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Torah Portion

Weekly Torah Portion: Vessels in the Service of God

Moses and Aaron with the Tablets of the Law, artist unknown. [Image: Wikimedia Commons]

Moses and Aaron with the Tablets of the Law, artist unknown. [Image: Wikimedia Commons]


Chapter 8 in Leviticus discusses the anointing of Aaron and his sons as priests in the Tabernacle and the anointing of the Tabernacle itself. The process is very detailed. The first step is the washing of both Aaron and his sons. Then Moses dresses Aaron. Then Moses anoints the vessels in the Tabernacle in oil. Then Moses anoints Aaron in oil. Finally, a series of sacrifices and ceremonies follow, after which Moses instructs Aaron and his sons to remain in the Tabernacle for seven days and nights.  At the conclusion of this process, the Tabernacle will be ready for regular service.

A few things about this process struck me as I was reviewing the sequence. First of all, Moses is the one who takes the lead, who has received the instruction from God and who does the washing, anointing, sprinkling of the blood and so much more. Moses is the active player in this entire process — Aaron and his sons are passive recipients of their new role. Interestingly, though, Moses will not be allowed to bring the sacrifices once the Tabernacle is completed, because it is only Aaron and his sons, and their descendants forever, who are appointed to that role.

Secondly, both the priests and the vessels in the Tabernacle are anointed in oil. Generally, the anointing oil is used to appoint someone to a particular position — both Saul and David are anointed by prophets. But here, the oil is also used to anoint inanimate objects.

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Lastly, when Moses instructs the priests at the end of the process, he makes it very clear that they must not leave the Tabernacle at all for 7 days “so that you do not die” (Leviticus 8:35). Clearly, there is a danger involved in serving God in the Tabernacle.

Each of these issues teaches us something very valuable about leadership and serving God. Until now, Moses has been the sole recipient of God’s instruction and has passed that instruction on to the people. With the anointing of Aaron and his sons, however, Moses imparts some of his authority to Aaron, enabling him and his sons to be the sole people responsible for serving God in the Tabernacle. Aaron passively receives this instruction as Moses actively gives it, but Moses has actually handed over something he will never have again. He willingly and lovingly gives up a part of his leadership, so that the people can be better served, separately, by the priesthood on the one hand and by political leadership on the other. From this point forward, there is a separation of powers and each will serve God in a totally different way.

In anointing the vessels in addition to anointing the people, Moses is designating those who will act as vessels of service to God. When the priests serve in the Temple, they do not act independently, serving God as the spirit moves them. They serve only according to His will and in accordance with His laws. They, like the vessels, are there only to serve.

And finally, the issue of danger. God has enabled us to serve him in a Temple that is actually God’s home, for it is where He is going to dwell. It is not a casual place, but a place where the utmost respect and care must be taken to obey God’s will. The priests are there to serve and they must do it carefully, for their very lives are at stake. It is a most serious business.

— Excerpt taken from Shabbat Shalom by Sondra Oster Baras.

Sondra Oster Baras was born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio in an Orthodox Jewish home. Upon completing her B.A. from Barnard, she obtained her J.D. at Columbia University’s School of Law. A longtime resident of Samaria, in 1998 she opened the Israel office of Christian Friends of Israeli Communities.

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