Politics & Parsha: Acharei Mot/Shabbat HaGadol 5771

Posted on April 14, 2011 In Archives

Politics & Parsha: “Shul Politics Like Never Before”

Each week IPA Deputy Director of Public Policy Howie Beigelman takes a look at the weekly parsha and discusses it in a way you may never have seen. Any hashkafic, halachic or political opinions are personal and do not reflect the official psak or policy of the OU.

Acharei Mot/Shabbat HaGadol 5771: Greatness, No Really

Aaron is lionized in Jewish tradition as a lover of all men. If he loved everyone so much, imagine what was reserved for his children. With Aaron still reeling from the Divine retribution for a sin we to this day have difficulty fully comprehending, the Lord speaks to Moses and tells him to speak to his brother about the avodah, the Tabernacle service he must perform as kohen gadol, the high priest.

The Bible doesn’t really mention much about it, but Aaron seemingly returns to the Tabernacle and performs as instructed. His pain and loss, if he felt any and his confusion and questions, if there were any, are kept private. Aaron “gets on with his life” as we expect from any consummate professional. In the words of Alistair Cooke: A professional is a man who can do his best at a time when he doesn’t particularly feel like it.

But he was more than that. He taught us that man can be great. Imagine the character and the courage to perform – every day – the very same type of activity your children were performing when they died.

Sometimes, what seems like a small act can require the greatest personal strength. For a bullied child, it’s just going to school. For an abused spouse, it’s getting out of bed and for an unsuccessful breadwinner, going back out to find work.

As it was one of the author’s first times published, he’s partial to it, but he (that is me) was still, nonetheless, wrong. The piece suggested taking the sheep was a small act and Shabbat HaGadol teaches us from small acts come great things. (The overall point that indeed, small things lead to great ends is one I still think true. True whether you are Richie Cunningham downing 72 shots of whiskey, if you are the nation’s largest police department cracking down on squeegee men and turnstile jumpers, or you’re a person struggling to change.)

But my conclusion that taking of the sheep by the Israelites was a small thing that we now celebrate because of all the great stuff that came later – that – well, that could only have been written by someone with all of the life experience of a first year attorney. What was I thinking?

Israel were slaves to the most powerful, most domineering civilization on earth who – en masse – took the gods their oppressors worshiped for sacrifice and broadcast this fact to the world. In a pre-internet era, they tied the sheep up for several days just to make sure all of Egypt got the memo.

Now true, the Jews had seen G-d lay waste to Egypt (although His greatest tricks were still forthcoming) but for a slave nation, numbed by centuries of persecution, this was an amazing act of defiance. In just a few weeks time, they’d be complaining for water or worshiping idols themselves. But for now, they stepped up.

The lesson of Acharei Mot and of Shabbat HaGadol is we always have the ability – even if fleeting, temporary, momentary – to rise above and reach for greatness. Aaron – a far as we know – never stumbled in his faith or his avodah. Day by day, he returned to greatness. But Shabbat HaGadol memorializes that no matter what would happen later with Golden Calves, rebellions and double-crossing spies, on that day the Jewish people were still great.

In our personal lives, as we struggle with our own issues, this is notoriously relevant. But it is also relevant to communities and to nations. We can all choose to try and be great. And even if we will surely sink all too quick, Aaron and Shabbat HaGadol teach us it’s still worth it.

Words to consider, ideas to ponder — politics & the parsha.