Rabbi BenZion ShafierThe author taught in the Chofetz Chaim Yeshiva branch in Monsey, New York, where he resides. He is the director of theshmuz.com, and his book, Stop Surviving Start Living, is available thru the website or at Jewish bookstores.
“And Aaron and his sons did all of these things that HASHEM commanded through Moshe.”—Vayikrah 8:36
After a long and detailed description of the avodah (service) to be done in the Mishkan, the Parshah ends with statement that “Aaron and his sons did as they were told.”
Rashi seems to be bothered by the obviousness of this statement. Of course, Aaron and his sons did what HASHEM told them to do. Why does the Torah see fit to mention it? He answers that it is a statement of praise: they didn’t veer off to the right or to the left.
This Rashi is difficult to understand. It doesn’t seem like he answered his own question. Of course, Aaron didn’t veer off to the left or the right. This was the avodah in the Mishkan that he was performing! The directives came straight from HASHEM. Could he possibly think that he knew better than HASHEM how to perform them? And if that wasn’t reason enough, the punishment for deviating from the service is death.
Imagine a man working with high voltage electrical equipment. He has been given clear safety instructions. Make sure the power is off before you switch on the transformer. Make sure that you are wearing protective gloves and that you are grounded.
Wouldn’t we expect him to follow every nuance because of the danger involved? So what type of praise is it that Aaron followed orders?
The answer to this question can be best understood with an example.
The story is told about an Englishman who visited a farm in Texas in the 1880’s. As he approached the ranch, he saw a cowboy herding the cows. He approached, and using an expression common in England then, he asked for the man’s boss by saying, “Is your master home?” The cowboy put both hands on his hips and proclaimed, “The son of a gun ain’t been born yet.”
This anecdote is illustrative of a very human trait: we don’t like to be bossed around. In fact, we hate it. I’ll gladly help you, I’ll do anything for you. . . but ask nicely. Boss me around and forget it. I’m out of here.
This isn’t just a quirk of human nature—it’s a direct outgrowth of man’s inherent greatness.
In the Image of HASHEM
Chazal explain that when the Torah tells us that HASHEM created man in His image, it isn’t merely an expression. Man is both the reason for all of existence and the maintainer of it. Everything physical has a spiritual counterpart sustaining it. HASHEM put man into the role of being the one who upholds the spiritual level of the world. His actions, deeds, and thoughts build the upper worlds and sustain the lower worlds. Our eyes may not be attuned to it, but man is the maintainer of physicality. He is more significant than we can ever imagine, more important than anything we can envision. He is a little creator.
Bosses Don’t Like Being Bossed Around
While this greatness of soul allows man to reach dizzying heights, it also comes with a liability. It is very difficult for us to follow orders. Even if we know they’re right. Even if we know they’re good for us. Even if those orders are given by the greatest of all greats, by the Creator of the heavens and the earth. We don’t like taking orders. And as strange as it sounds, it is difficult for us to accept commands and directives.
This seems to be the answer to the question on Rashi.
Aaron was one of the greatest men who ever lived, and he had a high and lofty sprit. As such, it should have been very difficult for him to follow orders. For him to “do as he was told” should have been very hard. Nevertheless, it wasn’t. Because he was very humble, he was able to recognize his greatness and act in a bold and innovative manner when called for while accepting that HASHEM was in charge. As great as he was, he was but a servant in front of his Master. He had overcome one of the paramount challenges to man—recognizing his greatness, yet remaining humble.
Understanding this balance is critical for our growth. The Torah wasn’t given to robotic people who follow blindly without understanding. The Torah was given to us, and we are expected to ask questions. We are expected to delve into the reasoning behind things. We are obligated to strain our minds to understand whatever we can. And yet, we are expected to yield to the superior wisdom of our Creator and humbly submit to His directives.
Ours is to question why, and yet ours is to do or die.