Parashat Shemini tells of the special sacrifices which Aharon offered on behalf of himself and on behalf of the nation on the day he began serving as kohen gadol in the Mishkan. Upon concluding the offering of the sacrifices, he blessed the people: “Aharon raised his hands towards the nation and blessed them, and he came down from performing the sin-offering, the burnt-offering and the shelamim sacrifice” (9:22).
Rav Shlomo of Radomsk, in his Tiferet Shlomo, finds in the phrase “va-yeired mei-asot ha-chatat” (“he came down from performing the sin-offering”) an allusion to Aharon’s feelings towards the people as he blessed them. After having tended to that day’s special sacrifices, which were necessary, in part, to atone for the people’s wrongdoing, Aharon “came down” from this activity, he turned his attention away from the nation’s misdeeds, and gave them a blessing.
“Blessing” people – genuinely wishing them well, and giving them encouragement – requires that we “come down” from their wrongdoing, from their faults and imperfections. As long as we focus our attention on other people’s shortcomings, we are incapable of truly and wholeheartedly “blessing” them, of expressing friendship and working towards their wellbeing. We can extend our blessing to people only if we can look away from their failings and direct our attention instead to all that is good about them.
The role of kohen, of a spiritual guide, entails both the “sin-offering” – working to help people grow and improve, which necessitates pointing out their mistakes and their wrongful conduct – as well as “blessings” – providing encouragement and inspiration, which necessitates “coming down from the sin-offering,” looking beyond people’s faults. As important as it is to offer constructive criticism (when appropriate) to help people improve and correct their mistakes, it is equally important to “bless” the people around us by extending friendship and expressing admiration and fondness despite their faults.