Parashat Shemini

The Role Of The Elders

Several commentators discuss the relationship of the elders to the priests, the people, Moses, and God.

Print this page Print this page

Provided by the Orthodox Union, the central coordinating agency for North American Orthodox congregations.

The great day has finally arrived! All that preceded this day--the Exodus from Egypt, the Revelation at Sinai, and the building and dedication of the Mishkan (Tabernacle)--was a process designed to bring Hashem’s uninterrupted Presence into the camp of Israel. The shameful sin of the golden calf nearly brought about the destruction of the people of Israel.

However, after much painful soul-searching, Hashem and His people are reconciled. For seven days, Aaron and his sons have trained to serve as the Kohanim (priests); now, on the eighth day, nearly one year since the Exodus on the first of the month of Nisan, the moment of Divine union is here:

1) And it was on the eighth day that Moses called for Aaron and for his sons and for the elders of Israel.

2) And he said to Aaron: Take for yourself a young calf for a sin-offering, and a ram for an elevation-offering, complete without blemish, and offer them before Hashem.

3) And to the Children of Israel you shall speak, saying: Take a he-goat for a sin-offering and a calf and a sheep in their first year, complete without blemish, for an elevation-offering,

4) And an ox and a ram for a peace-offering to sacrifice before Hashem, and a meal-offering mixed with oil; for today Hashem appears to you.

5) And they took that which Moses had commanded before the Tent of Meeting, and the whole congregation drew near and they stood before Hashem.

6) And Moses said, “This is the thing that Hashem has commanded you to do, and the glory of Hashem will appear to you” (Vayikra, chapter 9).

Why Call the Elders?

Why does Moses call the elders of Israel? What is their place in the initiation of the Kohanim?

Rashi says that Moses summons the elders so that they can hear for themselves that Hashem wants Aaron to serve as kohen gadol (high priest). In this way, they cannot claim that he is usurping his position. Rashi considers the elders’ role as evidential, not functional.

Haamek Davar (R. Naftali Tzvi Yehudah Berlin, 1817-1893) agrees that the elders are not part of the investiture of the Kohanim. Rather, he says, quoting Torat Kohanim (also known as Sifra, the Jewish legal midrash on Vayikra) and other midrashim, the elders are called only to accord them honor. Not all the elders are summoned, but only the greatest among them; their students are not included since, as we learn in Tractate Bava Batra 130b, we do not honor students when their teachers are being honored. 

Ramban (Nahmanides), on the other hand, sees the role of the elders as an integral part of the installation of the kohanim (priests). He suggests two possible readings of these verses: 

Did you like this article?  MyJewishLearning is a not-for-profit organization.

Please consider making a donation today.

Rabbi Avraham Fischer

Avraham Fischer is a rabbi at Darche Noam Institutions.