There’s something in this week’s parasha that requires understanding. Moshe tells Aharon to perform the service that will inaugurate the Mishkan, and Aharon is fearful that his involvement in fashioning the Golden Calf will prevent him from being worthy. Moshe, the Medrash informs us, encourages Aharon to come forward and not be ashamed of his sins. Now, let’s keep in mind that the Mishkan was essentially an atonement for the Jewish People having worshiped the Golden Calf. Rashi (Vayikra 9:2) writes that Moshe informed Aharon that through the offerings that he would bring on the eighth day of the inauguration ceremony, he would be granted atonement for the sin of the Golden Calf. So Aharon appears to be forgiven, the Jewish People gained atonement, and then what happens? Nadav and Avihu offer a foreign fire and die inside the Holy of Holies. The Medrash tells us that one of the reasons that Nadav and Avihu were punished was because of their father Aharon’s sin with the Golden Calf. Actually, all of Aharon’s children were supposed to have died, but Moshe intervened and elicited a compromise from HaShem, sparing Aharon’s other two sons, Elazar and Isamar. So basically, we have what appears to be a complete charade occurring with Aharon, as he gains atonement and then he is immediately punished severely with the loss of two children. Parenthetically, we must also wonder how come Aharon never confessed his sin to Moshe and HaShem. Aharon merely responded to Moshe’s bewilderment as to why he had committed the sin. If Aharon was so worried about his part in the Golden Calf, why didn’t he ever say the word “חטאתי”, I have sinned?
While I have clearly touched on some sensitive issues regarding Aharon and his part in the sin of the Golden Calf, I would like to suggest something that appears novel but could very well be the truth. Throughout the Torah there is little mention of Aharon in a leadership role. We only find a vague hint to Aharon being a prophet in the Book of Yechezkel, where it is said (20:7) וָאֹמַר אֲלֵהֶם אִישׁ שִׁקּוּצֵי עֵינָיו הַשְׁלִיכוּ וּבְגִלּוּלֵי מִצְרַיִם אַל תִּטַּמָּאוּ אֲנִי יְ-ה-ו-ָה אֱ-לֹהֵיכֶם, and I said to them, every man, cast away the detestable [idols] of his eyes; do not defile yourselves with the idols of Egypt; I am HaShem your G-d. Rashi (Shemos 4:10) tells us that this prophecy was said by Aharon (See Rashi there who cites another reference to Aharon prophesying in Egypt from Shmuel I 2:27). Essentially, Aharon was subservient to Moshe in all areas of life. In fact, the theme of Aharon’s life was that he followed instructions and never disobeyed, as is evident in his lighting the Menorah (See Rashi Bamidbar 8:3). Thus, when Aharon suggested to the Jewish People that they bring their gold and jewelry and then he molded the gold into a molten calf, he was just being faithful to his mission of serving Moshe. Rashi (Shemos 32:5) writes that in his heart. Aharon was confident that Moshe would return and there would be no need for a substitute. Thus, Aharon did not perceive himself as sinning. The Ramban (Ibid verse 1) supports this thesis when he writes that Aharon justified his actions to Moshe by saying that the Jewish People merely sought a substitute for Moshe, and once Moshe returned, they abandoned the idol and they did not protest when Moshe ground up the idol. So I have answered the last question of why Aharon never really confessed to his sin, because he really didn’t view himself as a sinner. Yet, because of his subservience to Moshe, he knew that he was not in Moshe’s good graces, and that is something he lived with for the rest of his life. Although he knew that his children were “on the line” for his actions, he could not entreat HaShem to spare them. The reason for this is because the Gemara (Sanhedrin 19b) derives from a verse said regarding Aharon’s children that one who teaches a friend’s children is as if he has given birth to them. Thus, Aharon felt that Moshe was responsible for Aharon’s children, and Moshe dutifully prayed to HaShem on their behalf.
Regarding Aharon being punished after gaining atonement, we must offer the explanation mentioned by the Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh and Reb Elya Lopian regarding the sin of Reuven. Although Reuven repented his sin with switching the beds, Yaakov still felt it necessary to chastise him because the character trait of impetuosity remained. Similarly, although Aharon himself gained atonement, the stain of the sin was still there, and for this reason Aharon was punished with the loss of two children. In a similar vein, Rashi (Shemos 32:34) tells us that HaShem informed Moshe that in very generation the Jewish People would be punished for the sin of the Golden Calf, and this was despite Moshe’s entreaties on their behalf and HaShem “forgiving” them. We learn from here that one can gain atonement for a sin but the blemish can still remain.
HaShem should allow us to merit the day when all our of sins and their associated blemishes and stains will be removed from our midst, with the slaughtering of the Evil Inclination and the arrival of Moshiach Tzidkienu speedily, in our days.
Have an ATONEFUL Shabbos!
Erev Shabbos Kodesh Inspiration Vayikra 5776
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