Yesod. Foundation. Netzach, Lasting. Yesod she’b’netzach: Foundations of what is lasting. Let’s say, for example, relationship. One of those foundations is compromise. And, in the Torah, Aaron is the master of compromise.
Aaron’s sons Nadav and Avihu die, while approaching the altar. It happens in front of thousands of people, during opening day celebration at the mishkan. The staff goes into emergency management mode, and the celebration abruptly ends.
Then, some time later, Moses asks Aaron to facilitate a kind of do-over. A huge public ritual to purify the sanctuary. Maybe Moses says, “Brother Aaron, can we design a ritual that acknowledges what happened, but also allows us to move forward?”
So here’s the ritual they design. At the altar, in the mishkan, in front of thousands of people, Aaron brings forward two goats. And, using a lottery, he randomly decides which goat will die and which goat will live. One goat will become a chataat, a purification offering, burnt to ashes. The other goat will become the ez azal, the goat that got away.
The ritual replays what happened on opening day. Some young priests survived and walked away. Others were burnt. But today, after the goats are sorted, the ceremony doesn’t end. It keeps going, with community participation, until the last detail, where one priest launders his clothes and another takes out the garbage.
I imagine this ritual is hard for Aaron. Maybe he wants to avoid the mishkan altogether. But his brother Moses really wants him to serve. So Aaron makes a compromise. He offers one goat on the altar. But he lets the other get away, like he wishes he could.
And maybe Aaron’s sons Nadav and Avihu wanted to avoid some of the mishkan’s rituals, too. Maybe, on opening day, they prepared their offering without any meat. So with only oil and spices on the flame, the altar blew up. And then the young men died, protesting the animal offerings. Maybe that’s why Aaron refuses to eat his meat offering that day. And why Moses then says it’s okay for priests to eat meat. And also why Moses and Aaron quickly tell everyone what kinds of meat they can and should eat.
So, with the ritual of the two goats, Aaron makes another compromise. He honours his brother, who wants animal offerings, by offering one goat. And he honours his sons, who protest the offerings, by letting the other goat get away. It’s not a perfect compromise, especially not for the goats. But even the great Aaron is far from perfect.
Compromise is always a work in progress. And I’m always in process. Currently, I’m compromising at home, around my kitchen rules, for example. Also at work, around how often to speak up for inter-religious perspectives. Every time I leave home, around accepting different interpretations of COVID rules. And inside my own conscience, around just about everything.
True confession: I feel I never get it right. But neither does Aaron, Torah’s archetypal peacemaker. But that might be the nature of compromise: a lasting juggling act, a moving foundation, for lasting relationship.
Today is Day 27 of the Omer, i.e., three weeks and six days.
New to the Omer count? Here’s a primer.
Drawing by Ephraim Moses Lilien.