THOUGHT FOR PARSHAT SHEMINI – SHABBAT PARAH 5779

BY RABBI CHAIM FACHLER

 

“It was on the eighth Day”. So starts this week’s Parsha, and hence the name Shemini, eighth. The actual date was the first of Nisan, just under a year after the Exodus. After months of preparations, detailed planning and construction, the Desert Sanctuary, the Mishkan is finally ready. But before the Priests, the Kohanim begin their HaShem-given function of Guardians of the Sanctuary Sacrifices, Moshe himself spends seven days in constant rehearsals, building and undoing this special place.

 

Finally, the great day arrives - the day that HaShem is to return His Divine Presence to His People through accepting their offerings. The Midrash likens this day to a joyous wedding ceremony – so great was the occasion. And Aharon the Kohen Gadol is about to lead the proceedings.

 

But Aharon hesitates. He doubts his own worthiness, especially in light of his unfortunate role in the Golden Calf incident which caused the Divine Presence to leave ten months earlier. His younger brother Moshe, whose own humility got him into trouble with HaShem as he tried again and again – without success – to refuse the job of leading Bnei Yisrael out of Egypt, coaxes Aharon: “Approach the Altar and perform the Service” [9:7]. Aharon wavers no more, and the Holy Rituals begin.

 

This attribute of genuine humility – as opposed to false modesty – is sadly rare. The norm is to care about “number 1,” and only afterwards about everyone and everything else. Putting others first - with total commitment and sincerity – doesn’t come easy. Both Moshe and Aharon did it naturally, which is why they were chosen for their respective leadership roles.

 

Think of all the social ills that would be avoided if there was more humility around. Domestic abuse, road rage, family feuding, office politics – to name but a few. Our Rabbis emphasised this point throughout the Talmud. Even Torah study cannot be properly achieved if arrogance plays too great a part in a person’s character.

 

To this end, the custom of reciting a chapter of the Ethics of our Fathers – Pirkei Avot – on each of the six Shabatot between Pesach and Shavuot was introduced. Later, and probably by popular demand, this was stretched to Rosh Hashana. Pirkei Avot is part of the Mishna. It is a Tractate that appears together with all the sections dealing with the many laws of social justice – theft, bodily harm, domestic disputes and property issues. Our sages are making two points here: that correct social behaviour is part of a successful society; and that preparing to celebrate Shavuot – the Giving of the Torah – will remain incomplete unless accompanied by a genuine acceptance of the principles outlined in this critical Mishna.

 

With less than 2 weeks before the general elections here in Israel, we are already witnessing the less savoury characteristics of many politicians as they jostle for positioning and status with the public. Let’s hope the debates leading up to the elections stay relatively civil, and that we the electorate will be able to focus on the issues and challenges we face, and not on having to decide who is the least besmirched candidates.

 

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Shabbat Shalom,