The New Shul

Parshat Sh’mini/Shabbat Hahodesh

In this week’s parashah, Sh’mini, Aaron and his sons begin their work as priests in the service of God. The Torah tells us: “Moshe said to Aaron: ‘Approach the altar and prepare the sin offering.'”

Why did Moshe have to prod his brother to get started? Didn’t Aaron know his job? After all, he had been anticipating this moment for a long time.

According to Rashi, Aaron had hesitated at the last minute because he felt inadequate to the task. He felt overwhelmed by guilt because he was the one who had built the golden calf. So Moshe had to prod him by explaining, “It is for this [work] that you have been chosen.” In other words, when there is a job to do, we have to look beyond our own sense of inadequacy and get on with the task at hand.

The Degel Mahaneh Efrayim read Rashi in a different way. According to the Degel, when Moshe told his brother: “It is for this that you have been chosen,” he was not referring to the work but to Aaron’s sense of inadequacy. Moshe meant that Aaron had been chosen for priesthood precisely because he felt so undeserving. God needed someone who would recognize that he had not earned the job. Only such a person would understand that the work was not about himself but about the greater purpose that it served.

There are times when we all feel inadequate to the mitzvah that lies before us. The Degel’s point is that, instead of being paralyzed by that feeling, we can turn it into a strength. If our sense of being undeserving causes us to look beyond ourselves and focus on the task instead, if it reminds us that the work was never about us in the first place, it might help us to be more, not less, effective agents, with a clearer sense of purpose.