Rabbi Yossi Slotnick
Former Rosh Kollel in Cape Town (1997-1998)
Currently Ra”m in Yeshivat Ma’ale Gilboa
The story of the “seven days of inauguration” of the Mishkan, with which our parsha concludes, is characterized by a clear demarcation of units that are created by means of the almost universal ending, “as God commanded Moshe”. This device serves to divide the process of the inauguration into several stages:
1. The nation is gathered, and Aharon and his sons are brought to the Ohel Mo’ed
2. Aharon is dressed in the special garments of the Kohen Gadol
3. The Mishkan is anointed with anointing oil, oil is sprinkled on the altar, Aharon is anointed, and his sons are dressed in the special garments of the kohanim
4. Offering of an ox as a sin offering, which purifies and sanctifies the altar
5. A ram is offered as a burnt offering, and its blood is sprinkled on the altar
6. An inaugural ram is offered, with some of its blood placed upon Aharon, on his sons, and on the altar
7. The anointing oil is mixed with the blood from the altar, and this mixture is sprinkled on Aharon and his sons, the inaugural meat and bread are eaten, and the kohanim are instructed concerning the seven days of inauguration.
When the Torah divides a process into several stages, we must examine what is special about each individual stage; why does the text not simply describe a single, long process? In most cases, we are able to discern a development in the stages of the process.
We shall address here only one aspect of this complex discussion: the relationship between Aharon and his sons, the regular kohanim. Reviewing the first few stages, we find a clear distinction between Aharon, the Kohen Gadol, and his sons. The most striking point in this distinction is the fact that the description of Aharon being dressed in his special garments occupies an entire unit on its own, while the dressing of his sons is contained in a unit together with other events. The impression that arises from units 2-3 is that Aharon parallels the altar: just as the altar is built, to Aharon must be “built”, or dressed. Just as the Mishkan and its vessels are anointed, so Aharon must be anointed. His sons are not part of this equation; only after all the vessels of the Mishkan (including Aharon) are sanctified is mention made of the sons, who also have a function in the Mishkan, but who are definitely not part of the “vessels of the Mishkan”.
This point undergoes a radical change in stage 6 of the process, dealing with the inaugural ram offering. Here, too, there is an act that is performed in relation to the altar and also in relation to the Kohen Gadol, but if we compare it with the picture in section 3., we note three differences:
1. The order is reversed: here it is the kohanim who are purified first, and only afterwards is the altar purified
2. The blood is placed upon Aharon AND his sons, not only upon Aharon – as was the case with the anointing oil
3. In contrast to the entire process thus far, here we see an action that is undertaken on the part of Aharon and his sons. Moshe places the meat and the bread upon the hands of Aharon and his sons, and he waves them. Admittedly, this is not a direct action on their part, but it certainly represents a great degree of involvement. (Admittedly, earlier on – when the ox is sacrificed as a sin offering, Aharon and his sons first place their hands upon it, but this does not represent involvement in the act of sacrifice itself, and even this act is described differently in the case of the inaugural ram and in the case of the ox as sin offering and the ram as burnt offering.)
It would seem, then, that one of the purposes of the inaugural ram is to reduce the disparity between Aharon and his sons. Thus far only Aharon has been perceived as one of the vessels of the Mishkan, parallel to the altar; now his sons also attain this status. This trend is reinforced further in section 7.
In section 7 we read of another sprinkling of the anointing oil and blood on Aharon and his sons. For Aharon, this is a second sprinkling of the oil, but for his sons it is the first time that the oil is placed upon them.Also, the mixture of blood with the oil would appear to symbolize a summary of the whole process thus far. The act of purification that is achieved by means of the sacrifices (symbolized by the blood) combines with the act of the initial sanctification (symbolized by the oil); the sprinkling of this mixture creates an act of renewed sanctification in which Aharon and his sons are equal.
This equality is also expressed in the plural form in which Moshe commands Aharon and his sons:
“Moshe said to Aharon and to his sons: “Boil… there shall you eat… burn with fire… you shall not go out… the days of inauguration… He shall consecrate you… to make atonement for you… you shall remain day and night…and guard God’s charge, that you shall not die…” – all in the plural.
There is no separate command here for Aharon; he and his sons are united with the same instructions and warning, and are united in their common purpose of guarding God’s charge.
It is only when this change is complete, and cooperation between Aharon and his sons has been created, that Moshe hands over the charge to the kohanim. Then we read that “Aharon and his sons did all the things that God had commanded by the hand of Moshe”. It is now no longer Moshe who performs the service, but rather Aharon and his sons. But their service is not divided into two separate tasks; there is full cooperation between the actions of the Kohen Gadol and the actions of the other kohanim.
* We discern a similar process taking place in the story of the Megillah: only when there is participation by the entire nation in the distress and cooperation in finding a solution – “Fast for me…” – can the leader find a way to solve the problem. The same principle is all the more applicable and relevant in our times, when the leaders of the generation (of every political stripe) should remember that the epitome of leadership is the ability to involve others in decision-making and in action; only then is the “offering accepted with favor”.