Shemini 5762 – Gilayon #233

Shabbat Shalom The weekly parsha commentary – parshat













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Parashat Shmini





Hashirim 5:6)


On Love Which Distorts

…Already, in Moshe's time, there were parties in Israel eager for the

love of God, but did not observe the limitations imposed by the Torah; as we

shall explain in Parashat Korach, this was the primary sin of the 250 who were

true tzaddikim, yet they morally sinned by surrendering themselves to

death through this holy passion to achieve God's love by use of the incense,

even though this was not acceptable according to the Torah decree that only

Aharon and his sons burn incense… Moshe was aware of the enthusiasm in these

groups, but the time had not yet come for it to burst forth… therefore Moshe

told Israel that this is not the way, but that the yetser hara, the evil

inclination, turned your hearts astray; even though this yearning is in order

to achieve God's love through holiness, this is not the way which God wants, it

is the way of the yetser hara to delude and mislead great Torah scholars

with this longing.


Davar, Vayikra 9:6)


…This means that the intent to serve God may turn into an obstacle

should man intend not to fulfill the obligations laid upon him, but seeks ways

to satisfy his feelings and drives, even though his feelings and drives be

ostensibly pure. These thoughts are actual for us today… they point to the

transformation of human drives and inclinations into holy things, which may

include such drives as: nationalism, statehood, policy, love of the Land, love

of the people, etc., drives which come to provide satisfaction of needs and

interests. All these, as has been said, comprise "Avodah zara" – idolatry.


Leibowitz, Seven Years of Discussion on the Weekly Parasha, p. 472)






Menachem Klein


In this week's parasha an event occurs which

challenges understanding – the death of Nadav and Avihu. What makes the

death of Aharon's two sons so difficult to comprehend are the circumstances of

their death. No less perplexing is the reaction of the bereaved father whose

mouth is sealed.

Nadav and Avihu died in the midst of a great

celebration as the Mishkan is being inaugurated. The Mishkan's construction

took many months. For seven consecutive weeks, the parshiot of Terumo,

Tetsaveh, Ki Tissa, Yayakhel and Pekudey deal with (and cause us to deal with)

all the technical details of the structure, organization of the service,

materials, workers and engineers, and sources of financing of the project. No

less important is the fact that the project was not the work of a certain group

within the people, but of the entire nation which was asked to raise

contributions and to accompany the work.

Upon completion of the work,

the entire nation is invited to eight days of inaugural celebration. For seven

days Moshe rehearsed Aharon and his sons in the operation of the Mishkan. On

the eighth day, the festivities reached their climax as the responsibility was

passed from the project head – Moshe – to the hands of the person who was to

direct and oversee the Mishkan ritual – Aharon, supported by his four sons.

This was a zenith moment, not only for the people, but also for Aharon. He is

closing a circle which began with the sin of the Golden Calf. Aharon was the

producer and director of the ritual which substituted a figurine of a gold calf

for an abstract God. Now he is to direct the opposite ritual, the service of

the one invisible God. This is the moment when his sons are consumed by fire.

The Bible specifies that Aharon's two sons

transgressed by offering eish zara – 'alien fire'. What is the nature

of this transgression? What was so terrible about bringing the eish zara

that led to the burning of Nadav and Avihu? What is the message which God

wanted to deliver to the assembly?

Medieval commentary offers many explanations

– some original, some based upon Chazal. The Ramban argues that Nadav and Avihu

acted under the influence of alcohol. They drank wine and erred in the proper

order of the incense offering. Rashbam thought that they erred in timing. The

performed the right act, but not on the right day. On that particular day, they

were to have waited for the fire to come down, not to offer the fire

themselves, as they had previously done during the preceding days. Sforno and

Ibn Ezra move in a different direction. Sforno emphasizes that they did not

receive any order from Moshe to do what they did; they acted on their own

volition. Ibn Ezra stresses the fact that there was individual initiative on

the part of Nadav and Avihu.

Common to all these explanations is the

position that the eish zara mentioned by the Bible is self-initiative,

personal energy and human ardor in the place and at the time when total

passivity and absolute obedience are in order. These latter features

characterize Aharon in his new image. In contrast to the energy and activity

which marked him during the calf incident, and in contrast to the energy and

initiative of his sons, Aharon's reaction to the death of Nadav and Avihu is

total passivity. Aharon's individual 'self' as father and person is as erased.

He becomes a perfect servant. In this terrible fashion, the sons of the tribe

of Levi and the people learned of the Mishkan's demands. Operation of the

Mishkan demands passivity which stands in sharp contrast to the activism which

characterized the stages of its construction

The Haftara of the weekly portion takes us

one step beyond the Mishkan, to the erection of the Temple.

David, warrior and conqueror, desired to move

the ark of God to his new capitol city, Yerushalayim. Basically, David wanted

to possess the ark, to transfer it to his ownership, and to have it rest in his

city. He decides upon implementation, and he declares, in the name of the

people, to the nobles of the tribe of Yehuda, his intention to bring the ark in

a great popular procession which he organized.

To his misfortune, David discovered that the

ark is a hazardous possession. During the procession, Uzza died at the hand of

God after he moved instinctively to support the ark as it began to fall from

the wagon. The message imparted by Uzza's death is the same message delivered

by the death of Nadav and Avihu, the message of passivity. This event

frustrated and angered David, for he was denied realization of his desire.

Therefore, he preserved his anger and frustration via the remonstrant name he

gives the site of the accident, "Perets-uzzah" (the Breach of Uzza).

David is deterred, and changes his original

plan. He decides to move the dangerous possession to a non-Jew, Oved-Edom of

Gat, for safe-keeping. In contrast to David's earlier assumption, Oved-Edom

prospers, and God blesses him. David sees that the ark is a profitable

possession, for its guardian was rewarded, and he returns to his original plan.

Again David organizes a large popular

festival in which he plays a key role. He makes every effort to please during

the journey. All along the way he sings and dances, like the most insignificant

of Jews. Every six steps, he offers up two animals, and when the mission is

successfully completed, he give everyone in his family a gift. At this point,

David brings personal initiative and human action to its pinnacle. He does not

rest nor desist until he has completed his task.

But David has not yet decreed 'enough'. After

the ark has been successfully moved into his custody, and after he has

conquered his enemies, he wants to achieve one more goal, to build the Bet

Hamikdash. David was an active and impulsive man, an initiator, one who strove

incessantly to reach his goals. But God denied him achievement of this goal.

Here we find an important lesson for all generations, one which began with the

death of Nadav and Avihu and the reaction of their father Aharon.

The building of the Beth Hamikdash is not a

step which is decided upon by man; it is for God to decide. He determines the

timing and the appropriate circumstances. The building of the Bet Hamikdash

is also not an objective to be conquered like a military objective. A

military target is characterized by decision to undertake a mission, assignment

of resources and determination of mode of action. In military and political

processes, man is the driving force. But this is not so regarding the building

of the Mikdash. This occurs in a different way and in circumstances in which

man is totally passive.

This and more. The Mikdash is not property

over which a king, kingdom, or government takes possession. In the Mikdash

there is no human ownership and no place for personal ego. These latter

features characterize – for better and for worse – the political plane. In all

that regards the Mikdash man is a passive servant. There is no place for

activistic motives and goals in the building of the Mikdash, nor for motives

and forms of rule over it. In the Bible, The Mikdash is called "HaMakkom",

"The Place" – which is also one of God's names. In this

place there is no place for man but only for "The Place."

On the basis of this approach, mainstream Jewish tradition holds that

"the Mikdash which we anticipate, constructed and perfect, will appear

and come from heaven." (Rashi, Tractate Sukkah, 41a, and his

commentary on Rosh Hashanah 30a. Similarly, the Tosfists, in the commentary on

Shavuot, 15b, write that the third Bet Hamikdash "will be built on its own

by the hands of heaven").


Menachem Klein, member of the "Shabbat Shalom" editorial board,

lectures in Political Science in Bar-Ilan Univ.



Readers Write:

An answer to Prof. Danny

Statman's article (Ki Tissa issue)



his article "Moshe the Zealot and Moshe the Weeper", my friend Danny

Statman deals with Moshe's order to the sons of Levi to embark upon a punitive

operation and with their (in Danny's opinion) overly enthusiastic execution of

the order. I wish to comment briefly on a number of points in this article.


a comparison of Moshe's orders to the sons of Levi, as described by Moshe

further on, and the passage from "V'zot HaBracha" which is interpreted

by Chazal as referring to the event under discussion, Danny reaches the

conclusion that "the Levite zealots go beyond Moshe's orders to the

extent of killing their own sons" and further on, "This the nature of

such punitive operations; what begins as an order to kill brothers, relatives

and neighbors, ends with the indiscriminate slaughter of brothers, parents and

sons. (It cannot be

argued that parents and children are included in 'kin', for one's tie to his

child is much stronger that his tie to his brother, and if Moshe's intent was

that they also kill the sons, he would have said so expressly.) We are

not surprised that those capable of such wholesale slaughter are descendants of

Levi, who led the campaign of vengeance in Shechem, those whose "weapons

are tools of lawlessness." The impression given, then, is that we are

reading about men who, without cause, deviated from orders, and instead of

killing those whom they were commanded to kill, carried out an operation of

indiscriminate slaughter.

There is much to be said about the moral

puzzle which Danny's words arouse – is killing strangers more moral than

killing relatives? Is the proper distinction to be drawn between killing of

relatives and non-relatives, or is the correct distinction between those who

are deserving of death and those who are innocent?

But this is not the subject I wish to deal

with, but with the explication of the text: Does the text imply that the sons

of Levi killed parents and children innocent of transgression? On the

contrary. The materials from which Danny builds his case refute his argument.

Whereas the punitive expedition into Shechem resulted in the sons of Levi

receiving a curse, their action in this case merit blessings; the

"deviation" which Danny finds in the actions of the sons of Levi is

mentioned by Moshe in laudatory terms: "Dedicate yourselves to the Lord

this day – for each of you has been against son and brother – that He may

bestow a blessing upon you today." Similarly the passages which Danny

quoted from "V'zot HaBracha": "Let your Urim and Thummim be

with Your faithful… Who said of his father and mother "I consider them

not" … Your precepts alone they observed and kept you covenant." Danny's

contention that there was "indiscriminate slaughter" paralleling the

punitive expedition into Shechem, is concealed from the Bible, which praises

the sons of Levi. The Bible even implies that it was as a result of this action

that the tribe of Levi merited their special position as Levites.

An additional remark: Danny compares the

behavior of Moshe at the sin of the calf to his behavior at the sin of

Baal-peor. He suggests that Moshe's weeping and silence in the Baal-peor

incident derive from his traumatic experience with the calf, which led to

"civil war which is no longer an option which Moshe is willing to

weigh." This is a nice idea, very befitting Danny's stand, but what can we

do? The text on Baal-peor is very specific: "Moshe said to Israel's

officials, "Each of you slay those of his men who attached themselves to

the Baal-peor" (Bemidbar 25:5).

If so, Danny is correct, the two situations are very similar, but, in

contradiction to his words, Moshe acts there just as he did here, and he

commands to kill those attached to Baal-peor. There is no need to expand on

Moshe's weeping; suffice that from the Bible it is clear that it is not the

result of paralysis based on reluctance to repeat the calf incident.

   In these two points Danny

deviates sharply from the text, and brings us to the question of the legitimacy

of explication of that which is hidden in the text. We often complain about

tendential interpretation, which derives from blind adoration of the text, in

the sense of "Love disregards the rules". Do we have before us a

variation on the same theme, but from the converse side?

Rabbi Dr. Hayyim

Burgansky is rabbi of "Mitzpeh Hoshaaya" and teaches Talmud in

Bar-Ilan Univ.


Danny Statman, author of the article, replies:

My thanks to Rav Hayyim for his remarks. Following the

editor's orders, I will write as briefly as possible.


If I understand correctly, at the end of his letter, Rav

Hayyim hints that my words are a case of "Hate disregards the rule" –

implying a negative attitude to Bible, which leads to distorted interpretation.

I disagree. Explication of Bible or Chazal which places the text in a more

moral light flows from love for these sources, not, forbid, from a negative

approach. In this respect I am in very fine company, and much more remains to

be said.


In the explanation of rich, complex, and multi-contradicting

sources, we have no choice but to assign (on the basis of different

considerations) greater import to certain texts over other texts. This is what

I did. So does also Rav Hayyim. For me, the definitive text regarding the sons

of Levi is the despicable slaughter in Shechem and Yaakov's harsh words "Let

not my person be included in their council… I will divide them in Yaakov,

Scatter them in Israel." (See Rabbi S. R. Hirsch's commentary, loc.

cit.). For Rav Hayyim, the deciding text is "They shall offer you

incense to savor…" and "That he may bestow a blessing upon

you this day." Let the readers judge for themselves.

Regarding the incident of

those who attached themselves to Baal-peor, I confess that my presentation of

Moshe's reaction was deficient. At this stage, I can offer two remarks: One,

Moshe did indeed command "Each of you slay those of his men", but

the command is directed at the judges, there is no call for

indiscriminate killing. Secondly, we do not read about execution of the order!

According to the Ramban, it was not the judges who scourged the sinners, but The

Holy One, Blessed Be He (Devarim 3:3-4).




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