Aaron is chosen to serve God in a unique way
Chapter 8 in Leviticus discusses the anointing of Aaron and his sons as priests in the Tabernacle and the anointing of the Tabernacle itself. The process is very detailed. The first step is the washing of both Aaron and his sons. Then Moses dresses Aaron. Then Moses anoints the Tabernacle in oil. Then Moses anoints Aaron in oil. Finally, a series of sacrifices and ceremonies follow, after which Moses instructs Aaron and his sons to remain in the Tabernacle for seven days and nights. At the conclusion of this process, the Tabernacle will be ready for regular service.
A few things about this process struck me as I was reviewing the sequence. First of all, Moses is the one who takes the lead, who has received the instruction from G-d and who does the washing, anointing, sprinkling of the blood and so much more. Moses is the active player in this entire process — Aaron and his sons are passive recipients of their new role. Interestingly, though, Moses will not be allowed to bring the sacrifices once the Tabernacle is completed, because it is only Aaron and his sons, and his descendants forever on, who are appointed to that role.
Secondly, both the priests and the vessels in the Tabernacle are anointed in oil. Generally, the anointing oil is used to appoint someone to a particular position — both Saul and David are anointed by prophets. But here, the oil is also used to anoint inanimate objects.
Lastly, when Moses instructs the priests at the end of the process, he makes it very clear that they must not leave the Tabernacle at all for 7 days “that you will not die.” (Leviticus 8:35). Clearly there is a danger involved in serving G-d in the Tabernacle.
Each of these issues teach us something very valuable about leadership and serving G-d. Until now, Moses has been the sole recipient of G-d’s instruction and has passed that instruction on to the people. With the anointing of Aaron and his sons, however, Moses imparts some of his authority to Aaron, enabling him and his sons to be the sole people responsible for serving G-d in the Tabernacle. Aaron passively receives this instruction as Moses actively gives it, but Moses has actually handed over something he will never have again. He willingly and lovingly gives up a part of his leadership, so that the people can be better served, separately, by the priesthood and by political leadership. From this point forward, each role will serve G-d in a totally different way.
In anointing the vessels, in addition to the people, Moses is designating those that will act as vessels of service to G-d. When the priests serve in the Temple, they do not act independently, serving G-d as the spirit moves them. They serve only according to His will and in accordance with His laws. They, like the vessels, are there only to serve.
And finally, the issue of danger. G-d has enabled us to serve him in a Temple that is actually G-d’s home, for it is where He is going to dwell. It is not a casual place, but a place where the utmost respect and care must be taken to obey G-d’s will. Two chapters on, we learn of the tragic death of Aaron’s sons after they have offered alien fire in the Tabernacle. While it is not clear what their exact transgression was, it is clear that they have done something outside the strictures that God has laid down in detailed specifics in the preceding chapters.
The priests spend 7 days intensely and carefully learning the procedures that they will perform once the service is turned over to them. There is no room for error. The priests are there to serve and they must do it carefully, for their very lives are at stake. It is a most serious business.
Shabbat Shalom from Samaria,
Director, Israel Office