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Two Minutes of Torah

>Two Minutes of Torah: Shemini – We all make mistakes

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As a child (and adult) I am a big fan of the Star Wars films, at one point I could quote whole passages from Episode IV – A New Hope. And all through my childhood I wanted to be Han Solo. Luke was the Jedi knight able to use the force, but I wanted to be Han. The captain of the Millennium Falcon was my favourite Star Wars character, and I thought he was ever so cool. One of the things which I like the most about Han Solo is the fact that there is something real about him; he is a fallible character.

After our heroes (Luke, Han and Leah) return R2-D2 and C-3PO to the Rebel Alliance, so that an attack might be planned on the Death Star, we watch in horror as Han Solo declares he has no interest in fighting the good fight and attacking the Empire. Han wanted a reward for rescuing Leah, and having received it he is ready to move on. My hero lets Luke, Leah and the Rebel fleet down, but he also lets us down, the viewers who put our hope in him. It is only later that Han is able to redeem himself (I am sure everyone has seen it, but I don’t want to spoil it just in case).

Han Solo, just like every one of us, is flawed. Just like us he makes mistakes and bad decisions. And as an example to us he manages to find the right path again. He is my hero for all of his positive features, but also for his flaws.

Similarly all of the characters in the Bible have their flaws and their weaknesses. To take three examples: Abraham is willing to send away one son and almost sacrifice the other. Rebecca chooses a favourite and deceives her husband. And Aaron gossips with Miriam about their brother Moses. None of our ancestors were perfect, and that is one of their best qualities.

Even Aaron, as the High Priest, together with the other Priests, was expected to bring a sin offering. At the beginning of the Torah portion Aaron is given instructions about the sacrifices which he is required to bring to the Tabernacle. We read that: ‘Aaron came forward to the altar and slaughtered his calf of sin offering’ (Leviticus 9:8). He would then offer his burnt offering. And only then ‘He took the goat for the people’s sin offering, and slaughtered it, and presented it as a sin offering like the previous one’ (Leviticus 9:15).

The sacrificial ritual required that the High Priest would atone for his transgressions, with a sin offering, before he was spiritually prepared to offer a sin offering on behalf of the people. And on another level the ritual also recognised that the High Priest would require a sin offering. The entire ritual framework was built around the fact that the High Priest, and the other Priests, were all imperfect, would all transgress, and would all require a sin offering before they could offer one on behalf of the people.

The Priestly class and the regular people both required a sin offering and both required a burnt offering. No distinction was made between the leadership class and the rest of the community. All of them were flawed, just as all of us are flawed.

The sacrificial order, alongside the stories of our Biblical ancestors, reminds us that our leaders are just human; they are prone to errors and mistakes just as we are. Although we may want to hold them up to a higher stand, placing them on a pedestal and expecting flawless behaviour from them; at the end of the day, just like us, they will require a sin offering.

Han Solo was flawed, but he remains my hero. Our Biblical ancestors were flawed but they remain shining examples of what is possible in relationship with God. And the Priests provide a model for flawed leaders atoning in the same way as the rest of the community. We all make mistakes, and we will all sometimes need a ‘sin offering’.

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