Something that is often taken for granted by onlookers is the amount of practice and effort it takes to become proficient in something. I remember when I was a volunteer firefighter for the Lower Merion Fire Department and the incorrect notions people had about how one became a volunteer first responder. And I know about the incorrect notions because I myself had them! “Volunteer firefighter? Sure! I’d love to do that. So, do I just show up and then you give me the gear and equipment and I run into the burning building and put the fire out? Sure! Just point me in the right direction! Isn’t that what being a volunteer firefighter is all about?”
Turns out, it’s a little more elaborate and demanding than that.
While showing up for calls is an important and integral part of being a volunteer first responder, you aren’t even given a pager and authorized to ride the trucks until you’ve had at least enough training to warrant your participation. That training usually consists of several months worth of time memorizing the locations of nearly 345 unique pieces of tools and equipment on each of the apparatuses in order to pull them off accurately and swiftly during an emergency response incident. You then also have to understand their use and know how to use them correctly. But that’s just the beginning!
Even with that training, you are not allowed to even don an air-pack and enter a structure until you have become certified with Fire-1, which is an official registered course that involves over 180 hours of hands on, skills-based training as well as lectures, studying, and written tests! Indeed it takes time and dedication to learn these new skills. And it’s easy to take for granted the work and effort that has to go into preparing and mastering a given trade or service.
But what people see from the outside is often the finished product. What they don’t see is the process and effort that went into training, shaping, and refining that product.
And the Kohanim in the Beit HaMikdash were no different.
It took practice to become a serving Kohen. As a Kohen, one didn’t simply show up to the Beit HaMikdash and expect to start offering others’ sacrifices or tending to the upkeep of the Temple. It took training and effort to master the skills necessary in order to serve in that capacity. It took even more practice to even attempt to become the Kohen Gadol. One doesn’t just waltz in and become the Kohen Gadol. You had to first be a Kohen Hedyot – a simple Kohen – who understood the basics, and even mastered them, before you could advance. Yet how did one become the Kohen Gadol?
Our parsha tells us:
והכהן הגדול מאחיו אשר יוצק על ראשו שמן המשחה ומלא את ידו ללבוש את הבגדים…
“The Kohen who is greater than his brothers, that had the special shemen HaMishchah – the anointing oil – poured on his head – AND – the pasuk tells us – who ALSO FILLED HIS HANDS TO WEAR THE CLOTHING.”
The Medresh – and also the gemara in Yoma – explains that the one who was greater than his brothers was greater in strength, wisdom, beauty, wealth, and years. Essentially, to become the Kohen Gadol – the high priest – you had to have experience. You obviously also needed practice and to rise to an advanced role in the service took years of practice and mastery. It took work.
But even this wasn’t enough. With all of your practice and hard work, it wasn’t a certainty that you could become the Kohen Gadol. You still needed to be chosen. But what is often overlooked is that to become the Kohen Gadol you also had to “extend your hands and fill them with the clothing”. Essentially, you didn’t just have to have the experience – you had to also be willing to “try on” the role. For anyone who has ever dreamt of advancing in their career, this is often easier said than done for to take the initiative to move forward can be both daunting and also very intimidating. But in order to grow, one has to be willing to try.
Many of us recognize when there is a need in the community for greater leadership or involvement, or know when there is something lacking that needs to be filled. Yet despite this recognition, we often feel that we are not suited or qualified to be the one to step up and fill it. We often expect someone who is more qualified or experienced to take on that role. But how a Kohen becomes a Kohen Gadol should teach us something profound about our own abilities. Certainly one must have some level of credential or know-how if one wishes to attempt to fill a given role and take on new responsibilities. But one has to realize that no matter what their qualifications, they new role will almost always certainly feel bigger and more elaborate than they could have imagined. And yes, that perhaps they may not feel that they are worthy or completely up to the task. But when leadership and Avodah call, it’s not always the perfect candidate who gets the job, rather the person who willing to step up to take on the responsibility, and who will be then grow into the clothing – the responsibility – that has been foisted upon them.
The act of taking on a new role, seizing the opportunity, or putting on the new clothing, can be transformative, and many of us don’t feel we’re ready for it, but the reality is that we more often grow into the roles we take on and not the other way around. In nature we see this when a crab leaves its shell and must find a larger one. The shell doesn’t grow, the being does. One grows to suit their environment and vice versa. This is why Chazal implore us to strive to be that person who sets the standard in the environments we occupy. “Be the role model”. By acting the part we come to possess it ourselves.
In any new role or position one takes there is always going to be a learning curve. There needs to be. A strong, supportive, and understanding environment is crucial to helping us grow into those roles as we begin to navigate the new territory. But it’s not uncommon for people to doubt themselves in their new role and begin to question whether they can truly fill this new position or live up to the newly acquired responsibility. Emor starts off by teaching us that the courage to try on the new clothing is one of the indicators that one is indeed ready for the task. One can’t always expect others to simply bestow the new responsibility or promotion upon them, they need to be willing to step forward and seize it themselves. One has to have the emunah that they will indeed “grow into” their new role and eventually come to possess it. And it is this Emunah that is one of the true indicators that one is indeed ready for new leadership opportunities.
So try on the clothing! You may indeed find that it really does fit!