Parashat Shemini- Having Trust in the System
Parashat Shemini tells of the events that took place on the eighth and final day of the Mishkan’s inauguration. It was on this day when Aharon, for the first time, functioned as the Kohen Gadol, offering special sacrifices in honor of the occasion.
The Sages teach that Aharon was initially hesitant to go forth and perform the sacred rituals in the Mishkan. He still had lingering doubts about whether he had truly been forgiven for his role in the sin of the golden calf. True, his intentions in that unfortunate incident were noble. Seeing that the people wanted a graven image, he instructed them to bring their gold jewelry, incorrectly assuming that they would be hesitant to do so, and that in the meantime, Moshe would return and the crisis would end. Nevertheless, Aharon still felt some guilt over having fashioned the golden calf, and still considered himself unworthy of entering the Mishkan and serving God. Moshe therefore had to encourage Aharon and give him a slight “push” to proceed with the day’s rituals.
What might we learn from Aharon’s hesitation, and the extra “push” that he needed?
One Rabbi commented that Aharon’s ambivalence on this occasion is characteristic of a problem that many of us experience regarding the process of Teshuba (repentance). Very often, even after sincere repentance, we are plagued by guilt and find it difficult to move on. Even for a righteous Sadik like Aharon, the natural feelings of regret can cause lingering doubts in the system of repentance. Lingering questions such as “Can God really forgive me for what I have done?” and “Am I really worthy of forgiveness?” remain. Moshe’s encouragement and insistence that Aharon proceed with the sacrificial rituals should serve as an example to all of us to have faith and confidence in our own repentance. If we are truly sincere in our remorse, prayers and desire to improve, then we have nothing to fear. We must tell ourselves that yes, God very much wants us to “enter the Mishkan,” to serve Him with sincerity, despite our past mistakes. If our repentance is sincere, then we must move forward with confidence.
One might, however, question this conclusion in light of a verse in Tehillim (51:5), “Ve’hatati Negdi Tamid” – “My sin is in front of me, always.” Does this not imply that we should always be fearful of the consequences of our wrongdoing? Isn’t this proof that we must remain concerned and hesitant about the efficacy of our repentance?
In truth, this verse refers not to lingering doubts about the effectiveness of Teshuba, but rather to a commitment to remain constantly vigilant to avoid repeating the sin. Every sin results from a certain weakness or flaw. And part of the process of repentance is identifying that flaw and devising strategies to ensure that it will not cause us to stumble again. “Ve’hatati Negdi Tamid” means that we will always remember what led us to sin so we can avoid it going forward. It might mean, for example, that we will avoid the crowd that exerted pressure on us to transgress the Torah, or avoid inappropriate places that cause us to sin. But it does not mean that we will have lingering doubts about the effectiveness of our repentance. We, like Aharon, must feel confident in the system and believe that God lovingly and mercifully accepts our Teshuba.
Why is it so hard for us to trust the system, and to confidently believe that our Teshuva is accepted?
One answer is that these doubts stem from our reluctance to forgive those who offend us. When somebody wrongs us, even if we outwardly forgive, we still harbor negative feelings; we are not prepared to allow the relationship to be fully restored. And this could make it difficult for us to believe that God has fully accepted our Teshuba. If we cannot completely forgive our peers, then we will doubt whether God can fully forgive us. Thus, one way to gain confidence in the system of repentance is to respond more favorably to those who “sin” against us. The more wholehearted we are in forgiving others, the more trust we will have in God’s willingness to forgive us, and thus the less burdened we will be by lingering feelings of guilt and anxiety.