Parshas Shemini begins on the inauguration day for the Mishkan. For the previous week, Moshe had put up and taken down the Mishkan each day in order to show the Leviim how it was supposed to be done, and had also brought all the korbanos, in order to show Aharon how they were supposed to be done. For all intents and purposes, Moshe was the Kohen during this week. Now, on the eighth day (“Shemini” in Hebrew), he was ready to turn over the authority of the Kehunah to Aharon and his sons.
The parsha begins with Moshe gathering Aharon and his sons’ to give them instructions on the korbanos that were to be brought to consecrate the Mishkan. It was at this time that he appointed them as the Kohanim. “וַֽיְהִי֙ בַּיּ֣וֹם הַשְּׁמִינִ֔י קָרָ֣א משֶׁ֔ה לְאַֽהֲרֹ֖ן וּלְבָנָ֑יו וּלְזִקְנֵ֖י יִשְׂרָאֵֽל” “And it was on the eighth day, Moshe called to Aharon and his children and to the Elders of Yisrael” (Vayikra 9:1). This must have been extremely difficult for Moshe. The office of Kehunah is special; the Kohen represents Bnei Yisrael to Hashem through the korbanos and the various jobs in the Beis Hamikdash. No one else is authorized to do any of it. This opportunity allows them to foster an extra special connection with Hashem. Combined with the fact that Moshe had already been acting in this role for the past week, it must have been hard for him to give over this special position just like that (even though the job was Aharon’s by right).
The Ohr HaChaim explains that when a person is forced to give over something special against his will, he will do it with three particular conditions. First, he will try to delay the transfer as long as possible. Secondly, when he begins to transfer authority, he will do it in stages; no one wants to give up the perks of their position all in one shot. Lastly, he won’t make a public display of it. He’ll pass it on with little fanfare or attention. This pasuk shows us how Moshe went against all three of these tendencies.
The pasuk says Moshe called to Aharon “בַּיּ֣וֹם הַשְּׁמִינִ֔י”. Whenever the pasuk uses this style of phrase to denote which day it is, it means that the described event happened immediately upon the breaking of that day. This disproves the first tendency; Moshe did not hesitate to transfer to Aharon the authority of the Kehunah, giving it to him immediately on the morning of the eighth day.
The pasuk then tells us that Moshe called to Aharon’s sons at the same time he called to Aharon. While Aharon was to be the Kohen Gadol with all the responsibilities that entailed, his sons also became Kohanim, also with tremendous responsibilities. (Actually, in terms of day-to-day responsibilities, they had more duties than the Kohen Gadol.) Moshe didn’t have to make them Kohanim immediately; he could have served under Aharon himself for a day or two, just to make sure Aharon was completely up to speed on what he needed to do. Surely it would have been easier for Moshe to transfer power in stages, first giving up being the Kohen Gadol and after a few days giving up being a regular Kohen. But he didn’t do that; he happily and immediately gave Aharon’s sons their rightful position as Kohanim, serving under their father in the Mishkan.
Finally, the pasuk tells us that Moshe called for the Elders to come and be present at this ceremony as well. Moshe could have easily gone to Aharon and his sons and told them, “From now on, you guys are the Kohanim. Let’s get started.” Instead, he called the most respected and honored members of the nation and turned it into a whole ceremony. He did this because he was so excited for his brother and his nephews to have the opportunity to serve as Kohanim in the Mishkan that he wanted to turn it into a celebration! So he called the most important people to be present, automatically turning it into a prominent event. This goes against the third natural tendency.
We have spoken numerous times about the greatness of Moshe Rabbeinu and the impact he continues to have on us as a nation. Perhaps the best lesson we can take from this story is that this story could happen to us just as easily as it happened to Moshe. How will we act if it does? The Torah gives us a clear picture of what Moshe did in this same situation; it is our responsibility to take the lesson and turn it into a reality.
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