SALT - Wednesday, 19 Nissan 5778 - April 4, 2018

  • Rav David Silverberg
In memory of former IDF Chief Rabbi 
and leading rabbi of Religious Zionism, Avichai Rontzki z"l
            In the opening section of Parashat Shemini, we read of the dramatic events that took place on the first day the kohanim began serving in the Mishkan.  After Aharon and his sons completed the day’s special rituals, offering sacrifices on the altar in the courtyard of the Mishkan, Moshe and Aharon went together inside the Mishkan, and then went back outside and blessed the nation (9:23).  Several commentators, including the Rashbam, Chizkuni and Ibn Ezra, explain that Moshe and Aharon went inside the Mishkan to pray that God should appear to the people.  Indeed, the very next verse tells that a fire descended from the heavens and consumed the sacrifices on the altar, in full view of the people, who promptly bowed and gave praise to God.  Accordingly, the aforementioned commentators explain that this was Moshe and Aharon’s prayer – that God should demonstrably express His acceptance of the sacrifices offered in the Mishkan.  We can readily understand the urgency of the matter in light of the anxiety the people must have felt at that time, worrying whether God would reside among them after the sin of the golden calf.  Benei Yisrael expended a great amount of wealth and effort to construct the Mishkan, trusting God’s promise to forgive them and reside among them despite this grievous sin, and now that the Mishkan was operational Moshe and Aharon pleaded with God for a clear sign of His residence in the newly-constructed Sanctuary.
            This approach is also taken by Rashi, who, citing Torat Kohanim, adds further information about Moshe and Aharon’s brief entry into the Mishkan.  Rashi tells that when Aharon completed the sacrifices and saw no sign of the divine presence, he blamed himself, saying, “I know that the Almighty is angry at me, and it is because of me that the divine presence has not descended to Israel.”  Aharon figured that as he had fashioned the golden calf, he bore responsibility for what he presumed was the failure of the entire enterprise of the Mishkan to bring God’s presence among the nation.  He and Moshe then went inside the Mishkan to seek God’s compassion, and He responded favorably.
            Rav Yerucham Levovitz pointed to Aharon’s response as an example of how we should be focusing on our own faults and shortcomings, rather than on other people’s faults and shortcomings.  The natural tendency of most people is to blame problems and crises on the failings of other people, while absolving themselves of all responsibility.  Aharon did just the opposite – personally accepting the blame for the situation, rather than pointing fingers and condescendingly casting the blame on the rest of the nation.  His example shows us that the appropriate response to the problems and ills that we observe is to look inward, into ourselves, to see how we can improve our own conduct, rather than rush to point fingers at other people.
            Our ability to influence and change other people is very limited, whereas our capacity to change ourselves is far greater.  With honesty and determination, we are fully capable of raising our own standards and becoming better.  Other people’s conduct, however, depends entirely on their own decisions, upon which we have little influence.  If only for this reason, we should be focusing far more on improving ourselves than on complaining about what other people do.  When we see the absence of the “Shekhina” in the world around us, and feel troubled and disheartened by the evils and problems faced by our society and the world, we should resolve primarily to improve ourselves, rather than decide that all the guilt is found exclusively with other people.