Parshas Shemini - Amazing!

By Rabbi Zvi Teichman

Posted on 04/11/18

“I’m not impressed!” is a refrain we often hear in response to a wide array of experiences, people, circumstances and accomplishments.

This quality can be a valuable tool in maintaining a healthy objectivity in not allowing ourselves to succumb to all that ‘glitters’, but at the same time it can develop into a callous attitude that inures us from true growth.

בושה, shyness, is one of three traits that are inherently ‘Jewish’. In addition to our being רחמנים, merciful, and גומלי חסדים, kindly, when Hashem appeared in His full awesome and fiery glory at Har Sinai, He sought to infuse us with a innate sense of "בושה"  (יבמות עט) .

The great Maharal explains that בושה is not merely ‘shyness’ but rather a ability to be נתפעל, to react, to be open to influence, to stand with readiness to be impressed! Shyness, a feeling of intimidation is a byproduct of בושה but not it’s objective. The goal is to be healthily responsive to that which deserves awe and respect and in not creating a veneer of hardness that numbs us from being sensitive and amenable.

קרב אל המזבח (ויקרא ט,ז), “Come near to the Altar”, Moshe beckons Aharon, who is seemingly hesitant in assuming his role on the day the Priestly Service is to begin!

Rashi quotes from the Sifra: שהיה אהרן בוש וירא לגשת אמר לו משה למה אתה בוש לכך נבחרת, for Aharon was shy and overawed to approach, Moshe said to him, “for this were you chosen!”

Where did his bashfulness stem from? Hashem had commanded him to take up his role as the Kohen Gadol, was he questioning His directive!?

Many commentaries suggest that Aharon was traumatized by the sin of the Golden Calf and the corners of the Altar appeared to him as the horns of the Golden Calf, causing him a momentary paralysis due to the trauma of that sin.

But the Sifra does not bear this out. The version quoted by Rashi is a דבר אחר, an alternate interpretation offered there, comparing Aharon to a young girl who has been designated as a wife for a King. As she uncomfortably shies away from this overwhelming role, she is encouraged by her maidens, "הגיסי דעתך", “rise to your greatness” and serve the King proudly!

Aharon never doubted his commitment to serve, he merely proceeded cautiously with a sense of tremendous awe and healthy hesitance in undertaking such a noble task. Moshe prodded him to put aside his timidity because, "לכך נבחרת", for this were you handpicked, there are moments when one must rise with determined confidence to lead without wavering.

Later on after dispatching his duties with unleashed resolve, the שכינה, the Divine Presence still hasn’t descended upon the Mishkan. Aharon, in anguish, turns to Moshe and exclaims: יודע אני שכעס הקב"ה עלי ובשבילי לא ירדה שכינה לישראל, אמר לו למשה, משה אחי כך עשית לי שנכנסתי ונתביישתי!, “I know that G-d is angry with me and it is because of me that the Divine Presence has not rested upon Yisroel”. He turns to Moshe and says, “Moshe, my brother, so you have done to me that I entered and was intimidated!”

Can it be that these two brothers were having a brotherly spat with Aharon accusing Moshe of embarrassing him!? Certainly not! They were arguing whether or not even when assuming as dignified a role as Kohen Gadol one should go with cautious optimism or not. Aharon is asserting his halachic opinion stating, “I entered with a healthy fear, it was your insistence on my asserting fearless confidence in my new position that deterred the Shechinah from appearing!”

Finally, when Aharon and his children, Elazar and Isamar, were mistakenly taken to task by Moshe for not consuming the Rosh Chodesh goat in their state of mourning, with Moshe finally realizing and admitting his misjudgment after Aharon satisfactorily explains his reasoning for his actions, the verse states וישמע משה וייטב בעיניו (שם י,כ), Moshe heard and it was pleasing in his eyes.

Rashi quoting once again the Sifra writes: הודה ולא בוש לומר לא שמעתי, he readily conceded and was not reluctant to state “I didn’t hear”!

Would we really expect Moshe to lie to save his reputation!? What was the big concession here?

The Targum Yonasan describes how upon realizing his mistake, Moshe sends out with great joy, proclamations throughout the entire camp informing them of his brother Aharon’s novel interpretation.

Rashi is teaching us the fundamentals of this characteristic "בושה". It’s not a sense of shame nor shyness but rather a ready submission to others and truth. It may be a sense of awe before Hashem that keeps us on our toes in not being casual and callous in the performance of our duties. Or it may be our joyous deference to our fellow Jew and an absolute "התפעלות", amazement, of another person’s greatness!

"וייטב בעיניו", It was pleasing in his eyes, was a attitude of displaying התפעלות, ‘awe-filled amazement’ and delight with his brother.

These subtleties are juxtaposed to the episode of Nadav and Avihu who, with too much confidence, offered a אש זרה, an alien fire that ultimately ‘consumed’ them! The Sifra here tells us they lived too smugly, not approaching their father Aharon, their teacher Moshe or each other for advice! They lived without "בושה", bereft of התפעלות for Hashem nor their fellow man, which led them to a ‘flippant’ attitude that fed into a overly confident zealousness that resulted in their untimely deaths.

May we live with a sense of awed amazement, being enthused with reverence for Hashem, our colleagues and family. It is with that sensitivity that we will succeed in living up to our greatest potential in creating an environment of genuine respect and absolute selfless joy!

באהבה  ובהתפעלות,

צבי יהודה טייכמאן