In the beginning of Parashat Shemini, Moshe instructs Aharon regarding his inaugural Korbanot, through which many lessons are revealed to us. First, Moshe tells Aharon to take for himself a calf for a Korban Chatat (VaYikra 9:2). Rashi explains that this calf was to tell Aharon that he would receive atonement for the sin of the Eigel HaZahav. The Chizkuni adds that this Korban Chatat is the only one in the entire Torah consisting of a calf; that of Bnei Yisrael is a male goat.
In Parashat Parah, the extra portion we read this week, Rashi (BeMidbar 19:22) explains that the Parah Adumah also is a form of atonement for the sin of the golden calf. Although we know that the Parah Adumah is a Chok, a law beyond human comprehension, perhaps we can learn something about it based on Rashi. The Parah Adumah, as the name indicates, must be red, just as sin is symbolized by the color red (Yeshayahu 1:18). Furthermore, the Imrei Shefer adds that a man sins through physicality, which stems from man’s life force, blood, which is red as well.
Further into the inaugural process, Moshe tells Aharon “Kerav El HaMizbeiach,” “Come close to the Mizbeiach” (VaYikra 9:9). These few words seem extraneous and imply that Aharon hesitated. Rashi comments that Aharon was embarrassed and afraid to approach. Ramban adds that when Aharon saw the calf he was to bring on the Mizbeiach, he was reminded of his sin with the golden calf; perhaps the Satan placed this image in his head. Therefore, Moshe says to him, “Why are you embarrassed? This is what you were selected for.” The Degel Machaneih Ephraim says that it is precisely because Aharon was embarrassed that he was chosen for this position.
Very often, feelings of guilt and shame overwhelm us. We feel unworthy and incapable of approaching Hashem. From this week’s Parashiyot, we see how to approach such situations. It is specifically in such times that we are told Kerav, come close. It is at the lowest points and the loneliest times that Hashem wants our closeness. Zev Kahane, a former student at TABC, pointed out (in an article available at www.koltorah.org) that the term Korban has the same root as the work Kerav. It is through the Korbanot that we become closer to Hashem. For example, when we bring a Korban, we are coming before Hashem and sacrificing something that is ours and begging for this to atone in our place. We not only sacrifice the animal; we sacrifice ourselves. In coming before Hashem, we are saying that we are not in charge; that we need His love, approval, guidance, and more; that we are coming to Him because we are insufficient without Him. With these thoughts in mind, we naturally come closer to Him. Our relationship is strengthened, and we are given the opportunity not only to repent and be forgiven, but also to elevate ourselves and come even closer.
In any relationship, both sides have different options as to how to respond after an argument. They could hold a grudge, ignore it, or hopefully use the argument as an opportunity to hear each other more clearly and work on the relationship as a whole. In fact, every argument is an opportunity to grow closer, to learn about each other better, to open up more, and to learn to resolve differences in a productive manner. So too, in every sin that a person does, he has the opportunity to sulk, beat himself up for his imperfection, or, hopefully, realize the problem and use the sin as an opportunity to do greater Teshuvah and move to a higher level. There is a common misperception that in following Torah or, LeHavdil, any other set of guidelines, it is all or nothing. I believe that this is largely due to the idea that many of us, out of embarrassment, drift further away from perfection in response to a setback as opposed to coming closer. We must remember that it is due to this feeling of embarrassment that we were chosen, as the Gemara (Yevamot 79a) tells us that Bnei Yisrael by nature are Bayshanim. Our feelings of shame should come from a place of real regret, not from arrogance related to not having been as perfect as we expect ourselves to be. The Sefat Emet, Rav Chaim Volozhiner, and others point out that the Mishnah, “Eizehu Ashir? HaSameiach BeChelko,” “Who is rich? He who is happy with his portion” (Avot 4:1), applies to Ruchniyut as well as Gashmiyut. (For more on this, see an amazing article titled “The Pursuit of Perfection: Vice or Virtue in Judaism at www.DrSorotzkin.com.) Unfortunately, there is not enough of a premium placed on admitting our mistakes and trying to do Teshuvah. Too often, the focus is placed on the wrongdoing, not the great honesty and strength that it takes for one to admit his mistakes. Perhaps if we would place a greater emphasis on the relationship, the honesty, and the communication between ourselves and less on our shortcomings, we would all have an easier time accepting ourselves for what we are as well as others for what they are, consequentially making the growing, changing, and advancing process much more appreciated and possible. The Pasuk tells us “Ki Sheva Yipol Tzaddik VaKam,” “A Tzaddik may falls seven times and [yet] get up” (Mishlei 24:16). The famous question goes that if this person is a Tzaddik, why does he fall seven times? Firstly, we know that seven is the number of nature, and we see from here that it is natural for someone to fall repeatedly. However, with the help of Hashem, we can rise to an eighth level, LeMa’alah Min HaTeva (above nature). Only with Hashem’s help can we overcome our own shortcomings and our own nature; a Tzaddik is not one who does not fall, but rather is one who repeatedly picks himself up and does Teshuvah.
There was once a Bachur who went to see the previous Gerrer Rebbe. The Bachur said that he was learning in a Yeshiva for Ba’alei Teshuvah but that he was not a Baal Teshuvah himself. The Gerrer Rebbe responded, “And why not?” Really, every day we should all be doing some kind of Teshuvah. This can happen only when we realize that when we have erred and feel distant or unwanted, whether it be from Hashem, a spouse, a child, or a friend, we must take the advice of Moshe: Kerav, come closer.