“Lessons from the Ceremony of the Consecration of the כֹּהֲנִים
the Priests”


by Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald

A good part of this week’s parasha, parashat Tzav, describes the consecration ceremony of the כֹּהֲנִים , the Priests. Through this ceremony, Aaron and his sons were officially invested into the office of the כְּהֻנָּה , the Priesthood, so that they could begin to minister in the Tabernacle as the people’s representatives to G-d.

The elaborate ceremony of consecration was conducted by Moses, who acted as the High Priest, because there were no priests at that time. Moses dressed Aaron in the vestments of the High Priest, and anointed the Tabernacle and all its furnishings with the sacred anointing oil. He then poured anointing oil upon Aaron’s head and sanctified him, and dressed the sons of Aaron in the garments of the Lay Priests, as G-d had commanded him.

Moses then began the sacrificial rite of the consecration ceremony, which consisted of a bull, two rams and a basket of matzot.

In Leviticus 8:14 the Torah states that Moses brought the bull for a sin-offering and that Aaron and his sons placed their hands on the head of the bull. In Leviticus 8:15, the Torah tells us, וַיִּשְׁחָט, וַיִּקַּח מֹשֶׁה אֶת הַדָּם וַיִּתֵּן עַל קַרְנוֹת הַמִּזְבֵּחַ סָבִיב בְּאֶצְבָּעוֹ, וַיְחַטֵּא אֶת הַמִּזְבֵּחַ, וְאֶת הַדָּם יָצַק אֶל יְסוֹד הַמִּזְבֵּחַ, וַיְקַדְּשֵׁהוּ, לְכַפֵּר עָלָיו , and he [Moses] slaughtered it [the bull] and Moses took the blood and placed it on the corners of the altar, all around, with his finger, and he purified the altar; he poured the blood upon the base of the altar and he sanctified it [the altar] to provide atonement for it.

The Midrash Sifra clarifies that Moses acted in lieu of the priests. During the seven days of consecration, from the 23rd of Adar until the first of Nissan, Moses served as the Kohen Gadol, performing the entire consecration service.

Rashi, in his comments on Leviticus 8:28, cites the Talmud Avodah Zarah 34a, stating that Moses was dressed in a white tunic during this seven day period when he acted as the High Priest. Apparently, Moses’ extreme modesty did not allow him to dress in the actual vestments of the High Priest.

Both the Midrash Sifra and the Yalkut Shimoni cite the parable comparing the consecration ceremony to a newly-married princess, whose mother accompanied her daughter to her new home to teach her how to act, until the princess mastered the act of being a wife. Since Aaron was not yet a priest, but only a Levite, the Al-mighty told Moses to serve until Aaron mastered the art of the priesthood. Moses would slaughter the offering and show Aaron what needs to be done. Similarly, with the sprinkling of the blood and all the intricate parts of the blood service, Moses demonstrated as Aaron watched and learned.

The Midrash asks why the verse says, וַיְקַדְּשֵׁהוּ, לְכַפֵּר עָלָיו , that Moses sanctified the altar to provide atonement for it? What atonement was needed? The Midrash suggests that Moses said to himself that when G-d commanded the people to donate to the Tabernacle, the people pressured one another to give. He concluded that if that is the case, then the people really did not give with a full heart, as G-d had commanded. Perhaps because the gifts were brought under duress and not given willingly with a full heart, they might actually be considered as stolen in G-d’s eyes.

Rabbi A.L. Scheinbaum,  in his Peninim on the Torah, cites Rabbi Aharon Kotler who concluded from the issues raised regarding the propriety of the peoples’ gifts, that in order to fulfill a mitzvah properly, and achieve proper sanctification, a mitzvah must be done with full willingness and joy. A mitzvah that is not performed with a full heart is lacking in sanctity, because it shows that the donor lacks respect for the mitzvah.

The Talmud, in Shabbat 130a, states that those mitzvot that the ancient People of Israel performed and accepted with joy, are still being performed today with joy.

Apparently, Jews today benefit from the full-hearted devotion of our ancient ancestors. The hope is that our descendants will similarly benefit from our own full-hearted devotion to the mitzvot that we perform today.

The benefits of sincerity are truly infinite. They are gifts that keep on giving.

May you be blessed.

Please note: This Shabbat, the Shabbat that immediately precedes Passover, is known as Shabbat Hagadol, the Great Shabbat. On this Shabbat, we read a special Haftarah from the prophet Malachi 3:4-24, in which we find the verse: “Behold I send to you Elijah the Prophet, before the great and awesome day of G-d.” For more information on Shabbat Hagadol, see parashat Tzav 5762-2002.

The first two days of the joyous festival of Passover will be observed this year on Monday night, April 10th and all day Tuesday and Wednesday, April 11th and 12th.