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The Systems of the Jewish Year

Moses the Peacemaker

By Rabbi Yaacov Haber

There is an interesting Midrash concerning this week’s parsha. Moshe, in writing down the Torah at G-d’s dictation, has noticed something strange. Nowhere, in the description of priestly functions in the book of Vayikra (Leviticus) up to now, is his brother Aharon referred to directly. Repeatedly the instructions refer to “Bnei Aharon” (the sons or descendants of Aharon). Why is this?

According to the Midrash, Moshe pleads to G-d on behalf of his brother in the following way: “L-rd, is it possible that you hate the well but love the water that flows from it?” (meaning: “How can You hate Aharon by refusing to refer to him, but still love his sons?") And G-d, according to the Midrash, does not say: “You are being hypersensitive—I’m not annoyed at Aharon!” He responds, in fact: “Very well, because of your plea, I shall relent.” And in the very next verse (beginning the parsha), it says: “G-d spoke to Moshe, saying: Command Aharon and his sons thus ...” (Levit. 6:1). G-d’s annoyance is over!

This is a strange Midrash! What is the reason for G-d’s annoyance? For we know Aharon was a tzaddik. If it was for the sin of the Golden Calf, we know that Aharon has already done teshuva (repentance) on that. Further, G-d had appointed him him Kohen Gadol (High Priest)! Why should He do that if He were annoyed with him?

The explanation, I think, is the following, There is teshuva, and teshuva. One may perform teshuva for a particular sin, according to all the rules spelled out by the Rambam, and there is still something missing—there is still that part of one’s nature which led one to do the sin in the first place, and which has not been changed, and remains as a blemish on one’s neshama (soul).

The last step in the Rambam’s list of steps for teshuva is the (sincere) statement by the penitent: “I am someone else, not the same person (as the one who sinned)”. What does this mean—to be “someone else”? It does not mean that the penitent has changed his appearance, and is now sporting the “baal-teshuva look”. It means something deeper—that he has removed this blemish from his soul.

Rabeinu Yona, in “Shaare Teshuva”, says that a “Ben Torah” in doing teshuva, must start anew. This is the same idea.

So Moshe perhaps understood G-d’s displeasure with Aharon in the following way. Aharon had indeed gone through all the technicalities of teshuva for the sin of the Golden Calf, and was therefore qualified to be Kohen Gadol. Yet there was this final step that perhaps Aharon had not (yet) done, and that was responsible for G-d’s continuing ire.

How do Aharon’s sons (the “water from the well") come into this? The Chovos Halvovos makes a fascinating comment on the upbringing of children. He says that a child is much more perceptive than we may realize (or than the child may realize!) A child realizes what its parents really (deep down) want from it. Even if the parent should say: “I want such-and-such from you,” if that is not in accordance with the parent’s deepest wishes, the child will realize this, and behave accordingly.

So Moshe was saying, in effect: See how wonderful Aharon’s sons are! They must be that way in response to the desires of Aharon’s deepest nature, which they can perceive, and that proves that Aharon has indeed carried out this final, deepest step of teshuva.

Interestingly, in this week’s Haftorah (for Shabbos HaGadol—from the book of Malachi) we read: “Then you will once again see the difference between a righteous person ("tzaddik") and a wicked person ("rasha"), between a servant of G-d and one who does not serve Him” (3:18). The Gemara asks: Why do we need both contrasting pairs here—what is the difference between a tzaddik and a servant of G-d? And it gives the answer: a servant of G-d is a very special kind of tzaddik. In terms of our discussion, we can say that a tzaddik is one who has performed teshuva according to all the rules, but without the last step of remaking his neshama, and a servant of G-d is one who has performed this final step as well.

As today is Shabbos HaGadol, it may be appropriate to point out one more interesting thing in connection with our theme. Some of you have probably had the experience, as I have, of trying to help someone, without success. Whatever you do does not seem to work.

When you’re just about to give up, realize, that there is still one thing left—prayer, and that seems to do the trick. Notice that, according to our analysis, although Aharon had performed the final step in teshuva, and was therefore worthy of being brought back into G-d’s favor, it needed Moshe’s prayer on his behalf to make this happen.

G-d obviously knew that Aharon was worthy of forgiveness, if Moshe knew it! It is as if he was waiting for someone to pray on Aharon’s behalf. And this Moshe did, even though his own status might be reduced once Aharon was restored to G-d’s good graces. Moshe’s unselfish behavior here should be a lesson to all of us. As it says in the Gemara “When you pray for someone else, your prayer will be answered first for you.”

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