This week’s portion, Tzav contains the ordination ceremony of Aaron and his sons as the priesthood. It makes sense to detail the ordination of the Aaron as High Priest and his sons because the offerings of the sacrifices are detailed in last week’s portion and again in this week’s portion Tzav. This continues what we read at the end of the book of Exodus in chapter 40 which was the command to ordain Aaron and his sons.
And now the moment has arrived. But this is not something done hidden away. It is done in full transparency and openness. This is a ritual not just for priests only. So much of the priesthood is mysterious. It is only the Cohen Gadol—the High Priest who can enter the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur to pronounce the ineffable Name of God. It is only a priest who can offer the sacrifices outlines in this week’s portion. While the people of Israel bring their sin or meal offering or offering of well-being, it is the priest in charge that does the actual act. It is the priesthood which must tend the fire on the altar and even take out the trash by removing the ashes that accumulate! But this ceremony takes place before all of the people.
“Assemble the whole community at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting” says God to Moses (Lev. 8:3). This is exactly what happens. This ceremony of dressing the priest in his priestly garb, namely Aaron as High Priest and his sons, is done before the whole community of Israel.
Why is this important? Since the priesthood will be so mysterious and even a bit magical since priests will serve as the go between for God and the people? It is important because just as the people must have faith in God, they must have faith in their leaders. Don’t forget Aaron was recently shamed because he participated in the episode of the Golden Calf. It was he who fashioned it and sanctioned. The people needed something to restore their faith in him as well.
Thus when Moses, following God’s command, dresses Aaron in the priestly uniform, with a special tunic, sash and bands; with breastplate, and special headdress with the golden engraved plate on the front that says “Holy to God” Aaron is transformed from Moses’ brother and helper to a strong leader in his own right. He is holy to God. His is an example for the whole nation that even one who has faults, can rise to be holy to God. It is a transformation that echoes the journey of slaves to becoming a nation of priests and kings. From the bottom of the caste system one can rise to the top. Even Aaron who helped to create the greatest sin of the people could be redeemed and become the High Priest and his sons the priesthood that would care for the entire nation of Israel at the altar of God!
This should give us each hope. Hope that we can transform ourselves and our faith in ourselves to rise to greater spiritual heights even when we once were in depths of our own doing. We like Aaron can be anointed into service of God even if we have at one point brought shame upon the people of Israel. Yes, our God is a forgiving and loving God that seeks our potential for goodness in the world!
And for this we give the deepest thanks of our hearts.