Shemini 5763 – Gilayon #282


Shabbat Shalom The weekly parsha commentary – parshat


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Parashat Shmini

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

PEOPLE.

 FIRE

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

THEIR FACES.

NOW AHARON'S SONS NADAV AND AVIHU EACH TOOK HIS FIRE

PAN,

 PUT

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

of Acquiescence

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.

(Rabbi

Eliezer Lipman Lichtenstein – "Shem Olam", quoted in Leibowitz:

NEW

STUDIES IN THE BOOK OF VAYIKRA)

 

 

MYTH

AND LIFE

Ronen

Achituv

 

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

Wickedness

"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".

This

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

Salvation

The

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

deliverance.

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)

 

Readers Write:

(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

Creation.

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

peoples."

"'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.

Dr.

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

meaning.

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:

I.         

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.

II.      

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.

 

             

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