TWO VERSIONS OF THE SEVEN DAYS OF INITIATION
At the end of this week’s parsha, after discussing the seven-day period of initiation of Aharon and his sons into the priesthood, the Torah concludes.
“You should not leave the entrance of the Tent of Meeting for seven days until the concluding day of your days of inauguration… You should stay at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting day and night for seven days, and must guard your appointed duty to G-d…”
Commentators ask why the Torah repeated the command not to leave the Tent of Meeting for seven days.
Another question: Why does it mention day and night the second time this command is given, but not the first time?
A third question is posed, if the Tent of Meeting was disassembled every night and there was no entrance, where were they to stay?
The Rebbe answers that the two verses actually discuss two different obligations. The first verse was directed to those inside the Tent of Meeting performing the required services during the first seven days. Their obligation did not extend into the nights because the Tent of Meeting was taken down and no services were performed until the next morning.
However, the second verse was addressed to those who remained outside the Tent of Meeting; they had an independent obligation to stand guard at the site of the Tent of Meeting even when the Tent was disassembled for the night.
We must try to understand the spiritual dimension of these two obligations.
THE CONNECTION WITH PASSOVER AND SHABBOS HAGADOL
Since this Torah reading occurs on the Shabbos before the Holiday of Passover in most years, we must also look for the connection between these obligations and Passover.
In addition, the Shabbos before Passover is called Shabbos HaGadol, the Great Shabbos. There are literally dozens if not hundreds of explanations why it is so called. Whatever the reason for the name, the question presented here asks about the connection between the Torah reading concerning the seven days of initiation and the theme of the Great Shabbos.
At first glance, the connection to Passover is the seven-day initiation period Aharon and his sons had to serve in the Tent of Meeting and its parallel in the seven days of the Passover Holiday.
But that is where the analogy appears to end. The seven days in the parsha were for the inauguration and initiation of the Priests, whereas Passover celebrates the Exodus from Egypt. What is the connection between these two events?
PASSOVER AS INITIATION
Upon deeper reflection, it is apparent that Passover too is a time of initiation and inauguration. The Passover Seder’s dominant theme is education of our youth. It is the child who asks the four questions. We do things differently during the seder so that the children will ask additional questions. We are required to start the seder promptly at nightfall so that the children do not tire out and fall asleep too soon. And, indeed, a good portion of the Seder is devoted to answering the questions of the Four Sons.
In truth, Passover is not just for children. It is also meant to inspire we adults, who are children relative to the spiritual level we are capable of reaching but have not yet achieved. When we respond to the questions of the child we are also responding to the child in us.
CULTIVATING THE ADULT IN THE CHILD
According to many opinions, when we train a child to do a Mitzvah we must train him or her to do it in the precise manner it is done by an adult. It does not suffice to get the child to perform a Mitzvah in some symbolic, half-baked, compromised fashion, absent its details and intricate requirements. If the contrary were the case, it would be misleading the child. He or she would be ill-prepared to perform the mitzvah properly.
We are led by this thought to an arguably novel way of viewing the role of an educator. While the educator must recognize that he or she is dealing with a child, he or she must also view the child as a potential adult. Indeed, a child possesses far more adult characteristics than we usually give him or her credit for. Just as an adult retains a latent spark of childhood innocence and purity, so too, a child possesses a spark of maturity and adulthood. It is the educator’s role to ignite that spark.
We can now understand the connection between the seven-day period of inauguration and the Holiday of Passover: they are both designed to prepare the uninitiated for their ultimate roles.
Although the Priests—Aharon and his sons—were grown men, they were regarded as children relative to their future position in the Tent of Meeting. Consequently, they were charged with activating their more advanced adult level.
The lesson at this point is obvious. Every day of our life is a day of preparation for the future. Each and every day we are both an adult as compared to the preceding day and a child as compared to the next day.
SHABBOS HAGADOL: SETS THE TONE FOR PASSOVER
This also explains the connection with Shabbos HaGadol, which can be translated as the Shabbos of maturity. The focus of Passover is the introduction of the Gadol-great-mature-adult dimension of spirituality to the child.
To be sure, Passover is a children’s holiday in which we cultivate the childlike purity and innocence within our children and within ourselves. However, it is also a time for us to cultivate the adult dimension of our lives. To set the tone for the second objective, the Shabbos before Passover is designated as the Shabbos of adulthood and maturity.
PREPARING FOR THE AGE OF MATURITY
The above discussion also sheds a light on our own status as we prepare to enter the Messianic Age. In exile we are like children preparing for the Messianic age of maturity. As we stand close, so very close to the Final Redemption we must conduct ourselves as adults, not as immature children.
And here is the ultimate paradox. On the one hand, the Messianic Age is the age of ultimate maturity. “The entire world will be filled with the knowledge of G-d.” As Maimonides puts it, we will know G-d “To the extent of human potential,” which means that we will reach the apex of intellectual and spiritual development and act accordingly. In these last moments of exile, we must cultivate that maturity by learning the teachings of Chassidus which introduce us to a more sophisticated level of understanding of G-d.
On the other hand, Moshiach is also associated with childlike innocence. The Talmud, commenting on the verse “Do not touch My anointed [Meshichoi] ones,” states that it refers to the children who study Torah with purity and innocence. The Moshiach spark in us is the inner child that we all possess. Our individual responsibility is to cultivate that spark of innocence and bring it to the fore.
So, which is the real Messianic dynamic: childlike innocence or mature knowledge?
The answer is a synthesis of the two. We have to strive for the highest level of knowledge and maturity even as we preserve the purity and innocence that flows from the essence of our soul. A child is born that way and does not have to do anything to be a child. To acquire our Messianic childhood, by contrast, we must invest great effort so that it is not overshadowed by a Messianic sophistication. The ultimate goal is the fusing of the “inner child” and adulthood.
This synthesis is highlighted by observing Passover (the Holiday that cultivates childlike innocence) after Shabbos HaGadol-the Shabbos of Maturity.
The connection between Shabbos HaGadol and Passover suggests that our educational goal must be to inspire the child to strive to become an adult. Moreover, the true goal is to create a fusion of spiritual adulthood with childlike innocence and purity.
So, when we educate our children and ourselves we must focus on the two intertwined goals: achieving maturity and preserving innocence. Both goals are liberating. Achieving maturity allows us to break out of our immature, unsophisticated, infantile and foolish ways of approaching everything in life, as well as breaking through the crust of intellectualism and sophistication to reveal the pure and holy essence of our soul.
PARALLEL WITH TWIN SEVEN DAY INITIATION PROCESS
But we still must understand the connection between the two seven-day initiation processes; the first for seven days in the Tent of Meeting and the second seven days and nights outside the Tent of Meeting.
The Tent of Meeting represents our Messianic aspiration to meet with G-d. In our preparation for this meeting, there are two dynamics.
First, we have to anticipate all that we will be doing in the future. This seven-day period corresponds to our seven emotional attributes. The objective is that all of our faculties should be harnessed to the highest level of our meeting with G-d. In this mode we are engaged in cultivating our adult version of Judaism. Indeed, on the next day, Nadav and Avihu, Aharon’s eldest sons, reached the climax of their spiritual advancement to the extent that their souls left their bodies.
This “seven-day adult program” is limited to the daytime, when the Tent of Meeting is fully assembled in operational mode, just like true education of a child requires that the child perform the Mitzvah in an adult fashion. The command not to leave the Tent of Meeting indicated that this was part of a permanent, mature program.
However, these seven days of initiation served another function. They were intended to preserve the inner purity and holiness that can become obscured by a person’s sophistication.
That is why the people had to stand outside the disassembled Tent of Meeting and guard it, i.e., preserve the integrity of the holiness of the place, the holiness of a disassembled (read: unsophisticated, childlike) Tent of Meeting. That too must be preserved.
As we wait and anticipate Moshiach’s revelation, we must work to attain a level of maturity in our knowledge of Torah; particularly, the part of Torah that introduces us to the highest spiritual levels. We then have to fuse that with the simple faith in the Rebbe’s words to us that “The time of your Redemption has come.”