Nelly Shulman
Nelly Shulman

For the sake of the people

The choreographic sequence of Aharon’s movement in Leviticus 9:22-23 has always intrigued the Torah’s commentators. After concluding the burnt sacrifices Aharon lifts his hands towards the people, blesses them, and descends from the altar. After that, together with Moses, he goes into the Tent of Meeting. The meaning of לָשֵׂאת in verse 22 is usually conveyed as “lifting” and the commentators explain that this is the first occasion on which the priestly blessing was delivered.

However, there is more to verse 22 than meets the eye. Rabbeinu Bahya in his commentary attacks the Christian interpreters of the Torah, who, in his opinion, don’t understand the real meaning of it. The stumbling block here is the unusual spelling of plural ידו that lacks the letter “yod.”

According to Christians, that means that Aharon raised only one hand thus indicating to people that they should also lift their right hand as a sign of affirmation. However, this is not a courtroom drama and no oath is needed.

Even more interesting here is the אֶל־הָעָ֖ם “in the direction of people”. Rabbeinu Bahya explains as follows, ” The meaning of the words אל העם, normally translated as “in the direction of the people,” should here be translated as: “for the sake of the people, i.e. to meet their needs.” This corresponds so well with another meaning of לָשֵׂאת which is “to take responsibility.”

Aharon is taking the responsibility of leadership for the sake of the people which remains the duty of every Jewish leader until this day.

About the Author
Nelly Shulman is a journalist and writer currently based in Berlin. She is an author of four popular historical novels in the Russian language. She is working on the fifth novel in this series and on her first English-language novel, a historical thriller set during the Siege of Leningrad. She a Hawthornden Fellow and an alumna of the Nachum Goldmann Fellowship.
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