Coming Back Stronger
This week’s Sedra introduces several important commandments, including the laws of kashrut and ritual purity. At the same time, it takes its name from the events surrounding The Mishkan. After months of preparations and anticipation, and after a 7 day grand inauguration period, the regular temple services finally started being led by the High Priest and brother of Moshe, Aaron HaKohen. Our Sedra Shemini (meaning 8th) signifies the 8th day, the day after the inauguration. On that day, a fire came down, consuming the offerings that had been left and the Divine Presence dwelled within the Mishkan. They had waited since the revelation at Mount Sinai for God to present Himself to the Jewish People again, and now His lasting presence was felt in the camp once more.
Obviously this would be a day of great significance for the entire Jewish Nation, but for none more so than Aaron Himself. Ever since the sin of the Golden Calf, where the people mistakenly formed a cow-like golden statue, Aaron had borne such tremendous guilt. He felt responsible for the actions that led to such sin and behaviour, and mourned their punishment with serious anxiety.
At last, the day had come where Aaron could breathe a sigh of relief. With the fire racing down from heaven and the offering being accepted, he felt as if the burden had been lifted and the people were at last forgiven for their crimes. The National Teshuvah had been completed and, in the eyes of Hashem, The Jewish People had redeemed themselves and would be worthy of a connection with their creator, which they longingly anticipated.
Even so, there would be an eternal reminder for Aaron of the mistakes of his past. No gold could be brought into the Holy of Holies, nor was allowed to be worn on the garments of the High Priest. How could gold be used in such important places, when that same gold brought such shame to the Jewish People?
This teaches us an important lesson in character building. Aaron would need these reminders, but only so that he could grow. I fell, then I lamented, but then I got up, wiped myself down and came back stronger. When that very first offering was accepted by God, Aaron knew that, even though he had made mistakes in the past, it is possible to re-build your life and come back, maybe even stronger than before.
If a person can come back from mistakes and grow from them, they can achieve greatness! Aaron would forever help us to remember this lesson, to hold it true, and remind ourselves that we can always come back from the ‘floor’, we can always come back from our mistakes or the toughest of situations, we just have to keep growing!
Tazria begins, picking up where we left off last week, by detailing the laws and applications of spiritual purity, after which the Sedra move focus to the laws of Tzaraat.
Tzaraat, was a disease, commonly translated as leprosy (although the commentators are far from unanimous on this). Being afflicted with Tzaarat was highly unpleasant, very obvious to those around you, and difficult to alleviate.
Only a Kohen could determine what actually constituted Tzaarat, but its symptoms included patches of discolouration on skin and/or clothing, which were caused by the person speaking lashon harah (evil gossip). Those suffering would be taken outside the camp, into an area of quarantine, and made to stay there until the symptoms subsided. After such a time, special procedures would have to be undertaken in order to reintegrate the affected person to everyday society.
There are many interesting ideas that our Rabbis learn from this disease, its symptoms and rituals of rehabilitation. I would like to focus on the role of the Kohen.
It was only a Kohen that could diagnose the indicators and determine what action to take. What is so special about a Kohen? They were given responsibilities in the Temple, but why were they best equipped to help with this specific issue?
We are taught in the writings of Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the fathers, commonly studied during the summer months on Shabbat Afternoon) that “Be from the students of Aaron, love peace, pursue peace, love people, and bring them close to Torah.”
Aaron, the Kohen Gadol, and his family were known for their loving-kindness and were pursuers of peace. They had an innate love for people and their community, and it was with compassion they cared for others. It was most fitting that at a time when people would feel isolated, embarrassed and alone, the Kohanim would care for them.
In our lives we all know people like this. Growing up there was the friend that we could depend on no matter what. The person that no matter your position you are always comfortable to turn to, who will go above and beyond to help others, and care for their friends in all types of situations. It is that type of person that our society should be filled with.
Can we all be that person? Are we able to reach out with love and compassion, not just to our friends, but for those who are truly in need? The lesson from Aaron HaKohen is to not be a silent witness to the sufferings of others. To show compassion for those around us, and take responsibility to help them through their struggles. This is something each and every one of us can learn from and in doing so we will be able to affect change on any level.