By Shabbat afternoon, this week’s Torah portion, Shemini, will have been read (outside of Israel) eight times in public.
Why, of all the portions that could have been read and reread consecutively in private and in public, is Shemini the one that receives this unique treatment?
It’s a characteristic that rubs some the wrong way. People often misread it and are not sure what to make of it. Throughout the years it’s engendered suspicion, animosity and jealousy. But today most admire this trait and strive to emulate us. Its power is not limited to any city and there is no aspect of Jewish life which has not been enhanced, if not transformed, through its expression.
The characteristic? That integral trait?
To be not ashamed, disconcerted, or apologetic; to be boldly certain of our positions. The subtle art of not giving a functional thought as to what other people think, or what they might say, or how it might be interpreted.
The verse (Leviticus 9:7) says:
And Moses said to Aaron: “Approach the altar and perform your sin offering and your burnt offering, atoning for yourself and for the people, and perform the people’s sacrifice, atoning for them, as the Lord has commanded.”
Approach the altar: [Moses had to order Aaron to do so,] because Aaron was bashful and afraid to approach [the altar]. So Moses said to him: “Why are you ashamed? For this [function] you have been chosen!” – [Torath Kohanim 9:7]
Why did Moshe coach Aaron? He could have simply told him: You must do. It is a mitzvah. G-d Himself is commanding you to do this. It doesn’t matter whether you’re bashful or not, proud or not, action is the main thing. Just get it done.
But instead Moshe was teaching Aaron and all of us a radical, relevant and universal message: It’s not enough to simply do what you know you’re supposed to do. If you’re supposed to do it, if for this you were born, then what is there to be ashamed of?
Indeed, this isn’t even about you. It’s about approaching your altar, that place in your life, that place in this world where, when you’re there, all elevation is possible.
When you are a messenger of G-d, when you are chosen for a function, there’s no room for equivocation or self-doubt. There’s no room to take a vote. You must embrace it with the totality of your being and without apology.
Say it to yourself. Aloud. Eight times in a row, if you must:
I am necessary. G-d needs me. Humanity needs me. I play an indispensable role on this earth. Nobody can replace me. And yet it’s not about me. It’s about what I’m needed for. It’s about the part of the puzzle that I was created to complete. This is not of my choosing but of G-d’s. I will not be ashamed. I will be proud. I will not apologize. I will be me.
Adapted from our submission for Lamplighters Yeshivah‘s weekly Pass the Torch column.