Subscribe to a Weekly Series

Posted on March 28, 2024 (5784) By Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein | Series: | Level:

Command Aharon and his children, saying: “This is the Torah of the olah on the altar…”[1]

Rashi (citing a midrash) explains that whenever the Torah uses the imperative “command,” it denotes “zeal, energetic quickness – immediately, and throughout the generations.”

Why would such a pep talk be necessary? All mitzvos are for all generations, and all of them call for following Hashem’s directives with zeal! If anything, the lesson is out of place in regard to the korban olah, which is not so much of a now-and-forever kind of mitzvah. It cannot be practiced when there is no beis hamikdosh. It should have been taught regarding a mitzvah that is performed more often, and by a greater number of people.

Moreover, Chazal[2] detect another layer of meaning in our pasuk. The olah, they indicate, is the baal gaavah, the haughty person, who sees himself rising up above others. He will be consumed ultimately by fire. We can appreciate the importance of exhortations against gaavah – but why are they aimed at Aharon and sons in particular?

We begin the road to a solution by looking at another midrash[3], this one on the verse[4] calling Moshe the most humble of all men. “I might think that he was an anav with his body. The Torah therefore teaches that he was an anav with his daas.

We can explain the meaning of this midrash by referencing a passage in Chovos Halevavos. Rabbenu Bachya writes that there are two major varieties of haughtiness. One concerns physical matters, and another concerns more spiritual qualities. A person can become a baal gaavah for his appearance, or his strength, or his riches. These are all physical things. He can also pride himself on his wisdom concerning Torah or other disciplines, or his yiras Shomayim, or his kedushah – all relative to what he sees as lesser spiritual accomplishment in other people. (This might be the reason why the Mishnah in Avos[5] that urges us to develop an exceedingly humble spirit uses the expression me’od me’od hevi shafel ruach. The doubled me’od hints at these two major causes of haughtiness, and instructs us to extinguish both.)

Moshe Rabbenu had good reason to be prideful, on both counts we’ve considered. We know that he was tall, and strong, and rich. To boot, he exercised power – a conventional source of so much pride – in his role as king of the people. Besides these physical attributes, he had plenty to brag about in the spiritual realm. His Torah wisdom and his kedushah surpassed those of any other person in his day. In nevuah, he was in a different league from all other prophets; the Torah states that no other would ever arise like him. Despite all these reasons to feel important, however, he was also the most humble of men. He was not affected by his superiority in both physical and spiritual realms. This is what the midrash means when it speaks of humility in his guf and in his daas.

A person afflicted with gaavah who wishes to cure himself, can easily find arguments to let the air out of his inflated ego. None of the physical causes for pride have guaranteed longevity. A person’s strength and good looks will inexorably decline with age. Fortunes accumulated often disappear in an instant. So many who sit at the pinnacle of political leadership are eventually unseated.

The spiritual reasons for feelings of self-importance are also ephemeral. Wisdom, too, often declines when memory begins to fail. Righteousness is so fragile that Chazal warn us not to feel secure in it till our dying day. Above all, even when these accomplishments persist throughout life, there is no continuity to them. Children will often not continue in the ways of their parents.

There was one exception to the last concern. Aharon Hakohen was promised that his signature accomplishment – his selection to serve Hashem in the avodah – would continue forever through his descendants.

For this reason, the Torah includes a special exhortation against gaavah to Aharon and his sons as they approach the avodah. They could fall prey to pride because of Hashem’s guarantee to them that their elevated station would persist through the generations. They needed this special treatment because they were vulnerable to pride for a reason not shared with the rest of the nation: theirs was a reason that applied “immediately, and throughout the generations.”

  1. Vayikra 6:2
  2. Vayikra Rabbah 7:6
  3. Yalkut Shimoni #739
  4. Bamidbar 12:3
  5. Avos 4:4