Parashat Shemini- Obeying Torah Authority
Obeying Torah Authority
Parashat Shemini tells of the inauguration of the Mishkan, the special events that were held to mark the "opening day" of the Mishkan's operation. Moshe tells Aharon, who on this day became the Kohen Gadol, to prepare a number of animals as his personal sacrifice, and to instruct Benei Yisrael to prepare animals for their sacrifice. Benei Yisrael's sacrifice included an Egel – a calf – as well as a goat. The Sages explain that these two offerings served to atone for two different sins: the calf, of course, atoned for Chet Ha'egel, the sin of the golden calf, whereas the goat served to atone for the sale of Yosef. Over two centuries earlier, Yosef's brothers sold him as a slave to Egypt, and to conceal their crime they slaughtered a goat and dipped Yosef's garment in its blood, so that it would appear as though he were killed by an animal. On the day of the Mishkan's inauguration, Benei Yisrael atoned for their ancestors' sin through the offering of a goat as a special sacrifice to God.
Why were Benei Yisrael required to earn atonement for the sale of Yosef on this day, and what connection is there between this crime and the sin of the golden calf?
The work "Be'er Yosef" explains that both these unfortunate events – the sin of the calf and the sale of Yosef – resulted from the same mistake: disregarding the guidance of Torah leaders. As many Rabbis explained, Benei Yisrael did not actually worship a golden calf. Rather, they sought to create some kind of structure that would replace Moshe as the source of guidance and instruction from God, the site at which God would convey His commands. Such an idea is not intrinsically wrong; in fact, this is precisely the function served by the Mishkan. However, when Benei Yisrael contemplated this idea, they consulted with Chur, one of the leaders appointed to guide the people in Moshe's absence, and he opposed the initiative. But the people were very enthusiastic about the idea to fashion the calf, and therefore killed Chur for expressing opposition. Aharon, the other leader appointed over the nation, had no choice but to acquiesce, in order to spare himself the same tragic fate as his colleague. The severity of the sin thus lay not in the act itself, but rather in the brazen disregard for Chur's authority.
Similarly, Yosef's brothers acted as they did on the basis of sound Halachic reasoning. Yosef had spoken negatively about them to their father, seemingly in an effort to have them expelled from the family, and his dreams indicated that he sought to rule over them, in violation of Yehuda's exclusive rights to the monarchy. The brothers therefore convened a Beit Din (Rabbinical court) and concluded that he is liable to the death penalty. They erred, however, in not consulting with the Rabbinic leadership of the time – Yaakov, Yitzchak, Shem and Ever. As in the case of the golden calf, what appeared as a valid and warranted course of action was followed either without the guidance of the Torah leaders.
On the day of the Mishkan's inauguration, Moshe had Aharon issue instructions to Benei Yisrael so that they could atone for this grave mistake, of taking religious matters into their own hands without consulting with their Rabbinic leadership. On this occasion, when the people earned expiation for the sin of the golden calf, they were called upon to atone as well for the similar mistake committed by their ancestors who sold Yosef without consulting with Torah authorities.
Later in this Parasha, we read of the tragic death of Aharon's two sons, Nadav and Avihu, for bringing an offering on this day of the Mishkan's inauguration. The Gemara explains that Aharon's sons brought their offering on the basis of sound Halachic reasoning, but were punished for not consulting with Moshe and Aharon. On this day, when Benei Yisrael sought to atone for this very sin, of disregarding the authority of Torah leaders, Nadav and Avihu, who were otherwise exceedingly righteous men, neglected to consult with their generation's leaders, and were punished very harshly. This demonstrates the importance of recognizing our dependence upon the guidance of the Torah scholars, and the need to act in accordance with their instructions, and not on the basis of our personal feelings and intuition.