From Where I Stand
By Rabbi Yossy Goldman
“Approach the altar”
How do you develop confidence when you don’t have it? How does one overcome fear, nerves, and anxieties? Well, without going into major psychological dissertations, let’s see if we can find some insight in this week’s parashah.
Everything was set for the inauguration of the sacred service in the Sanctuary. The weeklong preparations had been completed. Now it was Aharon’s turn to approach the altar and begin the service. But Aharon was reluctant. He still felt a sense of shame for his part in the Golden Calf episode. So Moshe calls out to Aharon, “Approach the altar and perform the services.” Aharon did so and completed all the required tasks correctly.
But what exactly did Moshe say to Aharon to assuage his fears? All he said was “Come and do your thing.” He never actually dealt with his issues. How did he address his concerns or his feelings of inadequacy? Well, perhaps, Moshe was saying, “Come and do” and you will see that all your fears will be put to rest. You lack confidence? Start performing the services and you will come to realize that it fits you like a glove. You were born to be a High Priest and that’s where you belong.
Moshe was telling Aharon that if he would begin performing his chosen role, the rest would follow. As they say in Yiddish, Apetit kumt mit’n essen. Even if you’re not hungry, if you start eating, your appetite will follow. I suppose that’s why the first course in a meal is called an appetizer. (Trust Jews when it comes to food.)
Dr. Moshe was dispensing sound psychological advice. The surest way of developing confidence is to begin doing that which you fear. Throwing kids in the deep end to teach them how to swim may not be everybody’s cup of tea, but it usually works. Some of the finest public speakers were microphone-shy, even neurotic at first. When we lack self-assurance, confronting our fears and phobias can be the best therapy. We discover that it really wasn’t all that bad after all, and we actually manage better than we ever imagined. And from there our self-belief grows until we become quite relaxed about the whole thing.
I remember myself as a young rabbi just starting out in my career. One morning, the dreaded phone call came. A relatively young woman had passed away. I knew I had to go to the family to comfort them, but what would I actually tell them? Did I have answers for people who had just been bereaved of their loving wife and mother? Could I play G‑d? I was feeling rather paralyzed for a while and fiddled with all sorts of matters of far less importance. And I knew why. Simple. I was stalling. It was a case of plain procrastination because I couldn’t face this most unpleasant task that I felt unqualified to deal with.
Eventually, I forced myself to go because I knew I had to. It was my job, and they were waiting for me. And guess what happened? Lo and behold! There were no hysterics, no challenges thrown in my face about “where was G‑d?” I was actually able to deal with the family and their questions. And I discovered then that they didn’t really expect me to wave any magic wands or resurrect the dead or answer for G‑d. They felt comforted by my presence and were grateful that I was there for them and with them in their hour of need.
It was for me a very important lesson and a growth point in my rabbinical practice. Experience really is a fantastic teacher.
I would venture to add that it applies to each of us in our Jewish lives. So many people are reluctant to get involved. Too many are intimidated by shul, and because they are not confident enough about synagogue protocol or their Hebrew literacy, they simply opt out—and lose out. I can attest to hundreds of Jews of every age and stage who have been in that very position and then began coming to shul. It didn’t take them long at all to feel part of the shul family, and they’ve never looked back. But this most spiritually gratifying part of their lives would never have been theirs if they didn’t take that first brave step.
“Come and do,” said Moshe to his humble and hesitant brother. Aharon came and did, and the rest is history. v
Rabbi Yossy Goldman was born in Brooklyn and was sent in 1976 by the Lubavitcher Rebbe as an emissary to serve the Jewish community of Johannesburg, South Africa. He is Senior Rabbi of the Sydenham Shul and president of the South African Rabbinical Association. His sefer “From Where I Stand: Life Messages from the Weekly Torah Reading” was published by Ktav and is available at Jewish book shops or online at www.ktav.com.