March 21, 2013
Rabbi H. Greenberg in #874, Parsha Thought, Tzav


There is something intriguing about the way the Torah refers to Aaron’s compliance with the directives he was given by Moses. In several verses the Torah declares that “Aaron did as G-d had commanded him.” In each of these instances, Rashi’s comment is: “This is to tell his praise: that he did not change,” meaning that he had complied fully with the instructions he was given.

In the end of this week’s parsha, which deals with Aaron’s initiation into the High Priesthood, the Torah makes a similar declaration, but with a slight variation: “Aaron and his sons did everything that G-d commanded through [literally: “in the hands of”] Moses.”

When we examine this verse and contrast it with similar verses, many questions arise:

First, in other similar verses the Torah states that he complied with the commandments that G-d “commanded Moses.” Why does the Torah stress here that these commandments were given “through” Moses?

Second, the literal translation of this verse, as noted above, is that these commandments were given by G-d, “in the hands of Moses.” The Torah does not employ idiomatic expressions just as a literary device. There must be a deeper meaning—and many layers of meaning—in the term “in the hands.”

Third, Rashi, in anticipating the question we might have – why does the Torah have to tell us that they (Aaron and his sons) did as they were commanded? – replies: “This is to tell their praise: that they did not stray to the right or to the left.” What does Rashi mean by “right” and “left?”

Fourth, if Aaron could have strayed, and done so, what would he have done differently?

Fifth, why would we ever entertain the notion that Aaron—the man chosen by G-d to be the Kohen Gadol/the High Priest – would have been tempted to stray?

Sixth, as stated above, in Rashi’s discussion of other places in the Torah where it is stated that Aaron complied with G-d’s commandment, his wording is slightly different: “This is to tell their praise: that he did not change.” Why does Rashi have to add here that Aaron and his sons deviated neither to the right or the left?


The obvious difference between this verse and the others is that it refers here to Aaron and his sons. Aaron’s own compliance is not as noteworthy as the fact that he and his sons complied together. It was truly remarkable that there was complete cooperation and harmony in their joint practice of the initiation rites.

Aaron and his sons—at least the two elder sons, Nadav and Avihu—were temperamentally very different. Aaron was calm, patient, tolerant, loving and a peaceful servant of G-d. Aaron was the ultimate expression of chesed – kindness. Nadav and Avihu, on the other hand, were powerful, strong willed individuals, who did not always consult with Moses or Aaron before making an offering, which – as we will discover in the next parsha – resulted in their untimely passing. Moreover, Or HaChayim suggests that their deaths were not a punishment but rather the fulfillment of their passionate need to come closer to G-d. Their longing was so intense that they could not keep their souls anchored in the physical world; that is what impelled them to bring the unauthorized offering in the first place. The Oral Tradition fills in the gap by stating that they were also celibate and that they were intoxicated with passion, which caused them to stray from their G-d given role as people who would help bring the Jewish nation closer to G-d. Instead they allowed their own passions to take them away from the very people they were chosen to serve.


It is now easier to see how Aaron and his sons could have strayed to the “right” or to the “left” in the execution of their duties.

Right and left are metaphors for the opposite emotions of chesed and g’vura. Chesed is generally translated as kindness, but in a broader sense it refers to the traits of openness, expansiveness, love, and sociability. G’vura, on the other hand, is the very opposite of Chesed, and is characterized by strength, rigidity, separation, harshness, judgment and intensity. A g’vura-oriented person’s love, for example, can be so powerful and intense that it smothers and overwhelms the one he or she loves.

Aaron was the embodiment of chesed, which is why he acquiesced to the demands of the people to make the golden calf in Moses’ absence. His love for them and fear for their well being prompted him to shoulder the blame for their sin. Thus, he illustrates the principal flaw of a kind, tolerant and peace loving individual: he cannot successfully execute orders that require the trait of g’vura.

For Aaron, it would have been extremely difficult for him to limit his open and loving personality. By his very nature, Aaron would have been drawn to the “right” – toward chesed – at the expense of the intense demands of g’vura required in the initiation rites for the Mishkan. Conversely, Aaron’s sons, by virtue of the very opposite trait of g’vura, would have been hard-pressed to limit their spiritual energy in any way.

The emotional challenges that Aaron and his sons had to face were exacerbated by the command in the preceding verse:

“You should stay at the entrance of the tent of Meeting day and night for seven days, and must guard your appointed duty to G-d so that you will not die, for this is what I was commanded.”

Right after this stern admonition, the Torah describes Aaron and his sons’ compliance as unerring. What is the connection between these two verses?


Staying inside the Mishkan for seven full days posed an enormous spiritual challenge for Aaron and his sons, albeit for opposite reasons.

For Aaron, staying away from the people was a major sacrifice. Aaron devoted his life to the people, whom he loved above all others. In mystical sources we are told that his level of chesed even surpassed that of Abraham, who was the very personification of kindness.

Conversely, Aaron’s two oldest sons were forced to accommodate themselves to the rules that would inhibit and contain their souls’ passions. That was extremely difficult for them.

The Torah makes a point of describing the degree of restraint shown on the part of both Aaron and his sons. They did not drift to either the extreme right or the extreme left, emotionally and spiritually speaking.


The question remains, how did they have the power to exhibit such restraint and discipline, at least until the events described in our next parsha?

The answer can be found in the unusual wording of the verse: G-d’s command to them came through “the hands of Moses.” Moses’ “hands” imply his unparalleled ability to balance chesed and g’vura. Moses, the transmitter of Torah, personified the trait of tiferes, which allows for the perfectly balanced synthesis of these two traits. The word “hand” in the singular alludes to this unified approach to life.

During the seven days of initiation, Moses conducted the G-dly symphony with the skillful movement of his hand. Moses’ elevated presence ensured that there was harmony between father and sons, right and left. Once Moses left the scene, however, Aaron’s older sons rebalanced to favor their one-sided personalities, which resulted in their untimely passing.


The lesson for our day is obvious. Parents and children are products of different times. There is a natural tendency for children to think that they can do some or even all things better than their parents (which might very well be the case in some instances). The “generation gap” that has so characterized modern times has encouraged the children to stray from the traditions of the parents.

When a parent has several children, he or she discovers that despite shared parents, schools, and virtually identical upbringings, each child will be different and unique. No matter how hard we endeavor to shape our children in the same mold, the outcome is seldom uniform. Children are rarely exactly like their parents and two or more children are unlikely to be like each other.

Is this good or bad?

The answer, like the answer to so many similar questions is, “it depends.”

When we deal with emotions, we should encourage the cultivation of each person’s unique personality traits. If a child is happy and gregarious, that should be celebrated and encouraged. Of course, no one wants a child who is happy-go-lucky, without a serious bone in his or her body, or one, for that matter, who is reclusive and bereft of social skills. As long as there is an overall balance, we are not concerned by a child whose personality leans in a certain direction. A parent must possess the skill of a conductor who has the ability to raise and educate a well-balanced child. A parent can only achieve this by incorporating Moses’ Torah approach.


There is also a lesson for our times as we prepare for Redemption. Moshiach is the embodiment of Moses and more. Moshiach, as Moses, embodies the balance between right and left, and he too has the “single” hand that can guide the exquisite symphonic music that will accompany the “new song” we will sing imminently, in the days of Redemption.

As we prepare for these days, particularly in the Passover season of Liberation, we must remember that we cannot stray to the right or the left. As members of a symphonic orchestra we must keep our eyes on the conductor. The teachings of the Torah, transmitted to us by Moses and the Moshiach of our generation, will guide us and lead us to the Era of Redemption. May we merit being part of that symphony!



Article originally appeared on Beis Moshiach Magazine (
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