Rabbi Michael Rosensweig
Rabbi Michael Rosensweig

Va-yehi Ba-yom Ha-shemini: The Elevation and Initiation of the Kehunah Gedolah

After specifying the details of the seven-day miluim process that qualified Aharon to become the Kohen Gadol, the Torah declares (Vayikra 9:1): "va-yehi ba-yom ha-shemini kara Moshe le-Aharon u-lebanav u-leziknei Yisrael." This verse presents numerous difficulties. The midrash and mefarshim (see, for example, Ohr Ha-chayim) speculate about the emphatic connotation of "va-yehi". What is the significance of this day that warrants such urgent expression.

Of greater consequence, mefarshim contend with the status of this day and its relationship with the 7-day period that preceded it. Kli Yakar questions why this should be depicted as the eighth day of a process that hitherto had been clearly circumscribed to seven-days, and was therefore completed. He projects that the eighth day constitutes a chanukat ha-mizbeach, but dismisses the notion that this phenomenon should be integrated in some fashion with the milluim of Aharon and his children. [See the comments of R. Eliyahu Mizrahi on 9:11 (also cited in Siftei Chachamim ad loc) that the seven days established chinuch kehunah, while the eighth day was a distinct and formal initiation for the avodah, and thus, also a "milluim". On this basis, he reconciles Rashi's comment on this verse and his commentary to Shemot 29:14.] The Ramban (9:2) queries why the eighth-day korbonot were completely omitted from the Torah's presentation of the milluim in Shemot(29:1). He concludes that the eighth-day protocol is excluded from the milluim korbonot, as Aharon and his progeny were already fully qualified for the avodah. This conclusion reinforces the Kli Yakar's difficulty: why does the Torah present the added protocol as if it constitutes an added, eighth day, implying an enhancement of this previous process?

The Ramban provides three perspectives regarding the character of these korbonot that may also further enlighten us as to the nature of the institution of kehunah, especially kehunah gedolah, and that might justify perceiving this special day (introduced emphatically with "vayehi") as a true eighth day, technically distinct from, but also indispensable to the milluim process.

The Ramban first proposes that the eighth day korbonot constitute a Chanukat ha-kehunah much like the minchat-chinukh-chavitin that initiated every kohen and every kohen gadol into the avodah. The need for initiating korbanot notwithstanding the milluim protocol's qualifying effect, reflects the fact that the avodah itself defines and further elevates the kohen. He is not merely trained and qualified for this vital function, but is defined, and enhanced by it. Indeed, in the absence of other mekadshim, avodato mechanchato, the avodah of the kohen gadol may actually invest and initiate his special sanctified status! The fact that the K.G. twice daily brings the minchat chavitin, which dovetails the minchat chinuch, the initiating korban, is highly suggestive. [It is interesting that the Ramban emphasizes specifically minchat chavitin.] Indeed, together with his dominant ["achat ba-shanah"] Yom Kippur role, the daily minchat chavitin obligation defines and symbolizes the unique avodah and stature of the kohen gadol.

The Ramban additionally posits that the eighth day korbonot were intended to neutralize Aharon's complex role in the calamitous chet ha-egel. This perspective has roots in the midrash based upon the configuration of the korbonot and is elaborated extensively in the mefarshim. [See Rashi and Kli Yakar 9:2]. The Ramban (9:7) cites the midrash that Aharon required further encouragement ("kerav el ha-mizbeach") in the implementation of this avodah precisely because he was deeply skeptical of his qualification to be K.G. in consequence of his egregious egel error. He was psychologically prone to seeing the egel image on the mizbeach as he approached it in the context of the hakravah. The Ramban explains that precisely because of his impeccable status and career as a "kadosh la-Hashem", Aharon continued to be haunted by this one stain-flaw.

The korbonot of the eighth day not only finally neutralized that obstacle and publicly demonstrated Hashem's kapparah and choice of Aharon, but perhaps also served to put this entire chapter in perspective. Kli Yakar notes that Aharon's eighth- day- egel was a chatat, while the nation brought an egel as an olah. He posits that this signified that while the national violation also extended to the ideological realm of avodah zarah (olah is associated with machshavah), Aharon's flaw was limited to that of a well-intentioned mistaken action. Indeed, as other mefarshim elaborate, Aharon's transgression stemmed only from his capacious love of the Jewish people, a quality that actually likely enhanced his qualification and stature as the paradigm kohen gadol. This particular korban, specifically attached to the milluim qualification, and as the avodah initiation certainly reinforced these themes. [This perspective also may resolve why the principle of "ein kategar naaseh saneigar"-precluding the bringing of an egel to expiate for this sin- does not apply to the eighth day korbonot. This rule-the prosecutor cannot also serve as defender, is cited in the Talmud to explain why the kohen gadol does not don his golden vestments (associated with the golden calf) in the kodesh ha-kodosahim]. Moreover, the capacity of avodat kohanim and korbonot to expiate even the seemingly unforgivable egel transgression underscores its . In this respect, the initiation avodah of the eighth day immediately elevated the milluim process itself.

Finally, the Ramban notes the remarkable fact that the eighth-day- korbonot of Aharon and of Klal Yisrael parallel the kohen gadol's and nation's korbonot on Yom Kippur. He further suggests that this parallel may have informed Aharon's halakhic conviction that the chatat needed to be burned, despite the fact that it was a "chatat chizonah"! Elsewhere (Torah Web ), we have developed the thesis that the avodah on Yom Kippur, though (and because)it is only "achat ba-shanah" (once a year), defines and is defined by the persona of the kohen gadol in his embodiment of the motif of "kulo la-Hashem", a linchpin concept in Yahadut that enables a more complex, nuanced and balanced spiritually ambitious life-style throughout the year. The eighth-day korbonot that evoke these indispensable themes certainly complete and enhance the milluim process by accentuating the apex of avodat ha-korbonot and by capturing the essence of the kohen gadol persona.

Moreover, the Yom Kippur paradigm resonates in an additional respect. The dialectic between the kohen gadol's status and stature as an individual who has dedicated himself selflessly and exclusively to spiritual growth and his function as representative of the nation is manifest in all dimensions of Yom Kippur's singular kedushah and unique avodah. The status of the kohen gadol's personal korbonot- the par and ayal-, as well as the requirement that he preside over all aspects of that avodah particularly reflect this central axiom. The Torah's presentation of the eighth-day korbonot similarly oscillate between the kohen gadol's personal mission and the nation's requirements. The Ramban and Kli Yakar note that while the "ziknei Yisrael" are gathered by Moshe, only Aharon addresses them on this day. When Moshe (9:7, "vayomer Moseh el Aharon kerav el hamizbeach va-aseh et chatatecha ve-et olatecha ve-khaper be-adcha u-be-ad ha-am. Va-aseh et korban ha-am ve-kaper baadam kasher tzivah Hashem") instructs Aharon about his personal korbonot, he formulates that these will also expiate on behalf of Klal Yisrael, only subsequently referring to their korbonot! [See Ramban ad loc who proposes to neutralize this difficulty.] The chatat ha-am is sacrificed like that of the kohen gadol's chatat (9:15- "vayischateihu va-yechateu ka-rishon"). The pesukim consistently oscillate between the personal and the national protocols practiced on this special day, as they do on yom kippur. The concrete exercise of the kohen gadol - Klal Yisrael dialectic in the initiating korbonot in the immediate aftermath of the qualifying milluim period, indeed constitutes a very powerful kiyum-coda of the milluim itself, truly a "vayehi ba-yom ha-shemini".

[The bestowing of birkat kohanim in this context as an expression of ahavat ha-am by Aharon ha-Kohen, is consistent with these themes, as well. I hope to elaborate this connection elsewhere.]

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