This week's parsha
Transcendence through Prayer
Among the garments Aaron wore as High Priest, there was one suspended from shoulder-straps. Two onyx stones were engraved with the names of Jacob's twelve sons, and these stones were placed on the shoulder-straps, so that "Aaron shall bear their names before G‑d on his shoulders for a memorial."
In petitioning G‑d, in prayer, we are to be mindful not only of our personal individual needs; we do not pray in the singular. Note the plural used through the prayer book: Bless us, Heal us, Redeem us, Grant us. Beyond the humbling function of prayer in reminding man of his obligations and true importance, Jewish worship is designed to help us see outside ourselves. In the sacred moment when we stand "before G‑d" Himself, at the time of our most sublime feelings when none disturb us, when man is at the highest plane he can achieve, then we must remember others. Aaron was not the only one addressed in that passage.
There is yet another implication in the verse that applies especially to people with influence (and who among us is completely without influence?). Aaron carried the names of Israel on his shoulders. They were his responsibility because they looked to him for guidance, example, and inspiration. The Rabbis taught that one who can influence a city is responsible for that city's sin; whoever can influence the world is responsible for the sins of the world.
Can anyone deny his responsibility toward his children, for example? Are we certain our prestige (which we seldom underestimate) could not sway neighbors as well? Aaron's greatness resulted from his accepting and discharging the responsibilities which were his.