Have you ever felt entirely unequal to the task in front of you? The Hebrew prophetic tradition is famously known for our reticent prophets, from Moses who balked at the idea of being a mouthpiece for God, to Jonah who famously tries to run away from his call to action. Ours is a tradition that recognizes the fear and uncertainty, as well as the courage that lies within the human heart.
In the Reform tradition we get the opportunity to take a deeper look at Sh’mini for a second week as we move out of Passover and back into our regular Torah reading cycle. As Aaron and his sons make their way through the seven-day ordination ceremony and prepare to take up the regular work of the tabernacle, Moses utters an interesting phrase to Aaron. “Come forward,” he says, “to the altar and sacrifice your sin offering and your burnt offering, making expiation for yourself and for the people…” (Leviticus 9:7). Rashi assumes from this “come forward,” that Aaron has kept his distance from the altar all throughout the ordination proceedings; and wonders why.
Perhaps Aaron was ashamed of the role he had played previously in the incident of the Golden Calf. Perhaps he felt, like his brother before him, that he was not well-suited to the task at hand. And yet Moses, who had experienced God’s ability to see beyond the limitations he saw within himself, offers him this invitation. Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks writes, “Aaron had to understand that his own experience of sin and failure made him the ideal representative of a people conscious of their own sin and failure.” In these moments of hesitation, of doubt, of fear, we – like Aaron – are invited to turn our weaknesses into strengths; to build upon our past experience and use it to help others.
– Rabbi Callie Schulman