Subscribe to a Weekly Series

By Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein | Series: | Level:

Inauguration is Not a Ball1

As the parshios with a story line recede further in the past, most of us lose the ability to instantly connect with the inner lessons of the text. We make a valiant attempt in regard to the chief appliances of the Mishkan – the aron, the menorah, the shulchan – and generally feel that we have some understanding about what they are about, even if this is far less so when it comes to the fine details. We are harder pressed to do as convincing a job in deciphering the symbolism of the garments of the Kohen Gadol, although we still hear some possibilities that we find illuminating.

When we get to the korbanos, most of us throw in the towel. This is a grave error. In the same way that the Mishkan and the bigdei kehunah yield profound riches to our determined study, so do all the sections concerning korbanos. The offerings that were used to inaugurate Aharon and his sons into the kehunah are a good case in point. A bull, two rams, and multiple forms of matzah do not strike us as conveying any lesson convincingly – at least not till we take a closer look at their detail and function.

The three animals, in fact, speak directly about three elements in the professional life of the kohen. Consider the פר. The male bovine is called an עגל in its youth, and a פר in its maturity. Our pasuk speaks of neither, but a modified one – a פר בן בקר. The effect of the words בן בקר is to emphasize its youth. It may be old enough to be a פר, but the power and vitality of youth are still very much with it. It has the advantage maturity, while holding on to the energy and exuberance of youth. Now, such male animals usually served as work animals. Putting the age and the function of the animal together, we are left with a symbol of energetic labor.

As a special person in the community, the role of kohen is complex. The פר-offering, however, reminds the kohen-to-be that his first role and primary function must be as a worker in the service of Hashem. He is meant to bring vigor and industry to the discharge of his duties. Nothing matters as much as his commitment to do what HKBH asks of him, and to do it energetically and well.

With responsibility comes privilege. The kohen’s honorable position places him upon a communal pedestal. The other two animal offerings instruct him how to deal with the attention and the accolades given to the person who lives in a position of prominence. Note that both of these offerings are rams, animals that served as the lead animals, the cynosures of the flock. The kohen-candidate must address the way in which he is prepared to become a leader of the community.

The two rams are treated differently. One of them becomes an olah, a burnt (or elevation) offering. The theme of the olah is rising higher, as the word itself means – and as physically seems to happen to the olah, all of which is directed Heavenward in a plume of smoke. As a leader, the kohen must resolve to constantly strive to elevate himself. This quest will be the cornerstone of his role as a leader: his example of personal striving will be the model for others to emulate.

The second ram becomes a shelamim. It takes its name from shalom, from the peace that it creates by bringing people together. (Unlike other offerings, shelamim offered something for everyone – the altar, the kohanim, the owner, his friends – all partook of it.) A person would bring a shelamim to acknowledge something good that has happened to him. With it, he would thank Hashem for his happiness, recognizing that it comes directly from G-d. In our case, the shelamim-ram’s role is to direct the kohen to formulate a proper attitude towards the happiness he will feel in his leadership position. In that position, he will enjoy the respect and admiration of the community. The shelamim teaches him how to make proper use of this benefit.

Every shelamim, ours included, features a waving of certain specified parts of the animal. Those parts are directed to all directions through terumah (in an up and down motion) and tenufah (moving to and fro in a horizontal plane). The owner of the shelamim performs this muli-directional waving before he can enjoy his own portion. His enjoyment of his own happiness is made contingent on first directing that happiness to the One above, as well as to those around him. He thus waves the specified portions away from himself on two planes, pointing to Hashem Above, and to the community around him. He thus declares that a man is only entitled to enjoy his own happiness and contentment if it makes his Creator and the community happy as well!

In the case of our inaugural offering here, it is significant that tenufah is the motion that is described and stressed[2], even though terumah is clearly done as well[3]. The need of the kohen to relate his position and its advantages to G-d does not need any further stress. It is implicit in his very standing there in the Mishkan in front of Hashem, and has been brought home by the previous parts of the ceremony. His relationship to the community, symbolized by the horizontal motion of the tenufah away from himself, does need some underscoring. He needs to understand that the honor now accorded him flows only from the merit of the community. Without that community, he is no one special. His position and its benefits owe to them, not to himself.

Finally, we come to varied forms of baked goods that the new kohen brings with his animal offerings. The three types are identical to those brought in a korban todah, the offering used to thank G-d for some sort of personal deliverance. One type, the revuchah, is especially complex. It is prepared in three different ways: boiled, baked, and fried. It is also richer than the others, receiving twice the amount of oil as the others. A second type was chalos, loaves, prepared through baking alone, and kneaded with a smaller amount of oil. The third was the simplest all around. The rekikin were thin wafers of matzoh, baked alone. The oil was smeared on after, but not an integral part of its preparation.

These different types of bread would seem to represent different levels of support and sustenance that the new kohen might anticipate would be coming his way. They vary because he is not assured a stipulated salary or level of support. The kohen receives no portion in the Land. While people are instructed to direct a portion of what they grow to the kohen (i.e. the mitzvah of separating and then giving terumah), the law does not demand a specific amount. The minimum is an amount so small that it must be regarded as a symbolic gesture. Additionally, terumah can be given to whichever kohen a person wishes. For terumah to add up to anything substantial, a kohen needs to win the favor of the community to which he ministers. He needs to bear the message of Hashem’s Torah so sincerely and convincingly that people are moved to react to him with generosity.

A given kohen cannot predict how well he will be treated. Hence, the three forms of bread, symbolizing different degrees of support, and three different experiences of the richness (i.e. the oil) he may find in it. His position may lead him to a full and rich revuchah kind of position, or it may offer him only basic sustenance, with a bit of satisfaction smeared on as an afterthought.

The point of the three is that they need to be all the same to the new kohen. He needs to renounce the expectation of gain for its own sake, and find happiness with whatever material support comes his way, whether substantial or modest. His happiness needs to come from the role of leadership itself, from the privilege of being the one to set an example and guide others.

These offerings amount to an inaugural address for the kohen. But rather than have him speak to the people, the Torah publicly speaks to him!

1. Based on Hirsch Chumash Shemos 29:1-2, 22-25
2. Verses 24 and 26
3. See verses 27-28