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This week’s parshah begins with the climax of the inauguration service of the kohanim\priestly sect of the Jews. As part of this program, Aharon is told [Vayikra 9’ 2’-3’]:

He said to Aharon: "Take a calf of the herd for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering, without blemish, and bring them before G-d."

The possuk does not tell us why Aharon was supposed to bring a Sin-offering–Rashi explains, that the purpose of that offering was:

קח לך עגל TAKE THEE A CALF — This animal was selected as a sin offering to announce to him that the Holy One, blessed be He, granted him atonement by means of this calf for the incident of the Golden Calf which he had made (Midrash Tanchuma, Shmini 4).

Apparently, according to Rashi, Aharon was bringing this sacrifice to atone for his role in creation of the Golden Calf. It is puzzling, that although many pesukim allude directly to Aharon’s active participation in the sin of the Golden Calf, it is hard to glean a complete picture from a surface level approach to the verses [see Shemot chapter 32 at length].

For example the Torah states, loosely translated [Shemot 32’ 25’]: "Moses saw that the people were revealed—since Aaron had revealed their disgust for anyone who opposes them to see."

The possuk does not state what precisely Aharon revealed to the enemies of the Jewish people; it simply states that Aharon exposed their act.

It is the opinion of the author, that the simplest understanding of the above possuk [as well as the overall perspective of what Aharon’s sin was] can be found in the Midrash [Vayikra Rabbah, 7’ 1’], which states that after the Golden Calf was made, Aharon approached the fake deity and physically disgraced it with a hammer; and while this blatant act of insult should have shocked the Jews back to their logical senses, it did not, and their hedonistic pursuit of sin continued, with one major difference – while up until this act of Aharon, the Jews could have been judged as sinning without full intent, once Aharon exposed the utter idiocy that the Jews were pursuing, and continued to pursue even after his revelation – G-d states, that now they have to be judged as willful sinners.

Hence, Aharon’s flaw in this story was not directly related to any personal role he had played in the creation and service of the Golden Calf; rather, his sin was not understanding that his act of protest was going to fall on deaf ears, and rather than change the mentality of his flock for the better, it would only serve to reinforce the level of severity their sin would have.

There are many lessons that Jewish leaders can learn from the actions of Aharon at the time of the Golden Calf, as well as his need for atonement for those very acts that we can be sure were done with the best of intentions. I pray that we can all take this message to heart, and understand the eternal lesson contained within this Midrash—-and to the best of our ability, relate to those we disagree with, with greater compassion and empathy.