When Moshe lost his job at the end of spring training

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What is the most exciting trop or musical note in the Torah? I happen to think that the most exciting word that’s layned in the Torah is כאלה that we read during Pesach. The whole shul is fast asleep and then you get to the word כאלה  and everyone awakes from their slumber and belts out כאלה. Now that might be the most exciting word that is layned in the Torah, but what is the most exciting trop, or musical note in the Torah? The shalshelet. And we did one today and it’s a very rare occurrence. It’s so rare that if you missed it today, you will have to wait until next year, Parshat Vayera, for the next shalshelet. There are four shalshelet’s in the Torah: when Sodom is about to be destroyed, when Avraham’s servant is looking for a wife for Yitzchak, when Yosef refuses to have an affair with Potiphar’s wife and in this week’s parsha, during the שבעת ימי המילואים, during the seven-day inauguration process before the mishkan is up and running. It seems that at least in the first three instances, the shalshelet signifies an intense personal conflict. When Sodom is about to get destroyed, the Torah tells us ויתמהמה, that Lot delays, and Chazal explain that Lot is conflicted over leaving his wealth behind while fleeing Sodom. When Avraham’s servant is looking for a wife for Yitzchak, the Torah tells us ויאמר, the servant says to God, “Give me a sign about how I can find Yitzchak’s shidduch,” but Chazal say he is conflicted because he actually wishes for his own daughter to be that shidduch. When Yosef refuses to have an affair with Potiphar’s wife, the Torah tells us וימאן, and he refuses to have an affair, even though Chazal say that he is conflicted over his desire for her. Every time we layn the shalshelet, there is an internal conflict. What, then, is the internal conflict of the shalshelet during the שבעת ימי המילואים, when the Torah states וישחט, that Moshe slaughtered a ram and took some of its blood and put it on the tip of the right ear, the right-hand thumb and the right big toe of Aaron and his children. Why is Moshe’s internal conflict at this time? He’s simply doing his job of helping inaugurate the mishkan.


The truth is that I can even ask a more basic question here. Why is Moshe doing all the work during the שבעת ימי המילואים? This period of inauguration is like spring training to prepare for יום השמיני, for opening day of the mishkan.  During this time, Moshe is offering the sacrifices. Moshe is sanctifying the mishkan and all the vessels. Moshe is performing all the rituals. But why? Why is Moshe doing all the work during this time? It’s like if you have the managers and the coaches doing the pitching or hitting during spring training. That doesn’t make any sense. The team that will play during the season should be the team that practices during spring training. Moshe is not playing during the regular season. Aaron and his children will be playing during the season. They should be the ones who are doing all the work during the שבעת ימי המילואים. Why is Moshe doing all the work instead?


There is a very tragic perspective when reading this story. The midrash in Vayikra Rabba states that at the burning bush, when God’s Divine presence first appears to Moshe, Moshe does not want to be God’s messenger to lead the Bnei Yisrael out of Egypt. In fact, Moshe refuses for seven days before accepting his role. Moshe is punished for this refusal. What is his punishment? Moshe should have been awarded the kehunah, the priesthood, but that privilege is taken from him and given to Aaron and his children. To add insult to injury, Moshe performs the rituals during the seven-day inauguration period, during the spring training of the mishkan, if you will, to remind him what he lost. And that is Moshe’s hesitancy, his internal conflict, when וישחט, when he slaughters the ram, when he realizes what could have been his legacy. Don’t get me wrong. He had a nice job of being the leader of the Jewish people – I’m sure his mother was so proud of him – but he loses the opportunity to serve in the mishkan and he has to deal with this loss as he performs the rituals during spring training. That is Moshe’s shalshelet in this week’s parsha.


Maybe, though, there’s another way to view Moshe’s role during these seven days of spring training. Maybe Moshe’s responsibility is not a punishment. Rabbi Sacks has written eloquently about Moshe being the navi, the prophet, and Aaron being the kohen, the priest. What is the difference between the prophet and the priest?


Rabbi Sacks explains that there are several differences. First of all, the role of the priest transfers from parent to child but the role of the prophet does not. Aaron’s children succeed him, but Moshe’s children do not. The priest serves in a Temple, offering sacrifices, with a special uniform. In contrast, the prophet usually lives amongst the people, he does not have a special uniform and he serves by sharing the word of God with the people. The service of the priest never changes. It is the same ritual again and again and again. The service of the prophet is constantly changing depending on the needs of the time. The key words in the vocabulary of the kohen are kodesh and chol, tahor and tamei – holy and mundane, pure and impure. The key words in the vocabulary of the prophet are tzedek, mishpat, chesed and rachamim – righteousness and justice, kindness and compassion. Rabbi Sacks beautifully remarked: “The priest represents the principle of structure in Jewish life, while the prophet represents spontaneity.” Additionally, “The priest teaches the word of God for all time; the prophet, the word of God for this time.”


What would you rather be? A priest or a prophet? Maybe the answer is neither, but of the two, the priest and the prophet, which personality do you prefer? Do you prefer the structure and the tradition and the formality of the priest or do you prefer the spontaneity and the passion and the informality of the prophet? I think that many of us are attracted to the prophet personality, who likes to shake things up, the social critic who challenges us constantly to reflect and to ask ourselves if we need to adapt and change. Just because we’ve done the same thing for the past fifty years, we need to ask ourselves if we should continue. The prophet is the agitator and there is something very enticing about being the agitator, the social revolutionary, until Moshe realizes the price you have to pay for being an agitator. Moshe is doing the work during spring training and what does that work entail? He dresses Aaron and his sons in priestly garments. He anoints the mishkan and Aaron and his sons with anointing oil. He also offers some sacrifices and he sprinkles blood of these sacrifices upon Aaron and his sons. And when he slaughters the final sacrifice, he signifies that the Kohanim are now installed and ready to start the regular season. And Moshe also realizes that Aaron and his children and their children after them for generations to come will continue this wonderful tradition, but Moshe will not pass on his legacy to his children. This is the shalshelet on וישחט. This is Moshe’s anguish, his internal conflict. It’s tough being a prophet, because there will be no continuity, and this was very painful for Moshe. Moshe will not hand the reins over to his children. He will hand them over to Yehoshua. And yet, notwithstanding this intense internal conflict that Moshe feels, God still deems it necessary for Moshe to do all the work during the שבעת ימי מילואים, during his spring training. 


And the reason, says Rav Aharon Lichtenstein, is that when the routine and ritual of the mishkan is being initiated, we need Moshe to infuse that ritual with Divine fire, with the vibrancy and vitality of the prophet. Aaron the priest would perform the ritual day in and day out, but Moshe will infuse this routine with the passion and vitality of the prophet. And we need both. We need the priest and the prophet in our service.


The spring training and the regular season of the mishkan is a paradigm for our religious lives. The key to a thick passionate religious life is balancing the priest and the prophet in our lives. There are those who feel that the current state of religion is not doing it for them. They don’t feel inspired by the ritual, by the routine. Everything they do is done by rote. It all feels so boring. They want to be a prophet. They want to change and reform everything. Sometimes we don’t realize the power of tradition, of routine, of ritual, that grounds us. The fact that we pray and perform so many mitzvot that our ancestors have been doing for thousands of years is so comforting to me and gives me strength that this is real; otherwise, it wouldn’t have lasted this long. But I do not ignore the fact that we need the prophet. We need to constantly check ourselves and ask if we can do better. We need to ask ourselves why so many in our community may not be inspired and what we can do better. And the truth is that Moshe and Aaron together send a compelling message to each and every one of us. They tell us not to give up on the ritual, on the routine, on the traditions that saved our nation from extinction for thousands of years. But they are also challenging us to search for the fire. Rav Shlomo Carlebach once said that if you find Shabbat boring then it’s because you are boring. We have the capacity to be more than a priest. We have the capacity to be a prophet, as well. And there are so many ways to do it. Study. Integrate Torah principles into your life. Pray. Reflect. Seek religious guidance. Cultivate an attitude of gratitude to help you feel more connected. Remember, don’t give up on being a priest. But don’t give up on being a prophet either.