After bringing the sacrifices to the altar for Aaron and his sons and next for the people of Israel, in this week’s portion, Shemini, Aaron blesses the people Israel. “Aaron lifted his hands toward the people and blessed them; and he stepped down after offering the sin offering, the burnt offering and the offering of well-being” (Lev. 9: 22). The High Priest offers a special blessing to the people. Although in this section of the Torah we are not told the words that the Aaron used, we assume that the verses from the book of Numbers known as the priestly benediction were the words of this blessing. Those ancient words of blessing, “May God bless you and keep you. May God’s face be turned toward you and be gracious to you. May God lift up your face and grant you peace” have been how Cohanim, have blessed the people throughout our history. Interestingly the offerings brought to the altar are not enough for the people’s purification. The blessing caps the offering and completes the process needed for the people. This blessing is clearly made on high at the altar because then Aaron has to step down when finished. His position matters. The blessing that comes from the altar isn’t just coming from him but through him to the people, because the real blessing and purification comes from God. Aaron is the conduit that makes it happen.
Immediately following this scenario, Moses and Aaron enter the Ohel Moed, the Tent of Meeting. As they emerge from this encounter they bless the people again and the miraculous occurs, the Holy Divine Presence appears now not just to the leaders but to the whole people. Fire comes and consumes the offering from this Divine Presence. The people saw it and they fell on their face. Together Moses and Aaron are able to bring God’s Presence visible before the people. Imagine the moment-the altar had been dedicated and now this ceremony when the people are witness to the Presence of God literally taking their sacrifices. Aaron’s blessing of the people before he enters the tent and as he emerges is important. Both components are necessary. The blessings are part of a process of that brings the holy Divine Presence nearer to the people. That is the point of the sacrifice itself. A korban, a sacrifice comes from the root krv which means draw near. Thus the sacrifice and the blessings given by Aaron does this exactly-brings the people near to God and God nearer to the people to accept the sacrifices they have brought.
We read this section on just as Passover has ended. For Jews the Passover offering is represented by the shank bones on our Seder plate. It is also represented through the festival offering which is the roasted egg on our Seder plates. We ate the Hillel Sandwich of Maror and Charoset between pieces of Matzah in the custom of Rabbi Hillel to remind us of the paschal offering. We were still reminded through the symbols of this holiday about the ancient sacrifices and the importance of drawing near to God.
We look now towards Shavuot, the next festival. As we count the fifty days of the Omer period, think about the ultimate moment of closeness between God and the Jewish people. The moment that drew us together was the moment of Sinai. Shavuot is the celebration of that moment. May you in the coming weeks draw closer with God and be ready to be purified and receive the blessing.