Children’s emotions are straightforward. When a child wants something, he wants it fully. When a child hates or fears something, the emotion fills her little heart completely. As we mature, however, our emotions become more complex. We want something, but at the same time, we are capable of realizing the downside of achieving it. We desire the piece of chocolate, but we detest its calorie count. We may dislike to work hard, but we feel satisfied when we are done. We can loathe and pity someone at the same time. We can love certain traits in someone while abhorring others.
As we mature spiritually, our emotional complexity develops further. As the holy Zohar states, “Weeping is lodged in one side of my heart, and joy is lodged in the other.” We may be saddened because of the state of our material being, but at the same time we can rejoice about the state of our spiritual soul.
On what was the most emotionally intense day of his life, Aaron the High Priest was called upon to exhibit extraordinary emotional maturity.
It was the apex of his career. The Mishkan, the portable Temple, was finally complete, the seven day inauguration period had passed, and for the first time, Aaron was performing the priestly service, causing G‑d’s presence to descend. As the verse states:
And fire went forth from before the L‑rd and consumed the burnt offering and the fats upon the altar, and all the people saw, sang praises, and fell upon their faces.
And yet, just a few short moments later, Aaron suffered the greatest tragedy of his life, when two of his sons died:
And Aaron's sons, Nadab and Abihu, each took his pan, put fire in them, and placed incense upon it, and they brought before the L‑rd foreign fire, which He had not commanded them. And fire went forth from before the L‑rd and consumed them, and they died before the L‑rd.
Moses turned to his brother Aaron and instructed him to put his personal pain aside. This was a joyous day to G‑d. Aaron and his remaining two sons were to serve as representatives of all the people, and therefore they were called upon to experience the Divine joy.
And here is where the story gets complicated. Moses found out that one of the offerings that was meant to be eaten by Aaron and his sons was burned. Moses was furious. He asked Aaron:
"Why did you not eat the sin offering in the holy place? For it is holy of holies, and He has given it to you to gain forgiveness for the sin of the community, to effect their atonement before the L‑rd!”
Moses was asking, “Why haven’t you eaten the offering? How could you have placed your personal mourning ahead of G‑d’s joy?"
Aaron responded by explaining to Moses that the correct thing to do was to eat some of the offerings (the ones that were unique to that day) and to burn one (the one that would be offered on a regular basis). The verse concludes that “Moses listened, and it pleased him.”
Aaron taught Moses an important lesson: It is relatively easy for the spiritual seeker to ignore himself and devote himself completely to the Divine reality. That, however, is not G‑d’s will.
The correct spiritual path, argued Aaron, is to be spiritually mature enough to experience both perspectives.
Aaron understood that a relationship with G‑d does not mean suppressing our own sense of reality; it means being able to balance and experience G‑d’s reality as well as our own. It means being able to burn some of the offerings as an expression of personal pain, yet eat other offerings as an expression of Divine joy.