Beit Midrash

  • Torah Portion and Tanach
  • Tzav
To dedicate this lesson

The Torah study is dedicatedin the memory of

Yaakov Ben Behora

Parashat Tzav

Aaron and His Descendants

Aaron, who perused peace and desired peace, who brought peace between husband and wife and between man and his fellow man, and in this manner brought them close to God - he was the most appropriate choice for being the progenitor of the priesthood.


Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaLevi Kilav

1. Aaron and His Descendants
2. The Importance of Preparation
3. A Man of Peace

Aaron and His Descendants
"God spoke to Moses, telling him to relate the following instructions to Aaron and his descendants..." (Leviticus 6:1)
Up until this point in the book of Leviticus, the Torah has given exclusive attention to matters connected to the sacrificial offerings. Here, in contrast, the Torah turns to Aaron and, then, to his progeny. Regarding this, the Sages of the Midrash remark:
"’Hatred stirs up strife, but affection covers all sins’ (Proverbs 10:12) - The hatred which Aaron ‘stirred up’ between Israel and the Almighty (i.e., via his role in producing the Golden Calf) ‘stirred up’ [God’s] strict justice. According to R’ Asi, we learn from here that Aaron would take the Israelites’ sacrifice (i.e., the Golden Calf) and beat it before their eyes and say to them: ‘Look, it is absolutely powerless.’
"This explanation receives support from what Moses said to Aaron (Exodus 32:21): ‘What did the people do to you, that you allowed them to commit such a great sin?’ It would have been better had they been judged as unintentional sinners than as intentional sinners’ (Aaron had informed the Israelites that the Calf is powerless, and they went ahead and worshipped it regardless. By doing this he awakened God’s attribute of strict justice upon them, for if they had actually believed that it did possess power, there would have been some amount of justification for worshipping it. Since, though, they were aware of its powerlessness, their evil was even greater).
This can be seen in what the Almighty said to Moses and Aaron (ibid. 33): ‘I will erase from My book the one who sinned against me’ (the intention being to Aaron; hence the usage of the singular ‘the one‘).
"This is the intention of the expression, ‘God also expressed great anger toward Aaron, threatening to destroy him’ (Deuteronomy 9:20). Rabbi Yehoshua of Sikhnin said in the name of Rabbi Levi: The word ‘destroy’ which appears here actually refers to the annihilation of his offspring.’
"‘Hatred stirs up strife, but affection covers all sins’ - Moses prayed on Aaron’s behalf (in his prayer, Moses ‘covered’ the sins of Aaron; the Almighty therefore displayed affection toward him). And what prayer did Moses offer on Aaron’s behalf? R’ Mana Dishav and R’ Yehoshua of Sikhnin said in the name of R’ Levi: Up until this point in the Book of Leviticus it is written, ‘The children of Aaron arranged...the children of Aaron sprinkled...the children of Aaron placed....’ Moses pressed the Almighty: ‘How can it be that the pit is detested yet its waters are desirable? You accorded honor to the trees because of their fruits - as it is taught, ’(The logs of) all types of trees are acceptable for the wood arrangements [on the altar of the Holy Temple], except for those of olives and grapes (these trees, because they produce important fruits, may not be cut down for the purpose of using their wood for the log arrangements on the altar of the Temple) - yet you do not accord honor to Aaron and his offspring? (for, if his offspring are mentioned, they must be important, and if this is the case, Aaron should merit at least because of them). The Almighty said to him, ’On your life, for your sake I will display affection toward him; what’s more, I will grant him principal importance and make his offspring secondary, hence, ’God spoke to Moses, telling him to relate the following instructions to Aaron and his descendants...’" (Leviticus 6:1).

The Importance of Preparation
Why does Aaron’s importance find expression in the commandment to remove the ashes from the altar ("Terumat Hadeshen")? True, this is certainly an important task which only priests are allowed to perform, still, it would appear that tasks which deal with the actual sacrifices should take preference over work which merely serves to prepare and make the sacrifices possible. What’s more, the removal of ashes is a cleaning task, of which the Torah says, "He changes his clothes, and removes the ashes." Rashi, in his commentary ad locum, comments, "This (i.e., the changing of clothes) is not an obligation but an act of upright conduct carried out so that the clothes which he routinely wears while serving not be made dirty in the process of removing the ashes. The clothes one wears while cooking a meal for his master should not be warn while serving him beverages." This would seem to imply that the sacrifices take priority over the removal of the ashes, for their offering is likened to serving the Master beverages.

Yet, it is possible to explain that just as Aaron did not sin through the sacrifices themselves but by causing a more serious sin to be carried out by the Israelites, so, God’s forgiveness took the form of an act which, while setting the stage for the sacrifices, was not itself sacrifice. Yet, it appears from the Midrash that this does not constitute a limitation to God’s compassion toward Aaron; to the contrary, it is an honor for him.

The Midrash teaches:
"It once happened that R’ Yannai was walking along when he saw a very impressive looking man. He said to the man, ‘Please, Rabbi, come and eat by us.’ He took him into his house, and served him food and drink. He tested him in his knowledge of the Scriptures, Mishna and Gemara, yet he found him to be ignorant. At the end of the meal R’ Yannai said to the man, ‘You lead the Grace After Meals.’ To this the man responded, "Let Yannai bless, for it is his own house.’ He said this because he actually did not know how to bless (Indeed, he was so ignorant that he did not realize that he was supposed to call Yannai by the title Rabbi). R’ Yannai said to him, ‘Are you capable of repeating after me?’ The man responded, ‘Yes.’ R’ Yannai said, ‘Say, "A dog ate the meal of R’ Yannai." (The sages explain this statement as follows: ‘The righteous man apprehends the cause of the poor’ (Proverbs 29:7). The Almighty is aware that a dog receives little to eat. He therefore causes the dog’s food to remain in its stomach for three days. In other words, the Almighty has pity upon the dog and provides for him compassionately. The same was true of this man who merited being R’ Yannai’s guest even though he was not deserving - like a dog which has the good fortune of enjoying God’s compassion).
"R’ Yannai said, ‘Through what merit do you eat at my table?’
"He said, ‘Never in my life have I countered a person who badmouthed me. Never in my life have I seen two people arguing and not made peace between them.’
"R’ Yannai said, ‘You demonstrate such upright conduct. How wrong I was to have called you a dog. Of you it is written: ‘To him that orders his way aright I will show the salvation of God.’ One that considers his actions and thinks carefully of what he should do merits seeing the salvation of God, for, according to R’ Ishmael the son of R’ Nachman, twenty-six generations of upright conduct ("derekh eretz") preceded the giving of the Torah. This is what is written (Genesis 3:24): ‘To guard the path (‘derekh’) to the Tree of life.’ The ‘path’ here refers to the path to upright conduct. Then comes the Tree of Life - that is the Torah."

In order for a person to reach the Tree of Life, he must guard the path of upright conduct. Proper conduct is what makes the world fit for Torah. This is why it preceded the Torah by twenty-six generations. And this was the merit of that R‘ Yannai‘s guest: despite the fact that he was not versed in the Scriptures, the Mishna, or the Talmud, he had a portion in the Torah because of the upright conduct he displayed, causing the world to be a better place. In the words of the Torah: "...An inheritance for the community of Jacob." Every Jew has a portion in the Torah - either through studying it or through making the world fit for it. To some degree, the latter is the more important of the two. Aaron‘s importance in relation to his children lies in the fact that he is their cause. He, then, has the status of preparing the ground for the priesthood. He therefore merited the task of preparing the altar.

A Man of Peace
Another question is why Aaron and not Moses merited the priesthood. According to what we have said here, Moses represents the attribute of judgment, and Aaron represents the attribute of kindness. Servants of God, who wish to atone for the nation must demonstrate the attribute of kindness. If this is not the case then their sacrifices will not always be favorably received, for it may well be that according to the attribute of strict justice they are not deserving of God’s kindness, and only the Almighty’s compassionate side receives them lovingly.
Aaron, who perused peace and desired peace, who would bring peace between husband and wife and between man and his fellow man and in this manner bring them close to God - he was the most appropriate choice for being the progenitor of the priesthood, for this fundamental trait was passed on to his offspring. Therefore, they alone are fit for the Divine service in the Temple in Israel’s stead. The offspring’s claim to priesthood, then, derives from their forefather Aaron who made them worthy of this. It is for this reason that when it comes to the commandment of preparing the altar and making it ready on a practical level by removing its ashes, it was Aaron who was commanded directly and his sons who were made extraneous to him.
Some of the verses in the above article were taken from Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan’s The Living Torah, and from The Jerusalem Bible, Koren.

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