“The Little Steps that Lead to Big Accomplishments”
(updated and revised from Shemini 5765-2005)

by Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald

As the narrative of this week’s parasha, parashat Shemini, opens, we encounter Moses and Aaron on the eve of one of the most joyous days for the entire Jewish people. The construction of the מִשְׁכָּןMishkan–the Tabernacle, had been completed, and the investiture of the priests–Aaron and his sons, was about to take place.

The inauguration of the priests consisted of a complex, but majestic, ceremony. A series of representative sacrifices were brought: a he-goat for a sin offering, a calf and a sheep for an elevation offering, and a bull and a ram for a peace offering. These various animals were to represent atonement for the Golden Calf, as well as commitment to leadership, eternal freshness, and resolve to work actively on behalf of G-d. The meal offerings that were brought together with the animal offerings were a means of “praying” for economic well-being.

After having completed his first day of performing the sacrificial service, Aaron blessed the people by reciting the priestly blessing for the first time. He raised his hands, as is the custom of priests today, and pronounced the tripartite blessing.

After this, Scripture, in Leviticus 9:23, informs us: וַיָּבֹא מֹשֶׁה וְאַהֲרֹן אֶל אֹהֶל מוֹעֵד, Moses and Aaron came into the Tent of Meeting. Our rabbis ask why was it necessary for them to enter the Tent of Meeting? Rashi quoting the Sifra, offers two explanations. He suggests that Moses went into the sanctuary with Aaron in order to teach Aaron how to perform the incense ceremony that was to take place on the golden altar. A second explanation, cited by Rashi, is that Aaron was upset that despite all of Aaron’s efforts and preparations, the שְׁכִינָהShechina–the Divine Presence, had not yet rested upon the מִשְׁכָּן–the Tabernacle. Blaming himself, Aaron maintained that the Shechina was avoiding him because of his role in the sin of the Golden Calf. Immediately, Moses entered the Tent of Meeting and, together with Aaron, prayed for G-d’s mercy. Soon after, the Shechina appeared and rested upon the Mishkan.

Students of the bible often ask themselves what is the reason for the Torah’s use of a particularly unusual word or phrase. Our verse in Leviticus 9:23 states: וַיָּבֹא מֹשֶׁה וְאַהֲרֹן , and Moses and Aaron “came” to the Tent of Meeting. The verse could have simply stated that they “entered” the tent of meeting. What is the point of emphasizing that they “came”–as if to underscore the process of walking? Rashi points out, מַה יְּרִידָה מֵעֵין עֲבוֹדָה, אַף בִּיאָה מֵעֵין עֲבוֹדָה, just as descending (from the altar) is related to the sacred service, so too, is “coming” related to the sacred service.

Because of the importance of the inauguration of the Tabernacle and the investiture of the priests into the service of the Tabernacle for the very first time, every textual detail describing the ceremonies is magnified and analyzed with intense scrutiny. But, it was not only at the inauguration of the Tabernacle and the investiture of the priesthood that “descending” and “coming” played a critical role. In fact, at all future services, approaching the Tabernacle and walking down from the altar were considered integral parts of the sacred service, not to be treated lightly.

I often think of this lesson and wonder what possible message it may convey for contemporary times. Oftentimes, we find ourselves in an unenthusiastic mood, or simply too tired to perform our religious commitments, our familial obligations and sometimes even our business responsibilities. I am quite certain that I am not the only one who, at times, wakes up in the morning saying: “Oh, just let me stay in bed for a few more hours and worry about my responsibilities later!”

It is at such times, when we are filled with mental fatigue or physical inertia, that we reflect upon our labors, and suddenly recognize their importance. It may be that we are expected to teach a class of eager students or participate in a prayer service with others who depend on us or attend a significant business meeting. So, we quickly readjust our mental attitudes, and, somehow, summon the strength to make our way to our appointed destinations. Eventually, we arrive and do our “thing.” Yet, we usually give little thought to those little footsteps that were necessary to transport us to that destination.

It is here, in parashat Shemini, that the Torah informs us that we need to especially appreciate those seemingly inconsequential footsteps. The Torah, in effect, teaches that walking toward the mitzvah or toward the ultimate goal is really part of the actual mitzvah and an integral part of the goal. I would even be so bold to suggest that shlepping one’s body out of bed to go to shul when not in the mood, is actually part of praying itself. Even a person who comes and sits like a zombie at the service—is performing a significant spiritual act! Every step that was taken to make this happen is important and valued in G-d’s eyes.

The Torah teaches us that those “little efforts” are of major significance, since they are the ones that make the big accomplishments possible. These little efforts are extremely valuable and must be regarded for what they are–essential parts of the sacred or valued ultimate goal. Those little steps are not mere “small stuff.” They are the fundamental building blocks of the “big stuff,” and are to always be regarded with the utmost respect and value.

May you be blessed.

Please note: The seventh and eight days of the joyous festival of Passover will be observed this year on Tuesday night, April 11th, and continue through Wednesday and Thursday, April 12th and 13th.