The opening section of Parashat Shemini describes the special sacrifices that were offered on the day of the Mishkan’s inauguration, when Aharon and his sons officiated as kohanim for the first time. In honor of the event, Aharon tended to a number of special sacrifices – three sacrifices which were brought by the nation, as well as a sin-offering and burnt-offering for himself. This day followed the seven-day “miluim” period, during which Aharon and his sons were formally consecrated as kohanim. On each of those seven days, they brought three sacrifices – a sin-offering, a burnt-offering and a shelamim sacrifice.
Rav Shmuel Borenstein of Sochatchov, in Sheim Mi-Shmuel, finds it significant that Aharon required a chatat (sin-offering) on the day he began officiating as kohein gadol, even after bringing a chatat for atonement on each of the seven preceding days. We may reasonably assume that over the course of the seven-day miluim process, after bringing seven sin-offerings, Aharon had achieved complete atonement for all his misdeeds. What was left for him to atone for on the eighth day?
The Sheim Mi-Shmuel answers that as a person rises to greater heights, flaws and imperfections which had previously seemed trivial now assume significance. Slight mistakes which were overshadowed by more serious indiscretions in the past become more discernible, and more urgent, once a person grows and raises his standards. And so even after Aharon rose to considerable heights over the course of the seven-day miluim process, he still required atonement – because on the level of purity he had now reached, slight flaws which were previously deemed insignificant needed now to be addressed, and to be atoned for.
The Sheim Mi-Shmuel here conveys the simply but important lesson that personal growth never ends. Even after we succeed in erasing the large stains on our characters, we must then get to work removing the smaller stains which had previously been indiscernible. We can and should take pride in our accomplishments and in the progress we’ve made, but these feelings of gratification must propel us further, and encourage us to keep getting better. Just as Aharon still needed to move forward even after the seven-day miluim period, we, too, must continue working to grow and improve despite our accomplishments, and must always search for ways to make ourselves better, each day of our lives.