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The Torah Learning Library of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah

Aharon’s Leadership

by Rabbi Eli Finkelstein (Posted on February 21, 2024)
Topics: Sefer Shemot, Tetzaveh, Torah

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There is a debate among Biblical commentators as to when the Mitzvah of building the Mishkan was given. Although the plain text places God’s description of the Mishkan before Chet HaEgel, Rashi, through the concept of Ein Mukdam U’Muchar BaTorah, that there is no chronological order to the Torah, explains that the Mishkan was introduced by God after the sin, to testify that God had forgiven Israel. On the other hand, Ramban holds that the order of the Torah is the chronological order of events, and that the command to build the Mishkan was given to Moses before the Chet HaEgel, as a continuation of the Revelation at Har Sinai.

There are various lessons we can learn from each perspective – for example, about the purpose of the Mishkan, or about the nature of forgiveness. But a question still lingers. If, according to Rashi, the command to build the Mishkan was given after Chet HaEgel, why is it written in the Torah before that event?

Rashi provides us with no answer, and while there are various approaches to this question, let us look through the lens of our Parasha, by discussing Aharon’s role as Kohen Gadol, and one of the key figures of Chet HaEgel. In this week’s Parasha, Aharon’s role as Kohen Gadol is introduced:

“And you shall bring Aharon your brother, and his sons with him, to you, in order to serve Me as Kohanim – Aharon, Nadav and Avihu, Elazar and Itamar, the sons of Aharon.” (Shemot 28:1)

According to Rashi’s opinion, the introduction of Aharon as Kohen Gadol only happened after Chet HaEgel. This matters because Aharon’s participation was crucial in the events of that national sin. He was the one who told the Israelites to gather their gold, and he was the one to fashion the idol itself. If we had read that before God appointed him as the Kohen Gadol, we would have been shocked. Why would God make someone who had failed at leadership in a time of crisis such an important leader of the people?

But we only read of Aharon’s sin after his appointment. Perhaps the placement of Aharon’s role before his mistakes, then, teaches us about Aharon’s leadership and leadership in general. Leadership is not a single lane road. Leaders exist in different ways, and leaders can act in different ways. God appoints Aharon as the Kohen Gadol because, as an Ohev Shalom and a Doresh Shalom, a lover and pursuer of peace, Aharon can help people connect to God in a way that Moshe perhaps could not. But when Aharon is asked to step into the role of Moshe at Sinai, he cannot stand up to the people in the same way as Moshe. Even after that sin, Aharon is still fit to be Kohen Gadol because the skills of that leadership are different from the skills he needed at Sinai.

We understand exactly how good of a role Aharon plays as Kohen Gadol in Sefer Bamidbar. After the events of Korach’s rebellion, when the people rebel and God sends a plague, it is Aharon who took the incense to the people, and it is he who “stood between the dead and the living” (Bamidbar 17:12) to stop the plague. As Sforno points out there, Aharon did the opposite of what God commanded him – instead of separating from the people, Aharon put himself in the midst of the people. It was that, in addition to the incense, that saved the people. Moshe, with light permeating from his face causing him to separate his face from the people, perhaps could not have placed himself in the midst of the people in the same way that Aharon could.

The Torah, through its placement of Aharon’s role as Kohen Gadol in Parashat Tetzaveh before his failure at Chet HaEgel in Parashat Ki Tisa, comes to teach us that we each have a place in which we can excel, where we can lead and work to change and improve God’s world. Just like Aharon’s success as a Kohen Gadol is independent of his failure with Chet HaEgel, we should find where we can emphasize our skills, and help others in our own way.

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