Preparation Is Key – Ahara Mot 5784

D'var Torah | Leviticus

Part of the ritual of the Day of Atonement requires sending out to its death in the wilderness the goat upon which the high priests laid his hands to transmit the sins of the congregation (Leviticus 16:21). The person in charge of this stage of the atonement process is identified in Hebrew as “ish ‘itti” (ibid.). What exactly this means is unclear.

The Hebrew word “‘itti” comes from the same root as the word for an “appointed time.” So it would seem that this was “an appointed man,” that is, a man specifically appointed for this function. More recent translations refer to this man as a “designated agent.” Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch refers to him as the man especially assigned to this purpose. What all the translations share is the understanding that this man was not simply selected at the moment of need. He was chosen in advance and duly prepared for his mandate.

The implication is important. Some matters may be addressed on an ad hoc basis. Asking a specific student in a classroom to return a book to the library requires no special preparation or training. But other tasks cannot and should no be left to a random and spontaneous assignment. That point was made especially cogent when, attending a Shabbat service, I witnessed the gabbai assign the chanting of the haftarah (prophetic portion) to a fellow with no advance warning. The reading, as expected, was error filled and halting. I would imagine it was as embarrassing to him as it was to members of the congregation. Leading synagogue rituals is a serious matter. Leaving it to the last moment debases the ritual, dishonors the agent, and disrespects the community. (I fondly remember a regular in a congregation I served who prepared to read the Torah portion every week – even when he was not assigned the task.)

Beyond this particular example lies a crucial concept: important tasks require preparation. Whether in synagogue prayers or professional presentations. What we all should be aiming to be is an “ish ‘itti.”

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Words to Live By

What lies behind you and what lies ahead of you pales in comparison to what lies inside you.

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

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