After the deaths of his sons Nadab and Abihu.
Aaron said not a word —
Not to his brother Moses,
Nor to his wife, Elisheba,
The mother of Nadab and Abihu,
Nor to his other sons,
Eleazar and Itamar,
Who worried greatly about him.
Aaron awaited HaShem’s further wrath,
Entertaining fantasies of personal destruction,
Instead he awoke each day,
Astonished he was still breathing.
Then one day
Moses whispered in his brother’s ear:
“You are not to die now.”
Aaron spoke as if for the first time:
“But how am I to live carrying so much guilt?”
“You shall follow HaShem’s commands to the letter,
You will atone for yourself, your family and then your people.
In so doing,
You will be a model of repentance for your people,
So that they can atone.
Aaron followed HaShem’s commands
Sending a goat to Azazel
Sacrificing a bull in purification
Making expiation for the priests and for
All the people of the congregation.
And to this very day, the leader of a Jewish community
Models Aaron’s atonement,
Not by actual animal sacrifice,
But by first reading aloud from the torah,
Each step of Aaron’s repentance
And then by confessing his own sins
As his congregation confesses theirs.
In this way, neither the leader
Nor the congregation
Carry their guilt into the indefinite future,
But are instead purified
And forgiven by HaShem.