Thursday, April 20, 2006

Aaron's beard, Zion's dew

Leviticus 8:10, 12
And Moses took the anointing oil, and anointed the tabernacle and all that was in it, and sanctified them…. And he poured some of the anointing oil upon Aaron’s head, and anointed him, to sanctify him.

Psalm 133:1-2
Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity! It is like the precious ointment upon the head, that runs down upon the beard, Aaron’s beard, that runs down to the hem of his garments.

The Talmud makes the connection between these two passages (cf. Horayot 12a, Keritot 5b). Psalm 133 is heaven’s response to the actions of Moses and Aaron as they fulfilled their roles as servants of God. Moses and Aaron were brothers who stood together as one before God, especially as Moses anointed his brother Aaron for the service of the tabernacle, and together they blessed the people (cf. Lev. 9:23).

Peace and unity between brothers is not a given. The stories of brothers in Genesis do not assume that they “dwell together in unity.” Nevertheless, reconciliation between brothers is clearly a value emphasized by these same stories: Isaac and Ishmael come together to bury their father, Esau greets Jacob in peace, and Joseph forgives his brothers. We miss the point of all the conflict if we do not see the resolution.

Moses and Aaron are something of an exception to the usual painful process leading to peace. In spite of their long separation as children and young adults, they come together through God’s purpose to build the community of Israel even as they build the tabernacle. They walk together “in the light of the Lord.”

Moses anointed the tabernacle and all of its contents by sprinkling the oil on them (Lev. 8:11). But when he came to Aaron his brother a sprinkle of oil was not prescribed (cf. Exod. 29:7). Instead he poured the anointing oil on Aaron’s head, as if to demonstrate the abundance of God’s light and peace and mercy which the tabernacle service would bring to Israel. Psalm 133 responds in poetic language to say that so much oil was poured on Aaron’s head that it ran down his beard and over his garments!

Lev. 9:22a
And Aaron lifted his hands toward the people, and blessed them.

Psalm 133:3
Like the dew of Hermon descending upon the mountains of Zion; for there the Lord has commanded the blessing, life for evermore.

Jacob Milgrom* says of the phrase, “Aaron lifted his hands,” that this is a posture of prayer, and that in fact Aaron lifted his hands toward heaven, to the Lord, as in Exod. 9:33. But the verse here does not say anything of the sort, and the priestly blessing is not a prayer to heaven. Instead, “Aaron lifts his hands toward the people,” because the blessing flows from heaven through the priest to the people. Some blessings are prayers: “Blessed are you, O Lord our God….” But the priestly blessing is commanded by God for the benefit of Zion, that they might enjoy the favor of God and dwell together in unity forever.

*Jacob Milgrom, Leviticus 1-16, The Anchor Bible, pp. 586-587.


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