Shemini 5762 – Gilayon #233
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I OPENED THE DOOR
FOR MY BELOVED, BUT MY BELOVED HAD TURNED AND GONE; I WAS FAINT BECAUSE OF WHAT
HE SAID. I SOUGHT, BUT FOUND HIM NOT; I CALLED, BUT HE DID NOT ANSWER.
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)
IN THE MIKDASH THERE IS NO
PLACE FOR MAN
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.
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
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
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
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).
Board: Pinchas Leiser (Editor),
Miriam Fine (Coordinator), Itzhak Frankenthal and Dr. Menachem Klein
Translation: Kadish Goldberg
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