Humility Leads to Growth in the Service of G-d
It is written, “‘Take Aaron and his sons with him, and the garments and the oil of anointment, and the bull of the sin-offering, and the two rams, and the basket of matzot. Gather the entire assembly to the entrance of the Tent of Meeting.’ Moses did as the L-RD commanded him, and the assembly was gathered to the entrance of the Tent of Meeting” (Lev 8:2-4).
With regards to this passage, the book Shemen Rosh asks the following questions:
1. Concerning the expression, “Take Aaron,” Rashi explains it to mean: “Take him with words and draw him” (Torah Kohanim 8:165). Now why would G-d need to tell Moses to take Aaron and draw him with words in order to convince him to serve in the Tabernacle? Is it possible to even think that Aaron would refuse such a task, a task that’s more honorable than any other?
2. Why did Aaron need to come to the Tent of Meeting with a bull, two rams, and a basket of matzot? And above all, why did the Children of Israel need to see how Moses was performing everything that he had been commanded regarding Aaron, in particular how he washed and dressed him?
Let us try to explain the situation. In the beginning, G-d gave orders to Moses for Aaron and his sons concerning the burnt offering, as Rashi writes concerning the verse, “Command [tzav: &7] Aaron and his sons, saying…” (Lev 6:2). The word tzav is a word that one uses to motivate the person being addressed, something that is particularly necessary in cases involving the possibility of loss (Torat Kohanim 6:1). This here represents such a case, since the burnt offering is entirely consumed for G-d. He also encouraged him to remove the ashes from the altar, as it is written, “He shall remove the ashes which the fire has made by consuming the burnt offering on the altar” (Lev 6:3). This is so that he doesn’t become proud of himself, referring to the fact that this work required that the Kohen remove his garments and put on other ones in order not to dirty the former (Yoma 23b), which in so doing spiritually elevates him.
It is precisely this danger of pride that Aaron dreaded, especially after having worn the eight splendid garments of the High Priest. Even the cleaning of the ashes with the simpler garments risked coming not from a true love of the mitzvah, and thus would be for him a type of humiliation that in reality would cover a feeling of superiority.
This is why G-d told Moses to draw Aaron with words by telling him, “This is the Torah [law] of the burnt offering,” for in zealously performing these mitzvot, one draws closer to G-d. In the same way, zeal encourages one to perform mitzvot as soon as possible (Pesachim 4a), and it is in this way that one arrives at purity, holiness, taking part in the resurrection of the dead, and Ruach Hakodesh (Avodah Zarah 20b). In addition, the cleaning of the ashes, which comprises an element of debasement, brings one to humility, not to pride. In this context, there’s no place to worry that you will swell with pride, for zeal brings one to self-effacement and great humility before G-d, and it’s precisely in this way that one gets even closer to the Eternal and arrives at the ultimate goal.
We can now, therefore, better understand why G-d ordered that the assembly of the Children of Israel look at Aaron and his sons in their role as priests: It was to instruct them in humility and self-effacement. By the service of these priests, the people noticed that even after all the honors that G-d had bestowed upon Aaron, he didn’t feel pride in himself, but rather in that he was playing a consecrated role and attributed all honor to G-d.
In reflecting on this, the same idea will help us to also understand other points in our Parsha. A great miracle was performed for Aaron in that he wasn’t the cause of any incident, for Aaron’s priestly anointing oil was to serve for all the generations. In effect, the Children of Israel were inspired by the humble and self-effacing manner of the priests, of which Aaron’s holiness (which nothing tarnished), was a perfect example. This is why Moses anointed Aaron with the anointing oil, a reference to the fact that oil floats on water as well as on all other liquids (Shemot Rabba 36:1). Moreover, the anointing oil (meshicha) alludes to G-d’s anointed (Mashiach). In short, the priest’s service should be performed swiftly, yet linger on (like the oil), which evokes Mashiach. Yet at the same time, Aaron brought a bull of atonement, which alludes to that fact that no one is free from sin (“For there is no man so wholly righteous on earth that he [always] does good and never sins” [Ec 7:20]), not even the priest, who is G-d’s anointed one. When he sees the bull of atonement, the High Priest will not come to pride, and even if he has nothing to regret, it brings him to self-effacement and humility before G-d.
He brings, moreover, two rams and a basket of matzot. These show that, even though he is unique and there are no others like him (since only he enters into the Holy of Holies), nevertheless he needs an additional sacrifice because the evil inclination is very strong and tries to make him, the great Tzaddik, stumble. Our Sages teach us that “whoever is greater than his fellow has a greater evil inclination than him” (Sukkah 52a). It is actually possible that the two rams allude to the two Temples wherein the priests served. As well, the basket of matzot alludes to humility, for matzah is very thin and does not rise.
Therefore, it is to prevent Aaron from swelling with pride that the Torah provided this entire ritual, since a good start should assure a good continuation for all the generations to come. We see in this a great principle, namely that all depends on the start, in the same way that the body depends on the head (Sotah 48b). In the words of Rabbi Elazar Harokeach, “Fervor is never stronger than at the beginning,” for when the righteous demonstrates, at the very outset, the right path to those who listen to his instruction, there is a solid continuation in all the coming generations.
This same Torah that was given to us at Sinai continues in all the generations, for Moses was the most humble of all men (Num 12:3), and he served G-d with alacrity, to the point that he didn’t even have the time to become swollen with pride. He progressed without cease, and as we know, one mitzvah brings about another mitzvah (Perkei Avoth 4:2). He finished by meriting that the Torah truly became his heritage, as attested to by the verse that states, “Remember the Torah of Moses My servant” (Mal 3:22) and also by the Mishnah: “Moses received the Torah from Sinai” (Perkei Avoth 1:1). It was our revered teacher Moses that received it, and if we observe it as he did (for he had totally immersed himself in it), it will also endure with us and carry our name. As it is written, “In His Torah he meditates day and night” (Ps 1:2), and it is on this point that our Sages have said that when a man plunges into it, it becomes his Torah (Kiddushin 32b).
We should learn from our teacher Moses to conduct ourselves humbly, which will enable us to acquire the Torah. It is written: “This is the Torah: A man who dies in his tent” (Num 19:14), and concerning this verse our Sages have said, “The words of Torah endure only with the one who kills himself for them” (Shabbat 83b). This “killing” oneself consists of humbling oneself as much as possible. And in the same way that a dead man, even if he was once a great king, no longer inspires fear (Shabbat 151b) and is left to the mercy of each and everyone, the man who studies Torah should humble himself as if he were dead. He should not respond to insult (Berachot 18a), for Torah is acquired through humility (Taanith 7a). One can add to this by saying that the man (in Num 19:14) is only called humble (literally “dead”) when he is actually found in a tent, in the study of Torah. This is like Moses our teacher, who conducted himself with humility; thus the Torah carries his name. In our time, it is the conduct of the righteous that can teach us something similar to the service of the priest in the Temple: They consecrated themselves entirely to the honor of G-d, and by their prayers they brought to light the ashes (i.e., the prayers of the Children of Israel) that were found at a lower level. By their service, they, the Tzaddikim, pick up and raise these ashes (prayers) towards the heavens with zeal and humility.