The nation waited with anxious anticipation. They knew what to expect; they’d seen the drill for seven days now. The Tabernacle’s structure would be erected, its vessels put into place, and the sacrifices lifted onto the altar. But today, things would be different. Though Moses had practiced the procedures for seven days, only today, on the eighth day, would G‑d’s Presence finally descend, hugging the Tabernacle with the clouds of glory.
Meanwhile, Moses and Aaron worked diligently to prepare the Tabernacle for operation. At last they were ready to perform the final step—the sacrificial offerings. The offering would be a culmination of all the collective efforts and contributions of the Jewish people, and would bring down the Divine Presence into the Tabernacle.
Why does Moses talk to Aaron like a novice?At this point, the Torah makes us privy to an unusual conversation between Moses and Aaron. “Approach the altar,” says Moses, “and carry out your sin-offering and your burnt-offering ... ” (Leviticus 9:7).
Why did Moses instruct Aaron to “approach the altar”? Clearly, he’d have to approach the altar in order to offer the sacrifices. He’d been practicing for seven days; by now, his routine was smooth and precise. Why does Moses talk to him like a novice?
Rashi cites a Midrash that explains the inner dialogue: “Because Aaron was embarrassed and afraid to approach [the altar]. Moses said to him: ‘Why are you embarrassed? This is what you were chosen for!’ ”
What made Aaron suddenly embarrassed? Aaron was 84 years old, a venerable sage and a dedicated leader. He’d been primed for his role as high priest and had rehearsed the sacrificial procedure for seven days. So, why the cold feet?
But Aaron understood the impact of this final work—offering the sacrifices would elicit G‑d’s presence to dwell in the Tabernacle. He was overwhelmed with humility and trepidation. Sensing his paralysis, Moses says: “Approach the altar! Shift your focus. You didn’t choose to be the high priest, G‑d chose you! Fortify your mind and go do your service.”
Nachmanides, a 13th-century Spanish scholar and Kabbalist, gives another layer of understanding with regards to Aaron’s fear of approaching the altar. He cites a Midrash (Sifra ad loc) that explains that Aaron was a spectacular person and had no sin to speak of, except for one: his inadvertent involvement in the creation of the golden calf. And he didn’t take his mistake lightly. In fact, he thought about it constantly.
As he stood inside the Tabernacle, preparing to culminate his work, he turned to the altar and realized with horror that it had transformed into a calf. The corner peaks of the altar were the horns, and the body of the altar was the body of the calf.
The Satan was messing with Aaron—now, at the climax of Aaron’s career, on the day that he’d trigger the fusion of heaven and earth. How could Aaron approach the altar when he saw the image of a calf in place of the altar? How could he experience sanctity and influence while staring his ugliest moment in the face? Aaron stood paralyzed,
Why is it that when I need my power most, I often feel the most inadequate?Moses understood. “Approach the altar! Aaron, you were chosen for this,” he said. Strengthen your mind. Don’t let the Satan’s agenda deflate your confidence. It’s all an illusion. This is not about you; it’s about G‑d. G‑d chose you. He needs you!
“And Aaron approached the altar and slaughtered the calf as a sin-offering.”
Perhaps, in our own way, we’ve experienced the fear of Aaron—and always just at the wrong times. It’s just when I sense a powerful opportunity that I feel paralysis seeping into my psyche. Sometimes, the resistance stems from humility, the sense of feeling small in light of the awesome opportunity before me. Other times, my skeletons emerge to haunt me, to drain my confidence. Why is it that when I need my power most, I often feel the most inadequate?
Comes Moses and says: “Approach the altar! You were chosen for this.” If G‑d has given you this opportunity, then you’re well-suited for the job. Your role is no longer about you; it’s about something much greater than you. You are here to serve G‑d; don’t worry about Satan’s illusions. Even if you don’t think you’re good enough for the job, G‑d does!