‘Doubly Blessed’ Parashat Shemini – Parah 5776

The Mishkan has been built, Aharon and his sons have completed an exhausting eight-day training course in its operation and its consecration, and now everything is ready for the climax, in which Hashem’s Divine presence will enter the Mishkan. After Aharon completes his training [Vayikra 9:22] “[He] raised his hands towards the people and blessed them. He then descended from [the altar after] preparing the sin offering, the burnt offering, and the peace offering.” Here is what Aharon does in the very next verse [Vayikra 9:23]: “Moshe and Aharon went into the Tent of Meeting. Then they came out and blessed the people, and the Glory of Hashem appeared to all the people.” With which words does Aharon bless the people? Why does Aharon bless the people even though Hashem never commanded him to do so? And why does Aharon bless the people twice? What happens when Moshe and Aharon enter the Tent of Meeting? And why does Aharon wait until after he leaves the Tent of Meeting before he blesses the people for the second time?

Most of these questions are addressed by Rashi . As for the content of the blessings, Rashi asserts that Aharon first blessed them with the three Priestly Blessings as specified in Bemidbar [6:24-26], and afterwards he blessed them with a different blessing [Tehillim 90:17]: “May the pleasantness of Hashem be upon us and the work of our hands establish for us”. As for the reason why Moshe and Aharon entered the Tent of Meeting, Rashi quotes from the Midrash and suggests that Aharon expected the Glory of Hashem to appear as soon as he completed the last offering of the consecration service. When this did not happen he became depressed, assuming that he was the cause because of his role in the episode of the Golden Calf (egel). Moshe and Aharon entered the Tent of Meeting where Moshe prayed for him. Hashem answered Moshe’s prayers, and when they left the Tent of Meeting the Divine Presence finally appeared.

Rashi does not answer why Aharon blessed the people a second time or why he specifically had to enter and exit the Tent of Meeting – they could have had the same private conversation in the courtyard of the Mishkan. I’d like to propose an answer that attempts to holistically address all of our questions. The first thing we should notice is the sequence of Aharon’s actions the first time he blesses the people: First he blesses the people and only then does he descend from the altar. One would have expected Aharon to first complete the task at hand – offering the sacrifices – and only afterwards to bless the people. Indeed, many of the medieval commentators, including the Ibn Ezra and Rav Sa’adya Gaon, assert that this is exactly what happened and that the verse is written out of order. Let’s assume, however, that the verse tells the story exactly as it happened – that Aharon blessed the nation before he descended from the altar. Why didn’t Aharon wait until he had fully completed Hashem’s list of commands before he inserted his own addition?

I suggest that Aharon didn’t wait to bless the people because he couldn’t wait to bless them. Aharon had spent eight full days preparing for this moment. On each successive day his spirit was refined to a new and higher level. On the eighth day he must have entered a mental state of near-euphoria. It is well known that euphoria causes the brain to produce elevated levels of dopamine . Dopamine has many functions, including effects in behaviour and cognition. When Aharon finally completes the procedure as commanded by Hashem, he is so overwhelmed that he feels that he must bless Am Yisrael. He cannot stop himself. I remember many years ago when my wife and I took a vacation in the Swiss Alps and we rode the rack rail from Montreux up to Rochers-de-Naye, more than two thousand meters above Lake Geneva. When we got to the top of the mountain the view was intoxicating. I could tangibly feel Hashem’s presence. I was so emotionally overcome that I needed to thank Hashem, and I made the appropriate blessing: “You are blessed, Hashem, Who makes the work of creation”. I can only imagine that Aharon must have felt a similar kind of uncontrollable urge to bless his people. Aharon couldn’t wait until he had descended from the altar. He had to bless his nation, right here and right now.

And that poses a problem. It is easy to bless someone when all is good in the world. It is even easier to bless him when you are in nirvana. In such a case it is nearly impossible not to bless him. This is Moshe’s message to Aharon when he takes him specifically into the Tent of Meeting. The Tent of Meeting was erected outside the camp after the sin of the egel, when Hashem could no longer dwell together with Am Yisrael [Shemot 33:5-7]: “Hashem said to Moshe: ‘Say to the Children of Israel: ‘You are a stiff necked people; if I go up into your midst for [even] one moment, I will destroy you’. Moshe took the tent and pitched it for himself outside the camp, distancing [it] from the camp, and he called it the Tent of Meeting , and it would be that anyone seeking Hashem would go out to the Tent of Meeting, which was outside the camp”. When Moshe took Aharon to the Tent of Meeting it was to remind him unequivocally that Am Yisrael were not always easy to bless. Indeed, they had lied to Aharon when they asked him to make the egel. Aharon had no idea that they were going to worship the thing , and yet he took full blame for their actions . Moshe asks Aharon: Take a long hard look at these people and what they have done to you. Now that you are not in a state of euphoria do you still want to bless them? Can you look them in the eyes and still bless them? Aharon answers in the affirmative. His love for his people knows no bounds, and so he leaves the Tent of Meeting and blesses them a second time with the very same words that he used the first time.

This hypothesis makes a certain amount of sense, at least from a psychological standpoint. The question is whether or not we can find any proof for it. The place to look for proof would be in Parashat Naso, where the Priestly Blessings are described. To my surprise (and, admittedly, to my great satisfaction), I believe I have found such a proof. The Torah introduces the blessings with the words [Bemidbar 6:23] “This is how you shall bless the children of Israel, say to them…” The words “amor lahem” – “say to them” – seem superfluous. Rashi comments that these words “indicate that [the Kohanim] should not bless [Am Yisrael] hastily or in a hurried manner, but with concentration and with wholeheartedness”. The first part of the requirement is clear: a Kohen should not bless his people when he is in a euphoric state caused by any external agent. He must bless them with a mind that is completely clear . The second part of the requirement is less clear. What does it mean to be “wholehearted” (lev shalem)? This term is typically used to describe a person who has had an argument or disagreement with someone else, and who has subsequently made up. An example would be a Kohen who was goaded into making a religious icon only to discover that he had really made an idol. This Kohen can only make the Priestly Blessing if he has completely and wholeheartedly forgiven the other person(s).

Ask yourself: Do you feel equally close to Hashem before and after the Dopamine wears off? A positive answer is the greatest blessing.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ari Sacher, Moreshet, 5776

Please daven for a Refu’a Shelema for Moshe Dov ben Malka and Yehuda ben Yaakov Shmuel.

About the Author
Ari Sacher is a Rocket Scientist, and has worked in the design and development of missiles for over twenty years. He has briefed hundreds of US Congressmen on Israeli Missile Defense, including two briefings on Capitol Hill at the invitation of House Majority Leader. He speaks regularly for the Israeli Foreign Ministry. Ari is a highly requested speaker at AIPAC events, enabling even the layman to understand the "rocket science", and his speaking events are regularly sold-out. Ari has also been a scholar in residence in numerous synagogues in the USA and Canada. He is a riveting speaker, using his experience in the defense industry to explain the Torah in a way that is simultaneously enlightening and entertaining. Ari came on aliya from the USA in 1982. He studied at Yeshivat Kerem B’Yavneh, and then spent seven years studying at the Technion. Since 2001 he has published a weekly parasha shiur that is read around the world. Ari lives in Moreshet in the Western Galil along with his wife and eight children.
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