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take responsibility

Rabbi Ari Enkin

By Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel

If we would take Aaron’s example and accept more responsibility for our actions, perhaps we would find a greater Divine presence resting upon us.

This week’s Torah portion is Shemini (Leviticus 9:1-11:47) and it marks the midway point in the course of the annual Torah reading cycle. The word “Shemini” means “eighth,” referring to the eighth day of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) inauguration ceremonies. It was on the eighth day that God’s Divine presence (the Shechina) was to descend upon the Mishkan.

The Midrash tells us that Aaron became distressed when God’s Divine presence did not immediately descend upon the Mishkan after all the required sacrifices had been offered. He wondered if he was at fault. He was worried that God was angry at him for his role in the making of the Golden Calf, even though he repented. Moses assured Aaron that the delay in the Divine presence descending upon the Mishkan had nothing to do with him. Nevertheless, Aaron wasn’t convinced and remained distressed.

Let’s put this scenario into perspective. Aaron was the High Priest. He was the supreme spiritual leader of the Jewish people. That’s a pretty big position! You’d have to be quite pious to get that job.

Yet Aaron’s appointment to the position came shortly after the sin of the Golden Calf, and by extension, after physical and spiritual disaster had struck. Many people were killed in punishment in the aftermath of the Golden Calf. Even when Moses called out, “Whoever is for G-d, let him come with me,” it was only the tribe of Levi (Aaron’s tribe) that rallied around Moses and the honor of God. Most others were apathetic. Perhaps it should have come as no great surprise that the Divine presence was not descending upon the Mishkan.

golden calf

Worshiping the Golden Calf (Wikipedia)

So why did Aaron take it personally? Clearly, he wasn’t to blame. He could have easily shifted the blame to those who remained apathetic and did not join Moses. It would surely be the fault of those who didn’t repent and who who didn’t heed, “Whoever is for G-d, let him come with me”. Nonetheless, Aaron was distressed. Why?

It is explained that this episode teaches us about Aaron’s tremendous character. People love to believe that it’s not their fault. It’s always someone else’s fault, right? (Confess!) We never like to take the blame.

But not Aaron. Aaron was quick to accept the blame and responsibility for God’s apparent disfavor. He didn’t even suggest that anyone else could have done something wrong. He took things personally – in a good way. When God saw Aaron’s communal care and concern, the Divine Presence descended upon the Mishkan.

And so it is for us. If we would accept more responsibility for our actions, perhaps we would find a greater Divine presence resting upon us.

For more insights on this week’s Torah reading by Rabbi Ari Enkin, click on the links below.






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