Parshat Shmini – The Mysterious Delay

Only through longing and praying for closeness to God can Hashra’at Ha-Shechinah be achieved.

Rabbi Avraham Gordimer,

Judaism Rabbi Avraham Gordimer
Rabbi Avraham Gordimer
Rabbi Avraham Gordimer

The introductory section of Parshat Shmini is charged with exhilaration, tragedy, tension and mystery. Let's try to focus on one aspect of this extremely complex and nuanced text.

"And Moshe and Aharon came to the Tent of Assembly, and they departed and blessed the nation, and the glory of God appeared to the entire nation." (Vayikra 9:23) Rashi, invoking the explanation of Midrash Toras Kohanim, writes:

Once Aharon noted that all of the korbonot (sacrifices) were offered and all of the other procedures were performed, yet the Shechinah did not descend to the Jewish People, he became aggrieved and stated, “I know that the Holy One, Blessed is He, was upset with me (for my role in the Chet Ha-Egel/Sin of the Golden Calf), and it is because of me that the Shechinah (Divine Presence) has not descended to the Jewish People.” Aharon then said to Moshe, “Moshe, my brother, you placed me in this role (of Kohen Gadol/High Priest, to initiate the service that would mark the appearance of the Shechinah in the Mishkan/Tabernacle), but I have been shamed.” Moshe immediately entered the Tent of Meeting with Aharon, they prayed for mercy, and the Shechinah thereupon descended to the Jewish People.

Why did the Shechinah not appear as expected? Why were the tefillot (prayers) of Moshe and Aharon necessary, seeing that the Avodah (sacrificial service) and everything else was all performed properly?

Although the Jewish People constructed the Mishkan exactly as prescribed and Aharon executed the Avodah seamlessly, all with the fullest sincerity and most proper kavanah (intent), this was apparently not sufficient. The instructive message of the above narrative is that physical Avodah, even with the best motivation, focus and understanding, is not a formula for Hashra’at Ha-Shechinah (Manifestation of the Shechinah) – it is only a prerequisite and a necessary condition. Rather, only through longing and praying for closeness to God can Hashra’at Ha-Shechinah be achieved.

We likewise find regarding Mattan Torah, the Giving of the Torah, that the nation’s yearning for the immanence of God played the most pivotal and integral role. Rashi explains (on Shemos/Exodus 19:9) in the name of the Mechilta:

Moshe told God: “The Jewish People want to hear the presentation of the mitzvot directly from You. Hearing something from a messenger cannot compare with hearing it from the King.  ‘We want to see our King!’, proclaimed the nation.”

Siftei Chachamim (ibid.) implies that the entire close encounter drama with the Shechinah at Har (Mount) Sinai ensued as a result of the enthusiastic desire of the Jewish People to have a direct audience with God. The passionate proclamation of “We want to see our King!” changed history forever and became the basis for our eternal relationship with God.

When we perform mitzvot, with as much alacrity and meticulousness as possible, we also need to foster an eagerness and a consciousness of reaching out toward God. Only then will Hashra’at Ha-Shechinah and a true, close and communicative bond with God be realized.