Parshas Shemini: Proudly Humble and Humbly Proud

In this week’s parsha, Parshas Shemini, Aharon and his sons are officially and formally inducted into the Kehunah, as their priestly roles are assigned to them.  The parsha opens on the celebratory Eighth Day of the inauguration of the Mishkan (Tabernacle), when the Mishkan was erected on Rosh Chodesh Nissan (Rashi to Vayikra 9:1). 

And Moshe said to Aharon: קְרַב אֶל-הַמִּזְבֵּחַ וַעֲשֵׂה אֶת-חַטָּאתְךָ וְאֶת-עֹלָתֶךָ, וְכַפֵּר בַּעַדְךָ, וּבְעַד הָעָם – Come close to the Mizbayach (altar) and perform the service of your sin-offering and your olah-offering and provide atonement for yourself and for the people…(9:7).

What do we learn from the fact that Moshe said to Aharon “come close to the altar and perform the service” when “perform the service of your sin-offering” would seem to have as effectively conveyed the same message to Aharon: Perform your service and offer your offerings!  What do the words “come close” teach us?

Rashi (ibid) explains as follows: קרב אל המזבח. שֶׁהָיָה אַהֲרֹן בּוֹשׁ וְיָרֵא לָגֶשֶׁת, אָמַר לוֹ מֹשֶׁה, לָמָּה אַתָּה בוֹשׁ? לָכַךְ נִבְחַרְתָּ

Aharon was embarrassed – hesitant, ashamed, unsure – about approaching to conduct this exalted, holy, awesome, priestly service.  And Moshe encouraged him and said, Why are you embarrassed to perform the service?!  קְרַב אֶל-הַמִּזְבֵּחַ – Come close and approach the altar, for for this, my brother, you have been chosen! 

With just a few short words, Rashi (quoting the Sages) teaches us a most impactful truism and tool for success in life as an eved Hashem (servant of G-d). 

While humility is always in order (for after all, if G-d owns the entirety of man, and can lower the wicked and raise the oppressed, as He so wishes, what room is there for haughtiness?) humility that negates our inherent strengths and inborn talents is harmful and counterproductive.  When one recognizes his own unique kochos (strengths) and abilities, he can channel those abilities to serve Hashem and man. 

Who better than Moshe to encourage Aharon in this fashion?  For Moshe himself learned from personal experience that to negate one’s tafkid (mission in life) is dangerous.  For one week at the Burning Bush, Hashem commanded Moshe to go to Egypt and free the Jews.  And for one week at the Burning Bush, Moshe desisted.  Until the wrath of Hashem flared at Moshe and he lost the rights to the Kehunah (priesthood) for his refusal to immediately go free the Israelite slaves (Shemos 3-4:17 with Rashi to 4:14).

And now, it is Aharon – who was rewarded with the Kehunah when it was taken away from Moshe – who is resisting and embarrassed to come close!  Oh no, says Moshe, why are you ashamed!?  There is no room here for personal embarrassment or humility.  This is not a mission of pride, but a mission of G-d.  For this, you must come close and perform your service, because for this you have been Divinely chosen.

It takes great humility to recognize and appreciate that every single thing that we have, including our talents and abilities, comes from G-d; it takes great courage to channel those talents and utilize them well, to serve Hashem and man. 

Mr. Ed Bernstein z’l (who passed away a few weeks before Pesach) was a renowned photographer who took pictures of many gedolim (Torah giants), such as R’ Aharon Soloveitchik, R’ Moshe Feinstein, R’ Yaakov Kamenetsky, and R’ Mordechai Gifter, zecher tzadikim l’vracha

Upon entering the modest Shaarei Chessed (J’lem) home of R’ Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt’l, Mr. Bernstein and his son found the Gadol engrossed in his learning.  R’ Auerbach’s son made the introduction and said, “This man is a photographer from America who would like to take your picture.”  R’ Shlomo Zalman simply answered, “We don’t take pictures.”  His son began lobbying on their behalf, but to no avail, until he mentioned, “And it’s his parnassah (livelihood and business)…”

R’ Shlomo Zalman stopped him short, “Did you say parnassah?”  “Yes.”  “It’s not a hobby?”  “No,” Mr. Bernstein explained, “this is how I make my living.  It’s all I do.” 

That was all the gadol needed to hear. “Just tell me what you want me to do.  With the mantel or without it?  Should I put on the hat or not?” 

As Mr. Bernstein finished taking a full roll of pictures, his son approached the gadol and said, “It would be a great zechus (privilege) if my father could take a picture of me with the Rosh Yeshiva.”  R’ Shlomo Zalman replied, “Absolutely not, because that’s not for his parnassah” (Story quoted in Mishpacha Magazine, Pesach Issue 704, p.222).

Whereas one who is excessively proud cannot serve Hashem or man, the reality is that one who is excessively humble – to the point where he negates his kochos and tafkid – also cannot serve Hashem or fellow man.

When we realize that every single thing that we have, and everything that we are, are gifts endowed to us by the grace and kindness of the Ribbono Shel Olam (Master of the World), we can be humbly-proud and proudly-humble as we too come close to serve Hashem and fellow man, thereby making a kiddush Hashem (sanctification of the Divine Name) in all that we do.

בברכת חדש טוב ושבת שלום,


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