) to bring the sacrifices BECAUSE God is going to appear today, and then, after they have made their preparations, tell them that God will appear today, BECAUSE they will offer the sacrifices?

The answer, I believe, is simple. The Torah is teaching us that the actions of man needed to ensure acceptance of his sacrifices by God and the appearance of the presence of God are not magical, not some esoteric mumbo-jumbo or arcane mystical ritual known only to the priestly class. The way to ensure that our service of God be acceptable is to serve Him properly. True sacrifices ensure that God will find them acceptable. Hence Moshe sends the Jews to prepare sacrifices BECAUSE God is coming. Their motivation should not be to try and "bribe" God, or propitiate Him, but to honor Him, for He is coming to see them today. After they do just that, he then discloses to them the secret - that honest service and honor of God is the method which will lead to the atonement of the sin of the golden calf. If their motivation is not to bribe God, then He indeed is propitiated and accepts their sacrifice "le-ratzon."

 

E. Afterword - Peshat and Midrash

Before God appears to the assembled people on the eighth day, there is a curious hesitation. Despite Moshe's assurance that if they perform the sacrifices, God will appear to them, in fact nothing happens when Aharon finishes the sacrificial service. Aharon blesses the people and descends from the altar. The verse emphasizes that he has finished "performing the sin-offering and the burnt-offering and the peace-offering" (9:22). The next verse is very enigmatic: "Moshe and Aharon went into the tent of the meeting, and came out and blessed the people; and the glory of God appeared to all the people" (9:23). What happened in the Tent of Meeting, and why?

Rashi quotes a midrash:

"When Aharon saw that all the sacrifices had been offered and all the actions performed, and yet the Presence had not descended on Israel, he became very troubled and said: I know that God was angry with me (because of my part in making the golden calf), and it is my fault that the Presence has not descended on Israel.

"He said to Moshe: Moshe my brother, see what you have done to me, that I have entered (the sanctuary) and was shamed.

"Moshe immediately went in with him and they asked for mercy, and the Presence descended on Israel."

This midrash both supports and contradicts the point I have just made. On the one hand, it emphasizes that the descent of the Presence and the appearance of God to the people was not a "sure thing," but rather dependent on God's attitude towards those who brought the sacrifice. Ultimately, God will appear only after the proper preparations and actions on the part of Aharon (and Moshe). On the other hand, it seems that it is not always enough to stand honestly and honor God's impending presence. Although Aharon has completed the regular ser, he is found wanting.

This situation is exactly what is indicated by the "hidden" nature of this part of the story. Since the presence of God in relation to accepting our service depends on our actions and relationship with God, it of course follows that the private specific situation of each individual will be taken into account. Hence, Aharon, who is the instrument of this service, has a private problem, based on his role in the episode of the golden calf. But this is a private matter between God and Aharon, and the details do not concern us. Hence the Torah omits the private details, only hinting at the important point and its lesson for us - the Presence of God and His acceptance of our service depends on our actions. The hesitation at the end affirms that point dramatically, without the exact reason being important. The midrash fills in the missing details to help us understand the story, but from the Torah's point of view - peshat - these details are not significant.

 


 

 

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