Friday, March 25, 2011

Aharon's shame and fear

Summary: Understanding the Rashi by considering his sources.

Post: At the start of Shemini, we read:

7. And Moses said to Aaron, "Approach the altar and perform your sin offering and your burnt offering, atoning for yourself and for the people, and perform the people's sacrifice, atoning for them, as the Lord has commanded.ז. וַיֹּאמֶר מֹשֶׁה אֶל אַהֲרֹן קְרַב אֶל הַמִּזְבֵּחַ וַעֲשֵׂה אֶת חַטָּאתְךָ וְאֶת עֹלָתֶךָ וְכַפֵּר בַּעַדְךָ וּבְעַד הָעָם וַעֲשֵׂה אֶת קָרְבַּן הָעָם וְכַפֵּר בַּעֲדָם כַּאֲשֶׁר צִוָּה יְ־הֹוָ־ה:

For Aharon was embarrassed and fearful to come close. Moshe told him, why are you embarrassed? You were chosen for this!
קרב אל המזבח: שהיה אהרן בוש וירא לגשת. אמר לו משה למה אתה בוש, לכך נבחרת:

Incidentally, at Shirat Devorah, there is a beautiful homiletic interpretation of this:
Rashi explains that Aharon was embarrassed and afraid to approach the altar.  Moshe therefore said to him "Why are you embarrassed? This is what you were selected for."

The Baal Shem Tov elucidated Rashi's words.  Moshe was saying to Aharon: "Why are you embarrassed? It is specifically due to the fact that you possess the character trait of humility and that you feel ashamed before Hashem that you were chosen to be the Kohen - "This is what you were selected for!"

Source: Rabbi Y. Bronstein
Though of course it is not peshat. For peshat in Rashi, first I will present the Taz on this, and then I will consider Rashi's sources and explain what I think Rashi intends.

First, the Taz:

"Bring Aharon near -- that Aharon was embarrassed and fearful to come close. Moshe told him, why are you embarrassed? You were chosen for this! This is apparent from the extra language of קְרַב אֶל הַמִּזְבֵּחַ, where it would have sufficed to say עֲשֵׂה אֶת חַטָּאתְךָ. Certainly their is no performing of the sin-offering if he did not first draw near to the altar! Rather, perforce, he was ashamed to draw near. However, it is difficult what these two languages of 'shame' and 'fear' are doing. And further, the language of Rashi, 'for this you were chosen' -- would it be the case that because he was chosen, the shame would be nullified from him? This is not nullification of shame, which is part of a person's nature, as we find by Shaul, who was hidden by the vessels, even though he was chosen for the kingship. And it appears that Aharon was embarrassed, by virtue of his nature, to enter into greatness; and was also fearful by virtue of the fear that is the positive trait of the angels, for all of their conduct is in fear, as it is written "they answer {/speak up} and say in fear". And Moshe replied to him that the fear is all well and good, it is pleasant for you, as we mentioned. But your embarrassment, which is by virtue of your nature, you need to nullify your nature. For it is stated in Mizrachi above, in this parasha, that some explain that one who sins with some item and is rebuked for it, it is not of his way to make use of the thing, even mentioning it, all the more so that one would not gain atonement with it. And if so, when they saw that Aharon brought an eigel for a sin-offering, and was not embarrassed lest his sin be recalled, it would be known that it had been atoned for. Therefore, Moshe said here "why are you ashamed? Were you not chosen for this?" He hinted with this that since you are not ashamed, it will be apparent to all that you have been forgiven and chosen. And if so, it is not possible for you should not be ashamed, for you are nullifying the choice in this. But your fear is fitting for you, by aspect of the loftiness of the Divine Presence, etc."

Thus, he questions why both are needed, and notes that Moshe only targets the busha but not the yirah, leading him to this conclusion. And I agree with the idea of the extra קְרַב אֶל הַמִּזְבֵּחַ being the source of the derasha.

But perhaps looking at some of Rashi's sources (courtesy of Mekorei Rashi) would help us answer the Taz's excellent questions in another way, and indeed, one closer to Rashi's true intention. Here is what the Sifra states:

Notice that bushah and yir'ah are two separate positions. And in the busha section, the chet ha'egel does not seem to arise. Rather, it is more the awesomeness of the task combined with the humility of the person. And this person is encouraged and informed to harden/coarsen his (/her) thoughts and perform the work regardless, in order to serve the King. (This is more akin to the yir'ah aspect as understood by the Taz. Also, we can perhaps carefully analyze על מה נתבחרת, to figure out what it means in Rashi.)

Meanwhile, the yirah comes, it would seem, from uncertainty and fear due to Aharon's role in the sin of the Golden Calf. (And not, as the Taz interprets it, as yir'at Hashem which is a good thing in serving God.) The midrash portrays this quite colorfully, that "Aharon saw the altar in the form of an ox, and was afraid of it. Moshe said to him, 'My brother, harden your thoughts and come near to it.'"

I would then guess that Rashi is summarizing and presenting both positions in the Sifra, shortening it in the process. And the answer of lekach nivcharta is either covering the busha (as it indeed only appears explicitly in the Sifra) or is covering both. But Moshe is certainly acting to counter both of them.

(Another text, though not one I am sure was an input into this specific Rashi, is Targum Pseudo-Yonatan on the pasuk:

Here, Aharon sees the horns of the mizbe'ach and it looks like an eigel, a reference then to the eigel hazahav. And it is only this that Moshe is countering. This, then, is akin to the yesh omerim in the Sifra.

Even if the Taz is not the true meaning of Rashi, we can still derive an important lesson for ourselves in our own conduct. This is a lesson to (some) introverts, who might need to conquer this middah in themselves, at time, in order to accomplish good in the world.

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