PARSHAT KORACH: AHARON’S RESPECT FOR HIS FELLOW JEWS
The Torah in Parashat Korah delineates the twenty-four “Matenot Kehuna” – gifts that the Kohanim are to receive from the rest of the nation. After listing all the various gifts, G-d commands Moshe to tell Aharon that these gifts are a “Berit Melah Olam” – literally, “an eternal covenant of salt” (18:19).
Different approaches have been taken to explain the meaning of this enigmatic phrase. Rashi writes that just as G-d made a “covenant,” so-to-speak, with salt, creating it such that it never spoils, similarly, He promised Aharon that his status of Kehuna will endure forever, eternally.
But there is also a deeper explanation.
Rabbi Eli Mansour explains that the Gemara in Masechet Berachot (34a) teaches that when somebody is asked to lead the prayer service as the Hazzan, he should initially refuse. After he has been asked several times, however, he should not hesitate any longer and should go lead the service. The Gemara comments that if a person rushes right away to serve as Hazzan without any hesitation, then he is comparable to food without salt. And if he refuses excessively, then he is comparable to food with too much salt. Just as food requires just the right amount of seasoning, as food with insufficient seasoning is bland, and food with excessive seasoning is too strong, similarly, religious life requires a perfect balance between humility and confidence. We must avoid both excessive arrogance and excessive humility. Thus, when we are invited to assume a public role, such as to lead the service in the synagogue, we must be both reluctant and willing, like a dish with the perfect amount of salt.
Developing this point one step further, we might ask, why should a person initially refuse but then accept an invitation to serve as Hazzan? What mindset should lead one to at first refuse and then proceed to fill this role?
The answer is that one should initially refuse out of humility, recognizing his unworthiness for such a lofty role, but once he is assured that the Sibur (congregation) wants and needs him to assume this role, he should proceed with confidence, knowing that he brings with him the merit of the Sibur. This is the balance that we need to maintain. We must be humble and aware of our shortcomings, but we must have enough respect for our fellow Jews to firmly believe that with their merit, we can stand before G-d in prayer. Aharon was known for his deep love and respect for all his fellow Jews, regardless of their background. Pirkei Abot famously describes Aharon as “a lover a peace, a pursuer of peace, a lover of people…” He loved and respected all people, and so he was worthy of the Kehuna, a role he assumed with the confidence he gained from his high esteem for the Sibur whom he was serving. By truly analyzing Aharon Hacohen’s Midot We can ultimately maintain our affection and respect for all our fellow Jews, no matter who they are!
“[O]ne should initially refuse out of humility, recognizing his unworthiness for such a lofty role, but once he is assured that the Sibur (congregation) wants and needs him to assume this role, he should proceed with confidence, knowing that he brings with him the merit of the Sibur.”-Ariel Nourollah on serving as Hazzan