Rising to the Occasion


Throughout life we all strive to accomplish many things, yet we are bound to make mistakes along the way. When others forgive us for our mistakes, we also need to forgive ourselves, learn from what went wrong and advance forward with positivity.

In this week’s parsha, Shmini, it is a full six months since the debacle of the Sin of the Golden Calf and G-d has forgiven the people of Israel for their wrongdoings. However, the reverberation of the sin lingers on in the hearts and minds of the survivors, and especially in Aaron, the High Priest, who was responsible for it.

Then G-d commands Aaron the High Priest to bring forth a specific offering:

                    Leviticus 9:2

וַיֹּ֣אמֶר אֶֽל־אַהֲרֹ֗ן קַח־לְ֠ךָ֠ עֵ֣גֶל בֶּן־בָּקָ֧ר לְחַטָּ֛את וְאַ֥יִל לְעֹלָ֖ה תְּמִימִ֑ם וְהַקְרֵ֖ב לִפְנֵ֥י יְוֽה׃ 

He said to Aaron: “Take a calf of the herd for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering, without blemish, and bring them before.


The great commentator Rashi explains:


קח לך עגל. לְהוֹדִיעַ שֶׁכִּפֵּר לוֹ הַקָּבָּ"ה עַל יְדֵי עֵגֶל זֶה עַל מַעֲשֵׂה הָעֵגֶל שֶׁעָשָֹה 

TAKE THEE A CALF — This animal was selected as a sin offering to announce to him that the Holy One, blessed be He, granted him atonement by means of this calf for the incident of the golden calf which he had made.


G-d indicates through the chosen offering that atonement was achieved. Yet when it is time to bring the offering, Moshe surprisingly needs to encourage Aaron to advance:


Leviticus 9:7


וַיֹּ֨אמֶר מֹשֶׁ֜ה אֶֽל־אַהֲרֹ֗ן קְרַ֤ב אֶל־הַמִּזְבֵּ֙חַ֙ וַעֲשֵׂ֞ה אֶת־חַטָּֽאתְךָ֙ וְאֶת־עֹ֣לָתֶ֔ךָ וְכַפֵּ֥ר בַּֽעַדְךָ֖ וּבְעַ֣ד הָעָ֑ם וַעֲשֵׂ֞ה אֶת־קׇרְבַּ֤ן הָעָם֙ וְכַפֵּ֣ר בַּֽעֲדָ֔ם כַּאֲשֶׁ֖ר צִוָּה יְוָֽה׃ 

Then Moses said to Aaron: “Come forward to the altar and sacrifice your sin offering and your burnt offering, making expiation for yourself and for the people; and sacrifice the people’s offering and make expiation for them, as G-d has commanded.”


What was Moshe trying to say to his brother Aaron?


Again, Rashi explains:


קרב אל המזבח. שֶׁהָיָה אַהֲרֹן בּוֹשׁ וְיָרֵא לָגֶשֶׁת, אָמַר לוֹ מֹשֶׁה, לָמָּה אַתָּה בוֹשׁ? לְכָךְ נִבְחַרְתָּ


for Aaron was diffident and feared to go there. Moses therefore said to him, “Why are you diffident? For this purpose hast thou been chosen!


Moshe is teaching us a life strategy when we are stuck and unsure of ourselves. We must recognize, for this purpose hast thou been chosen


It is this sense of mission that inspires Aaron to advance and bring the special offering as the Tabernacle is consecrated and G-d’s presence returns to His people Israel.


In Torah, we not only learn laws and rituals, we also learn from our ancestors how to deal with life generally. In this passage we learn how to rise to the occasion when feeling ambivalent.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Epstein
Community Scholar in Residence