P² Parsha Perspectives: Parshat Tzav

Unveiling Ahron: The Leadership Dynamics Behind His Reluctance

By: Rabbi Jordan Silvestri, Head of School


After weeks of architectural designs, learning the methodologies to mold and form the tools of the Mishkan leading up to Moshe and Betzalel putting the structure together, it is finally time for Ahron and his sons to step into their role as Kohanim, priests. Parshat Tzav focuses on the first 7 of 8 days referred to as the Chanukah HaBayit, the inauguration of the tabernacle. Rashi explains on countless occasions that during this time the kohanim performed services that were only designed for the inauguration and were never repeated. The kohanim were given specific instructions as to when to change in and out of their various wardrobes reminiscent of their service on Yom Kippur. It was certainly a one of a kind moment in Jewish history.


Which makes us think, why did Moshe have to convince Ahron to participate in such a prestigious and profound occasion? 


קַ֤ח אֶֽת־אַהֲרֹן֙ וְאֶת־בָּנָ֣יו אִתּ֔וֹ וְאֵת֙ הַבְּגָדִ֔ים וְאֵ֖ת שֶׁ֣מֶן הַמִּשְׁחָ֑ה וְאֵ֣ת ׀ פַּ֣ר הַֽחַטָּ֗את וְאֵת֙ שְׁנֵ֣י הָֽאֵילִ֔ים וְאֵ֖ת סַ֥ל הַמַּצּֽוֹת׃


Take Ahron and his sons with him, and their clothing, the anointing oil and the sin offering, the two rams and the basket of matzot - Vayikra 8:1


This verse, whose structure is repeated a handful of times in the later part of our parsha, uses the term קח, to take, rather than simply speaking to Ahron there is a stronger and more firm form of communication taking place. Rashi, as he does across Tanach, explains this phrase to mean that someone was persuaded through words to take action or reconsider their position. Is it fathomable to conclude that Ahron and his children were not thrilled with their role as ritual leaders of the Jewish people? What convincing did they need to firmly take hold of their positions?


The parsha has a simple step by step structure. First, Hashem directs Moshe on how to instruct Ahron and his sons to complete the inauguration services. Once Moshe is ready to share that with Ahron, he calls them from their chambers to begin the process. We would assume that the Torah would depict Moshe guiding the Kohanim through the stages of the service. Instead, Moshe calls the entire Jewish people, the community leaders in specific, to watch and take part, albeit passively, in the experience. What is the significance of bringing the Jewish people into the conversation? 


Even more so, Hashem never mentioned that as a part of the process:


וַיַּ֣עַשׂ מֹשֶׁ֔ה כַּֽאֲשֶׁ֛ר צִוָּ֥ה יְהֹוָ֖ה אֹת֑וֹ וַתִּקָּהֵל֙ הָֽעֵדָ֔ה אֶל־פֶּ֖תַח אֹ֥הֶל מוֹעֵֽד׃


And Moshe did that which Hashem commanded him. And when the leaders assemble at the tent of meeting- Vayikra 8:4

The Torah describes only the actions that Moshe took, without explicitly mentioning the inclusion of the Jewish leaders, as following the will of Hashem. The Torah is highlighting that this was not done in tandem with those instructions. Moshe was adding a new element. Why?


There are many taglines or buzz words in the world of leadership. One phrase that has really resonated with me is the term service leadership. Robert K. Greenleaf, in his 1970’s essay titled “The Servant as Leader,” coined the phrase servant leadership. Over the past 50 plus years it has taken a preeminent role in modern day leadership. The notion, in its basic form, is that idea that leaders serve the people to whom they are tasked to lead. In essence, it flips the hierarchy triangle upside down. This is what Ahron was worried about.


Ahron knew his role was vital for the Jewish people. He was entrusted to carry the ritual weight of the Jewish people being involved with intricate activities, wearing clothing that only he could and connecting with Hashem in the Holy of Holies, a place that even Moshe was not allowed entrance. Ahron was worried that the elite nature of his office would ostracize and alienate the Jewish people, the very people that he was tasked to serve as the OG servant leader. 


Ahron’s hesitancy didn’t stem from him being afraid to take hold of the role. It was his fear of setting the wrong example from the jump. Moshe, picking up on this, convinced Ahron that all would be all right once he ran an audible and included the Jewish leaders in the process. Now they had a role, they were invested in the process and were made sacred through Ahron’s actions. 


This past week I had the opportunity and privilege to escort our Seniors on the first few days of their Senior trip. Visiting the 9/11 Memorial Museum was a highlight for me and an education for our students. Talking to them about how I experienced that moment and the days after, the way the people of New York and the country came together and the manner in which ordinary people became leaders in the blink of an eye was simply magnificent. These men and women had mere moments to understand the needs, identify those who could assist and jump into action. The story of the 9/11 Museum is not simply about remembering a tragic day, it is about realizing that leadership is never about what we get in return. It is about what we give to others so they can reach their designed goal/destination.  


Our role as leaders are ripe with existential challenges at every turn. How we show up, what we say or don’t say, whether we press on an issue or not, they all speak to those we serve. Ahron may be one of our more unstated leaders. Yet, he is profoundly committed to understanding the psyche of those he serves and partnering together with them in the service of Hashem. 


Shabbat Shalom!