Thought for Shabbat – February 15, 2019
The Ten Commandments have been received. The Tabernacle housing those commandments and utensils for worship have been built and fashioned. And now those who will serve in the Temple are appointed as Moses’ brother Aaron is made the High Priest. His sons will be the priests who will serve in the Temple, but it is only Aaron who will enter the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur to request forgiveness for the entire people.
It is not surprising that he is appointed, since he had been a major part of the leadership of the Israelites since the initial visit to Pharaoh to demand the Israelites release. On the other hand, one has to wonder about the appointment since it was Aaron who got the people to donate their finest jewelry to the construction of the Golden Calf, the building of which led to the death of many Israelites. While he may have been trying to stop the Israelites from engaging in idol worship, his strategy clearly backfired and the Golden Calf enraged not only God but Moses, his brother.
The clear implication is that despite his unintentional wrongdoing, Aaron is to a large extent forgiven by God and allowed to be in the one place no other Israelite, not even Moses, is allowed, the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur. When we read this portion this week we can’t help but think about the events of the last week where the congresswoman from Minnesota expressed anti-Semitic tropes in her campaign to harm Israel and its supporters. To her credit, she apologized.
The Torah portion clearly intimates that it is possible to be forgiven. Yet, that is some place where many are not ready to go, at least not yet. Many of us have been so angered and outraged that forgiveness is not possible. Some of us don’t trust that the apology is enough or that it is for an isolated incident. Others are quick to accept her apology for a variety of reasons. Some of us simply want to wait to see what happens next before we consider the possibility of accepting this apology.
This is the not the first time that national leaders have sought forgiveness for racially or anti-Semitic actions/words. On December 17, 1862, General Ulysses Grant issued General Order No. 11 expelling all Jews in his military district in an effort to combat black market enterprises based on the belief that it was mostly Jewish peddlers who were the perpetrators. Jews appealed to President Lincoln who rescinded the order within a few weeks.
When Grant later ran for President about six years after these events, he vigorously distanced himself from the Order and disclaimed its contents as not being representative of his personal beliefs. While some Jews fought Grant’s election, a large number supported Grant and his attempts to reconcile with the Jewish community. When elected, Grant was the first US President ever to attend a synagogue service and appointed more Jews to office than any previous president.
So can people change? Yes. Can people be forgiven? Of course. Should they be forgiven is a harder question. Grant had six years to prove his sincerity, plead his case, and perhaps be transformed by his experience. And perhaps forgiveness of the congresswoman is possible but her words should not be glossed over because of other political concerns, beliefs or grudges. She must be evaluated on her own merit or lack of it. We owe it to our people to be honest with ourselves.
Rabbi Yaier Lehrer
On this holiday weekend, with some of us traveling, it will be nice to see many of you at services. Remember the new Friday start time of 6:30 PM. Tomorrow morning we will have Torah study at 9:00 AM before services which begin at 9:45 AM, all of which will be followed by our annual cholent lunch. Our Sunday morning service will be at 9:00 AM as usual.