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It was a dramatic event

Friday, 17 April, 2020 - 6:49 am

It was a dramatic event – one of the most dramatic and suspenseful ones that we have ever experienced as a nation. Millions of people standing in the desert, waiting for a special moment, a sign from Heaven that will show recognition and tell them: “It’s O.K., I’ve forgiven you. We are together once again.” But nothing was happening…

It all started with the Sin of the Golden Calf, forty days after the giving of the Torah, when the people made a golden calf to worship. Many months had gone by since then, during which Moshe Rabbeinu (our teacher) succeeded, with much determination and loving devotion to his flock, to obtain the sought-for forgiveness from Hashem. That happened on Yom Kippur, and on the very next day the order was given: “They will make Me a Mikdash (temple) and I will dwell amongst them.” A communal sigh of relief followed, together with inner joy: Not only does Hashem forgive, but he is interested in renewing His relationship with us.

The people grabbed the opportunity with both hands, donating everything they had quickly and enthusiastically, in order to build the Mishkan (Tabernacle) for Hashem as fast as possible, to make the promise “And I will dwell amongst them” come true, thus sealing the embarrassing saga of the calf…

Everything was ready. For seven days, from the 23rd of Adar until Rosh Chodesh Nissan, they build the Mishkan and dismantled it every day, brought offerings – all so that the fire would come down and accept those offerings, accept their service, dedicate the Mishkan they had built with their own hands and make it into a House of G-d. But it didn’t happen! For seven successive days they did everything – and there was no response from Heaven. It is impossible to describe the feeling – the magnitude of the pain and the disappointment. An entire nation was waiting, really and truly, for the Divine Presence to show itself, that the nation’s deeds should be accepted, and so far – nothing…

And then the eighth day arrived. “On the eighth day, Moshe called to Aharon and his sons and the elders of Israel. And he said to Aharon: take a calf… and sacrifice it before Hashem.” Specifically a calf – “to announce that Hashem atones, by way of this calf, for the incident with the calf.” Aharon felt uncomfortable, and somewhat embarrassed. “This is beyond me,” he said. But Moshe did not give in and said, “Why are you embarrassed? This is what you were chosen to do!” “Come near to the altar… and provide atonement for yourself and for the people.” Aharon approached the altar, and did everything he had been told to do, exactly according to the instructions. But – nothing! Nada! No Divine Presence, no fire from Heaven. He left the Mishkan, looked at the millions – men, women and children – their eyes on him, expressing hope and longing. It is as if they were asking him, “Nu? Did you succeed?” And Aharon was upset and said to himself: “I know that Hashem is angry at me, and it is due to me that the Divine Presence has not come down!”

Aharon then turned to Moshe: “Moshe, my brother, this is what you did to me, that I entered and was embarrassed?!” Immediately, Moshe entered with him and they prayed for mercy for the people, and then they came out and blessed the people with the best blessing in the world: “May it be that the Divine Presence will rest upon your endeavors.”

And then it happened: “A fire went forth from before Hashem and consumed upon the Altar.” Fire came down and accepted the offering, thus accepting back the people completely, and also accepting and dedicating the Mishkan to be a House of G-d.

“The people saw and sang glad song and fell upon their faces.” It is impossible to describe the powerful outburst of joy and song, which translated immediately into awe combined with deep-felt gratitude: “They fell upon their faces.” I get goose-pimples every year on Parashat Shemini, when I imagine the scene.

There is a message here that I take with me – for my life: to pray and to ask! Even if I’ve done everything right, and everything should work, I stop a moment by the side of the road, and as Moshe and Aharon did on the eighth day, I say a chapter of Tehillim and carry a prayer in my heart: “May the Divine Presence rest upon my endeavors.”

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

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