This week’s Torah Portion, Parshas Shemeenee, talks about the completion of the Tabernacle. You can build beautiful edifices, but it is only worth the effort if that building does what it is supposed to do. For example, suppose a love-struck guy builds a mansion wherein he dreams of living with the love of his life. The mansion is all done…and his girl disappears from his life, finding herself a new guy. That mansion, all that effort, all for naught. He is left with the empty shell of structure with no vibrancy inside.
The Jews ran to donate to the building of the Tabernacle, crazy with love for G-d who had forgiven their sin of the Golden Calf. They spent months building it. Now came the test – would the edifice reunite them fully with G-d? Or would they be stuck with a structure, but no relationship?
On the 8th day of the setup was the day to start the services by the priests [not for this post, but 7 is the temporal world, while 8 is one above that to spirituality]. Aharon, chosen as High Priest, begins with personal sacrifices, trying to get atonement for past mistakes. He blesses the nation. And then…
Verse 24: “Moshe and Aharon went into the Ohel Moed and came out…and the presence of Hashem appeared to the nation.” What were Moshe and Aharon doing at this point? We know Aharon was there to do the Avodah – the service. Why did Moshe suddenly appear on the scene and go together with Aharon into the Tabernacle?
Rashi: the Ketores-incense part of the service was to be done for the first time and Moshe was teaching Aharon how to do it. The Rashbam says that the two of them, Moshe and Aharon, were busy praying for the presence of Hashem to be manifest to the Jews. You see, G-d is in all of our lives. Yet, not all of us merit to “see” His presence. It takes an extra-level of merit to discern the revelations in our life. Here, where the Jewish people waited to see if their Tabernacle would be accepted, it was important that they be able to tangibly see revelation, which is why Moshe and Aharon were pleading for it.
The Midrash tells us there is more to the story. The Midrash tells us that Aharon went in to do the sacred work in the Tabernacle, but the altar took on the form of an animal and he got scared. Moshe had to enter with him to reassure him and let him clearly see the altar for what it was.
We are not being told by the Midrash that Aharon was hallucinating. It wasn’t an LSD-fueled trip into imagine land. What we are being taught with this Midrash is that Aharon’s sense of shame for the sin of the Golden Calf was coloring everything in his life—he wasn’t getting past the fact that he had some complicity (albeit for a good reason) in the Golden Calf. He thought everything he touched was tainted by his sin, even the altar itself. Therefore, Moshe went in with him and helped him understand that the sin was in the past. G-d had forgiven and it was time to now move on past that sin, without letting the guilt continue to color Aharon’s life. Once that happened, then there was full revelation of G-d to the people.
My friends, we are not being told there isn’t responsibility attributable to our sins. We know that when we sin we must fess up and repent. We must set wrongs right. However, what we ARE being told is that once our repentance is done, it is okay to understand G-d loves us, that we have a huge potential G-d still wants us to live up to, and that the past sins must never cripple our relationship with G-d.
And when we grasp that concept, ah, then, we open ourselves up to manifest Divine Revelation. Jewish guilt ain’t that much of a Jewish concept. We take responsibility and move past mistakes, not carry guilt around like unneeded weights.