Commentary for Tetzaveh

7 Feb

This week’s parshah contains the  ceremony of the instillation of Aaron and his sons as the priests.  The Torah does not spare any details in describing both the preparation of Aaron and his sons and the nitty-gritty details of the ceremony and its related sacrifice.  Many modern readers have the tendency to tune out sections related to sacrifices, but to do so would be a mistake because every little bit of the Torah, even the space between the letters, is meant to teach us something.


As part of the ceremony, Moses is commanded to take some of the blood of the sacrifice and put it on the right thumbs, right toes, and the ridges of the right ears of Aaron and his sons.  There are two midrashim that comment on this odd choice of body parts.  The first comments that this is to teach us that in order to act as a representative of the people to God, a priest must walk among the people and must listen to them so that he understands them, and only then may he act on their behalf.  This is certainly an important lesson to learn in all generations, and might have been necessary to impart to Aaron’s sons in particular, about whose personalities we know very little, but Aaron has always been portrayed as being very in tune with the people, becoming a highly respected mediator because of his ability to comment and empathize with everyone.


A second midrash fills us in on what this ceremony provided for Aaron, and what it can teach us as well.  The Midrash Habiur teaches: “the ear that heard the words ‘you shall have no other god beside Me’ and then listened to the people’s demand for a calf; the hands which had pledged to serve God and the fashioned a calf; the feet that had climbed Mount Sinai and then hastened to do that which was wrong.” in the incident of the golden calf all had to be purged of their sin in order to be rededicated to serving God.


Over the generations, many commentators have tried to mitigate Aaron’s complicity in the sin of the golden calf, either by explaining his intentions in agreeing to build it or by saying he was afraid the people would kill him if he did not build it, but all commentaries acknowledge that, as the text says, Aaron played a central role in its construction.  Through this ceremony, God not only shows that He is forgiving Aaron for his misdeed, but God is also teaching us that forgiveness is not quite enough.


During the Ten Days of Repentance, we ask for forgiveness from our fellow man and from God, but recognizing our wrongdoings and asking for forgiveness is only the first step.  Part of atoning for our sins is doing our best to not make the same mistakes again and trying to instead channel the effort we put into sinning into doing positive things.  God does not just forgive Aaron for his role in the sin of the golden calf.  He also gives Aaron the chance to make up for his sin by using the same faculties that he used to sin to now serve God.

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