For the week of March 11, 2017 / 13 Adar 5777
Tezavveh & Zakhor
Torah: Shemot/Exodus 27:20 – 30:10 & Devarim/Deuteronomy 25:17-19
Haftarah: 1 Samuel 15:2-34
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You shall make a plate of pure gold and engrave on it, like the engraving of a signet, Holy to the LORD. And you shall fasten it on the turban by a cord of blue. It shall be on the front of the turban. It shall be on Aaron’s forehead, and Aaron shall bear any guilt from the holy things that the people of Israel consecrate as their holy gifts. It shall regularly be on his forehead, that they may be accepted before the LORD. (Shemot/Exodus 28:36-38)
Every time I read it, I am struck by this description of the special gold plate fastened to the front of the High Priest’s turban. Perhaps I sense the solemn nature of it. Or its importance. On it were engraved the words “kodesh l’adonai” (English: “Holy to the LORD”). It’s as if the royal stamp of heaven had come down to indelibly mark Aaron and his dynasty for the most noble of tasks. The High Priest was responsible to connect the people of Israel to God. The special rituals he performed maintained God’s place within the community.
How did he do that? We read in this passage: “Aaron shall bear any guilt from the holy things that the people of Israel consecrate as their holy gifts. It shall regularly be on his forehead, that they may be accepted before the LORD.” He was responsible for whatever lack was found among the people in their offerings. His role made up the difference for everyone else, so that they and/or their offerings would be accepted by God.
If you are like me, you would then want to know how that worked. That’s something I regularly wonder about with regard to the entire priestly system. How did the various sacrifices, food and drink offerings, the incense, the cleansing rituals, and so on do whatever they did? After many years of reading these passages, my conclusion is we don’t know. But what we do know is that they did work. They truly fulfilled their God-given purpose in maintaining the sanctity of the community. Note that the failure of the sacrificial system as expounded by both the Hebrew Prophets and the New Covenant writings is not due to the ineffectiveness of the system itself as much as the eventual corruption of the priesthood. There is also the issue of its preparatory, and thus temporary, nature in anticipation of the coming of the Messiah. But that’s beside the point for now.
While we may not understand the mechanics behind how Aaron’s responsibilities worked, we can more easily surmise why they did. God established the High Priesthood to fulfill a particular role within the community. In a sense, it had nothing to do with Aaron himself. He was a conduit of blessing. He didn’t possess in himself the powers of ritual cleansing. The people would experience God’s acceptance only insofar as Aaron assumed the duties of his office.
This is not to say that the person in the role had no bearing on that role. He could have messed up big time by not sufficiently fulfilling his duties or through bad behavior bringing disgrace to his office. The Bible has examples of that within his immediate family and subsequent generations. But the power behind the role did not ultimately reside in the person, but in God. God established the office of High Priest to fulfill his purposes among the people. When the priesthood functioned as it should, God worked through it to bring cleansing, forgiveness, and acceptance to the people.
What was true for the High Priest is true for every role and function we may have. Whether we acknowledge the reality of the true God or not, whenever we are faithful to the tasks given to us by him, he works through us to fulfill his good purposes on earth. From fathers and mothers, to Presidents and Prime Ministers, to teachers and doctors, to engineers and grocery clerks, even religious leaders, the benefits we bring to others originate in God and are designed to be distributed as gifts to those we are called to serve.
My intention is in no way to belittle the office of the High Priest or its fulfillment in the Messiah, but rather to elevate whatever role we might have as each one of us have been called by God to be a conduit of blessing. How it works, I don’t know. But that it does is clear.
All scriptures, English Standard Version (ESV) of the Bible