Shemini 5763 – Gilayon #282
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AHARON LIFTED HIS HANDS
TOWARD THE PEOPLE AND BLESSED THEM;
AND HE STEPPED DOWN AFTER
OFFERING THE SIN OFFERING,
THE BURNT OFFERING, AND THE OFFERING OF WELL-BEING.
MOSHE AND AHARON THEN WENT INSIDE THE TENT OF MEETING.
WHEN THEY CAME OUT, THEY
BLESSED THE PEOPLE;
AND THE PRESENCE OF THE LORD APPEARED TO ALL THE
CAME FORTH FROM BEFORE THE LORD AND CONSUMED
THE BURNT OFFERING AND THE FAT PARTS ON THE ALTAR.
AND ALL THE PEOPLE SAW, AND SHOUTED, AND FELL ON
NOW AHARON'S SONS NADAV AND AVIHU EACH TOOK HIS FIRE
FIRE IN IT, AND LAID INCENSE ON IT;
AND THEY OFFERED BEFORE THE LORD ALIEN FIRE,
WHICH HE HAD NOT ENJOINED UPON THEM.
AND FIRE CAME FORTH FROM THE LORD AND CONSUMED THEM;
THUS THEY DIED AT THE INSTANCE OF THE LORD.
THEN MOSHE SAID TO AHARON,
"THIS IS WHAT THE LORD MEANT WHEN HE SAID:
THROUGH THOSE NEAR TO ME I SHOW MYSELF HOLY,
AND GAIN GLORY BEFORE ALLTHE PEOPLE."
AND AHARON WAS SILENT.
"And Aharon was silent" – Silence of Pain or
His heart turned as a silent stone; he did not
lift his voice in weeping and eulogy as a father usually does over a son. He
also refused to be comforted by Moshe, for he had no more strength and he was
unable to speak.
(Abarbanel, Vayikra 10:3)
The text does not read "va-yishtok" ("Va-yishtok" and "va-yidom"
– are both translated as "was silent".) because the
Holy tongue recognizes a difference between the synonyms "demama" and
"sh'tika"; the latter connotes only refraining from speech or
from weeping and moaning, and cessation of other external movement, as is
written (Psalms107:27), "They
reeled and staggered like a drunken man" and further on "They
rejoiced when all was quiet ("yish-toku"). But demama
also indicates inner calm, serenity of the soul… therefore the Torah
testifies that Aharon, holy man of God, was not only silent, but "va-yidom"
– his heart was quiet and his soul was tranquil, for he did not question
God's nature at all, but fully accepted His decrees.
Eliezer Lipman Lichtenstein – "Shem Olam", quoted in Leibowitz:
STUDIES IN THE BOOK OF VAYIKRA)
In our parasha we read about the terrible
event which occurred on the greatest day in the life of Aharon the priest. On
the day of the inauguration of the Mishkan, the day on which he was privileged
to receive the greatest honor imaginable, his two sons die in what seems to
have been an accident.
Our Sages suggest many ethical explanations
for the death of the two sons, reading the tragedy as a punishment for a long
list of transgressions; but one feels that as the explanations increase, more
and more do the deaths become inexplicable.
The Biblical rationale, simple and
penetrating, is that the death of the sons resulted from "their coming
close to God" (Vayikra 16:1).
This explanation (in contrast to the explanation given in our parasha to "alien
fire which He had not commanded them") does not present the death as a
punishment, but as an accident caused by proximity to the Lord. Moshe, too, had
been warned about coming too close to God, and he was told, "You cannot
see my face, for man cannot see me and live" (Shemot 33:20).
These sources teach us that man cannot come
close to The Holy One, Blessed Be He; he may not be in His proximity. The God
of the Bible will not tolerate strangers in his immediate vicinity. This
approach may explained in different ways. We may surmise that the infinity
swallows up any finite object which approaches it, a kind of black hole which
swallows up stars. In His immediate surroundings, God does not conscript
Himself, and He leaves no space for human life. The theology evolving from this
conjecture is a-personal; the divinity functions without consciousness.
A different assumption returns us to the
moral system; he who approaches the divine is guilty of desecration and of
affront to the Lord's honor and privacy. Actually, this explanation is based
upon the premise that God does not tolerate the proximity of mortals. We are
brought back to the image of an awesome god, but this time we understand that
this awesomeness is but an image which the Lord chooses for himself, in order
to preserve His honor. Behind the terrible image resides a personal and
sensitive God, who is concerned about his honor and his image.
Although the Mishkan – inaugurated by the
sons of Aharon at their hour of death – was portable and temporary, it included
elements of permanence. It was erected with a great national effort, and the
work continued for many months. One of its functions was the demarcation of the
center of the camp and its spiritual content, thereby giving the entire camp of
Israel its sanctified character. The camp is sanctified because the Mishkan –
resting place of the Shechina – is situated in it. Countering the danger of
death for the stranger who approaches, stands the blessing of the Lord, who moves
through the camp of Israel.
A similar process occurs in the Pesach
ceremony, presented to us in the "Parashat HaChodesh". Here, too, we
find a sacrifice and God's proximity, and here, too, a ceremony takes place.
The ceremony is directed at the entrance to the home; the sacrifice is offered
at the door. ("Entrance" in Hebrew is "petach' – the
similarity to "Pesach" is not accidental). Here, too, the
sacrifice creates an admixture of promise and threat: "And I will pass
over you, so that no plague will destroy you." The passing over the
entrance – which is interpreted both as protection and as deliverance (see Rashi, Shemot 12:23) – includes the warning
against coming too close to the god of destruction: "None of you shall
go outside the door of his house until morning."
Here we find the sanctuary existing within
the confines of the family home, and the Pesach ceremony is holy ritual. Both
the danger and the focus of holiness are at the door of the house; therefore it
may not be approached during this night of vigil.
In our modern life and
our secularized world, we try to ignore and distance all foci of danger. We
have distanced and excoriated death from our consciousness, and we take "rational"
steps; we do all we can to distance ourselves from it. We have chosen the path
of life, which ignores the presence of death in its heart. We erect a
separation fence and disregard what lies on the other side. But is this
concession not tied up with our distancing ourselves from the consciousness of
the myth and of sanctity?
We are not prepared for more sacrifices of
the Nadav-Avihu type. We banish mythic ideas of divine presence, of sanctuary
and of sanctity, from our thoughts. Are we permitted to aspire to the nearness
of God, and to sing along with King David and the sons of Aharon "When
will I come to appear before God?"
Ronen Achituv, of Mitzpeh Netofa in the
Lower Galilee, is a member of the Oranim Midrasha
The World Goes On As
Usual – A Person's Fate Is Evidence Neither of His Righteousness Nor His
"After the death of Aharon's two sons" – Rabbi
Shim'on opened [his discourse] with: "The same fate is in store for
all: for the righteous and for the wicked." "The righteous"
– this is Noah, regarding whom it is written (Bereishit 6) "A righteous man". Said Rabbi
Yossi the Galilean, When Noah went our of the ark, a lion bit him and maimed
him, and he was not fit for offering sacrifices, and Shem, his son, offered in
his place. "The wicked" – this was Pharaoh Necheh, who
desired to sit on Shelomo's throne; he was unacquainted with his customs, a
lion bit him and maimed him. This one died a cripple and this one died a
cripple, bearing out what is written "The same fate is in store for
all: for the righteous and for the wicked, for the good and pure and for the
impure". "For the good" – this is Moshe, regarding
whom it is written (Shemot 2) "And
she saw that he was good"; Rabbi Meir said that he was born circumcised. "And
to the pure" – this is Aharon, who devoted himself to the purification of
Israel, as is written (Malachi 2) "He served Me with complete
loyalty and held the many back from iniquity". "The impure" – these are the
spies; some spoke in praise of Eretz Yisrael and some spoke derogatorily;
neither these nor these entered the Land, as is written "for
the good and pure and for the impure"… "For him who is pleasing and for him who sins" – "For him who
is pleasing" – this is David, as is written (I Samuel 16) "So
they sent and brought him… and he was of pleasing appearance". Said Rabbi
Yitzchak, He was pleasing in Halacha, and all who saw him recalled his study. "Him
who sins" – this was
Nebucadnezer, as is written (Daniel 4) "Redeem your sins by beneficence".
one built the Temple and ruled forty years and this one destroyed the Temple
and ruled forty years – illustrating "the same fate is in store for
all." . . An alternative exposition: "The same fate" – these are the sons
of Aharon, of whom it is written (Malachi 2) "Served
me with complete loyalty". "for the wicked – this is the Assembly of Korach, of whom it is
written (Bemidbar 16) "Move away from… these wicked
men" – these entered in order to offer in a state of discord, and were burned
and these entered to offer not in discord, and they were burned.
(Vayikra Rabba, 20)
"This Month – The Months As Reminders Of Renewal And
reason for the command that Israel should count it [Nissan] as the first month
("This New Moon is for you the first of the New Moons") – and from it
they shall count all other months – second, third – until completion of the
year in twelve months, is so that this be a reminder of the great
miracle, for every time we mention the months the miracle will be recalled, and
therefore the Torah does not assign names to months, but says "In
the third month", and it says "In the second year in the
second month, the clouds rose", "In the seventh month, on the first
of the month", and so on with all other dates. And just as we
recall the Sabbath day by counting from it – the First Day of the Shabbat, the
Second Day of the Shabbat, etc -so the Torah ordered that we recall the exodus
from Egypt as we count "the First Month", "the Second Month"
and "the Third" of our deliverance. The count does not conform to the
year, for the beginning of the year is the month of Tishrei, as is written "The
festival of the harvest at the turn of the year", and it is written "At
the end of the year". Thus, when we call Nissan the First Month and
Tishrei the Seventh, we mean the first month of the deliverance and the seventh
after the redemption. And this is the reason for "is for you the
first" – it is not the first month of the year, but it is
the first for you, thus called so that it be a reminder of our
Our Sages mentioned this matter, and said that the returnees brought the
names of the months from Babylon (Yerushalmi,
Rosh Hashanah, Chap. 1:4; Bereishit Rabba 48:9). Initially we had no
names for the months, the reason being that the months were counted as a
memorial of the Exodus from Egypt, but when we came up out of Babylon, thus
fulfilling the words of Scripture (Jer.
16:14-15) "Assuredly, a time is coming – declares the Lord –
when it shall no more be said 'I am the Lord lives who brought the Israelites
out of the land of Egypt' but rather, 'As the Lord Lives who brought the
Israelites out of the northland'" we again called the months as they
were called in Babylon, to remind us that there we stayed, and from there the
Lord brought us up. For these names Nissan, Iyar, and the others are
Persian names, and are found only in the 'Babylonian' prophets (Zechariah 1:7; Ezra 6:15; Nehemiah 1:1) and in
the Scroll of Esther (3:7). Therefore
when it is written "In the first month, that is, the month of Nissan"
it is like "pur – which means the lot" (Ibid.) Until this
day, the nations in the lands of Persia and Medea call the months Nissan and
Tishrei, etc. Thus, we recall, through the months, the Second Deliverance,
as we did with the first.
(Ramban Shemot 12:2)
(Comments on Rabbi Shalom Bahbout's article – Shabbat Shalom, Issue 280)
We are grateful to Rabbi Bahbout for his extensive survey of this
important subject, but the called-for conclusion implicit in his words should
be stated explicitly.
Thermodynamics teaches us that burning with fire is irreversible
destruction, expansion of chaos – the very opposite of creation. On the other
hand, the world view of nature prevalent until modern times perceived fire as
one of the prime elements: air, earth, water, and fire. The separation of the
elements is the essence of bringing order to chaos. Therefore it is possible to
understand the general prohibition against the 'creation' of fire. But, at least
since the publication the periodic table of elements by Mendeleev and the Laws
of Thermodynamics of Clausius in the middle of the 19th century, it
became necessary to remove fire and its related laws from the framework of the
Laws of the Shabbat. "The Torah forbade only m'lechet machshevet – planned,
deliberate work" (Mishneh Torah, Laws of
Shabbat 1:5) – "The halacha is in accordance with Rabbi Shim'on
regarding dragging: one may drag a bed, chair, or bench, as long as he does not
intend to make a groove" (Bavli, Shabbat
22). Forbidden labor, m'lechet machshevet, is a creative act, the
immersion of thought in material in order to create something new, as with
Whoever forbids the burning of fire today
with the rationale of "m'lacha" – work – is not fulfilling the
obligation of disseminating Torah of truth, which is the mission of the Jewish
people: "For that will be proof of your wisdom and discernment to other
"'You shall not burn fire in all your
settlements' – this is an admonition to the courts not to administer
punishment on Shabbat" (Ibid. 24:7). It behooves u to be content with that.
Avraham Alhama, Rehovoth
Rabbi Bahbout replies:
Dr. Ahlama's comments encourage me to explore
an additional aspect of "haavara" which did not receive
emphasis in my article.
Alongside the concept "The Torah forbade
m'lechet machshevet" – creative activity which enables man
to consciously rule over nature – there exists the concept "All acts which
cause damage are 'patoor' [Biblically exempt from punishment]". This
latter concept complements and elucidates the former. The term 'patoor'
indicates that although such acts are not Biblically forbidden, they are
prohibited by rabbinic injunction. On the one hand, our Sages shrank the
concept of m'lacha' thus lessening the occurrences which might result in
guilt of violation of the stricter Torah law – while, on the other hand, for
different reasons, they widened the concept, returning it to its primary
For example: It is forbidden to destroy a
house in order to build a new one on its site. However, the actual act of
destruction (being "only" an act of damage) is Biblically not
considered m'lacha if it is not accompanied by the building of a new
house. Here we have two actions, identical in execution, but not in underlying intent.
Chazal, though, forbade even the latter action, because of the external
similarity which might blur the boundaries between the permissible and the
forbidden. In actuality, the act of destruction per se is identical with
"destroying in order to build"; it is not appropriate for the Shabbat
atmosphere, increasing the tohu va'vohu – chaos – in the world.
In the specific case of fire, Rabbi Ovadiah
of Seforno comments "Burning itself is generally a damaging act [see Shabbat 106a], but – being an instrument
for all (or most) labors, it is forbidden on the Shabbat." From his words,
we may conclude:
Even were we to define the burning of fire only as a damaging
act, its prohibition is justified because it is an instrument
facilitating other labors.
In certain cases, the burning of fire itself is an act which
causes creation (see, for example, Rabbi Yossi's prohibition against
extinguishing a burning wick "because it creates charcoal", and also
Rashi, Shabbat 31b, "Because it creates charcoal").
Regarding the definition of m'lacha, it
is sometimes difficult, even impossible, to make a conclusive determination
whether an act was performed intentionally (meizid) or unintentionally (shoggeg).
Different and diverse definitions and gradations are involved, and, as is well
known, the attitude towards one who transgresses unintentionally is ambivalent;
a transgression of this sort can be considered even more serious, being a
result of man's unconscious tendencies.
Our Sages knew how to deal with the heart of
man and his inclinations; their strength lay in their willingness to face up to
the situations which confront men, something which requires involvement in
daily life – merchandise in rare supply these days. May it be His will that our
days will be renewed as of old.
Editorial Board: Pinchas
Leiser (Editor), Miriam Fine (Coordinator), Itzhak Frankenthal and Dr. Menachem
Translation: Kadish Goldberg
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