Shemini 5765 – Gilayon #388

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(Bamidbar 19:2)


Respect for the Dead, the Impurity of the Dead, and the Cult of the

Dead and their Graves

Or a human bone or a grave – The Torah is stricter regarding

the impurity associated with a dead human than it is regarding any other form

of ritual impurity, making it the "father of the fathers of impurity,"

in order to keep people from remaining with their beloved departed, which would

overly increase their distress; or in order to keep them from trying to

communicate with the dead and practice necromancy; and also out of respect for

human dignity, in order to keep people from using the skin from corpses to make

mats and water-bags and from using human bone to make implements. Our Sages

said: Why is human skin unclean? So that one will not make mats out of the skin

of his father and mother. Why are human bones unclean? So

that one will not make a spoon out of the bones of his father and mother.

(Mishnah Yadayim 4:6) The more they are beloved – the greater

their impurity.

(Hizkuni Bamidbar



…It may be said that

if the intention of the Torah was to distance the cult of the dead from Israel,

all of the halakha's rules and customs of burial were

reasonably successful. However, it did not succeed in uprooting supplication of

the dead. 3,000 years after the Torah explicitly prohibited it, the disgusting

cult of holy graves remains alive, people still make pilgrimage to prostrate

themselves upon them, and the accompanying pagan obscenities are still

practiced. It would seem that these pagan rites stem from the hidden fears that

people harbor towards death and the dead. Despite the Torah's stiff opposition,

to this very day it has not managed to uproot such practices from among the


(Y. Leibowitz, Sheva Shanim Shel Sihot al Parashat

Hashavua, pg.700)



And Aaron

was silent

Nahem Ilan


did Aaron react to the sudden deaths of his two sons after they offered incense

to God? The answer is seemingly clear. The verse plainly states: And Moses

said to Aaron, "This is what the Lord meant when He said: Through those

near to Me I show myself holy, and gain glory before all the people, and Aaron

was silent (Vayikra

10:3). It is customary to explain that Aaron was silent, making him

especially praiseworthy. Indeed, most commentators of all stripes – literalists,

darshanim, and mystics – share this view. Therefore,

it behooves us to take note of an entirely different interpretation of the word

vayidom [and he was silent].


have already expressed their opinions regarding the meanings of the verb-roots

DW"M, DM"H, and DM"M in biblical and rabbinical Hebrew. The

amount of attention that has been directed to this question demonstrates how

complicated it is. Moshe Zeidel mentions the translations

"spoke" and "sang" along with "was silent." Yehezkel Kutcher claims that DM"M

can mean both "whisper" and "be silent" in Hebrew as well

as in Aramaic. He also mentions "to lament in a voice of DMM"H; "to

groan" in Ugaritic and Acadian. Elsewhere he translates

DMM"H as "majesty." Shaul Lieberman

mentioned the translation "whispered." Shaul

Efrayim Levinshtom and Yehoshua Blau translate it as "finished,

ended, was silent" (as well as "struck dumb with ear" and "calmed

down"), "was destroyed", "spoke in a soft voice", "mourned",

"wailed," "cried"; and they mentioned Ugaritic

and Acadian parallels as well.

Rashi on Sotah 27a offers a

definition of the word domah: "Praise [kalsah] and speech, as it says in Nidah (66a) ‘The town's

evil gossip [dimat ireikh]

has risen against you' And kalsah means

exaggerated speech, so that it can be either praise or defamation, as when it

is said: shemekalsim oto."

The Torat Hayyim edition

of the humash was produced by Mossad

HaRav Kook fifteen years ago, and it gives Onkelos's gloss on the words vayidom

Aharon as and Aaron praised [veshibe'ah]. This differs from other editions of Onkelos, including those of Berliner and Sperber. The other Aramaic targums

Naofiti 1 and that attributed to Yonatan ben Uziel

– use the expression "and he was silent." The Torat

Hayyim version seems to be based upon the

Yemenite Taj (R. Saddia Gaon's translation of the Torah). I shall clarify the

circulation of this version and its peculiarity to the Yemenite tradition.


Netanel ben Yeshayahu's (1329) midrash,

Me'or Ha'Afelah

attributes the translation "praised" to the Targum

Yerushalmi. Here is a translation R. Netanel's Arabic:

Vayidom Aharon: – Targum Yerushalmi translates it veshibe'ah Aharon [and

Aaron praised]; a kind of still, small voice. That is to say that he thanked

God for what had transpired. See his expression, and they died before the

Lord (Vayikra

10:2), and other similar instances. That was the cause of their death – breaking

through to Divine matters which were beyond their comprehension, making them

deserving of death by the divine word. (Pg. 315)


to this interpretation, Aaron did not remain silent. Not only that; despite the

terrible emotional difficulty involved, he still found the strength to thank

God for the manner in which He killed his two sons. R. Amram

Korah, the last Chief Rabbi of Yemen in the 20th

century, mentions this interpretation in his Neveh

Shalom, a commentary on R. Saadiah Gaon's Tafsir (completed

in the year 1939), printed in the margins of the Taj.


the Yemenite texts I have mention do not really hold the key to the

preservation of the special translation tradition veshibe'ah.

Rather, we shall find it in the RaMBaM's commentary

to the teaching of Pirkei Avot,

"From where do we know that someone who sits and instructs is considered

as if he observed the Torah? For it says, Let him sit alone vayidom

when He has natal alav [laid it upon him] (Lamentations 3:28) (Avot

3:3). The RaMBaM writes:

Vayidom means the hidden speech, as in [kol] demamah dakah

– a still small [voice] that is the basis for translating vayidom Aharon as veshibe'ah Aharon. The

proof for it is that he was like someone who had taken all of the Torah, the

expression natal alav means it is as if the

entire Torah was just for him alone.

As I

have said, there are two traditions regarding Onkelos's

translation of the word vayidom – "was

silent" and "praised." On the one hand, "praised"

seems preferable because it is "more difficult," as R. Yihye Korah, the father of Amram Korah, pointed out in his

commentary, Marpe Lashon

on Onkelos. As usual, the more "difficult"

version is usually considered to be preferred in terms of textual criticism and

comparison with other variants. On the other hand, it must be remembered that

it appears quite late and only in a small number of texts. During the middle

ages, both "was silent and "praised" flourished. Only Kutcher mentions the definition "grandeur" for

the word demamah in connection with the root

DM"M (and to the related roots, DW"M and DM"H), and it is quite

uncommon and not equivalent to "praised." Where did the variant "praised"

come from?


data I have collected here suggest that the RaMBAM

played a crucial role in transmitting this tradition. It appears mostly in

Spain from the end of the thirteenth century (in the commentary of R. Yisrael Yisraeli of Toledo on Avot, and in Anshlomoh Ashtruk of Toledo's Midrashei

Torah), in Provence (the commentary of R. Menahem HaMeiri), Italy (R. Ovadia MeBartenuro's commentary),

North Africa (R. Moshe Alashkar's commentary, Markevet HaMishnah), and in the

Land of Israel (R. Shmuel di

Ozida's commentary, Midrash

Shemuel), for the most part in commentaries on Avot, but also in relation to the scriptural passage in

question. The common denominator of all these scholars is that they all knew

the RaMBaM's commentary and made use of it. There is

also an argument from silence; none of them brought in evidence Rashi's above-mentioned comments on Sotah.

The many citations and quotations do not point to an independent and widely

published alternative tradition, but rather they simply repeat the RaMBaM's statement.

The RaMBaM's comment is brief, and he failed to explain whether

his interpretation was founded upon philological or theological considerations,

and to what extent he deemed it traditional or innovative. It seems easy to

answer the second question. Since he based his interpretation upon the Targum, it would seem that even if the RaMBaM

believed there was something original in his comment, it was still based upon a

source which had existed for hundreds of years. If it was an innovation, it was

innovative in reviving an abandoned tradition.


did he need this version of the Targum? I cautiously suggest

that the motivation is not purely philological; as far as that goes, the first

part of his comment would have sufficed, that the meaning of vayidom is "whispered" or "murmured."

The evidence of the Targum adds an additional

dimension to the philological explanation, as is pointed out by some of the scholars

who quoted the RaMBaM.


version "and he praised" sets up an alternative view of Aaron's

response to his sons' deaths. It implies that he quietly spoke murmured words

of praise and thanks for the manner of their death. Even in his hour of

distress, Aaron understood that this was no regular death, but rather something

special. Indeed, he was immediately assured that this was so by his brother

Moses, who brought him God's word that Through those near to Me I show

myself holy, and gain glory before all the people. God Himself found an

aspect of holiness and honor in the unique manner of Nadav

and Avihu's deaths.


expression "and he praised" does not merely teach us something about

variant readings of Targum Okelos.

More importantly, it tells us something about the different ideas and views

associated with it. The two responses attributed to Aaron as textual variants

also represent two different types of response in psychological and ethical


Prof. Nahem Illan

teaches in the MA program in Jewish Studies at the Lander Institute in

Jerusalem (attached to Touro College).



Reality follows its Usual Course – a Person's Fate is not Indicative of

his Moral Worth

After the death of Aaron's two sons – Rabbi Shimon opened

his discourse: For the same fate is in store for all: for the righteous and

for the wicked[; for the good and for the pure, and

for the impure; for him who sacrifices and for him who does not; for the good

and for the sinner…] (Kohelet

9:2). For the righteous – that is Noah, who is called a

righteous man (Bereishit

6). R. Yohanan said in the name of R. Eliezer, the son of R. Yossi HaGalili: When Noah exited the ark, the lion bit him and

broke him, and he was no longer fit to offer sacrifices, so his son Shem

sacrificed in his stead.

For the wicked – That is Pharaoh Nekho,

when he tried to sit on Solomon's throne he did not know its ways, and a lion

bit him and broke him – they both died with limps, as it is written: For the

same fate is in store for all: for the righteous and for the wicked; for the

good and for the pure, and for the impure.

For the good: That is Moses, for it is said and she saw

that he was good (Shemot

2); R. Meir says that he was born circumcised.

And for the pure

That is Aaron, who was occupied with the purification of Israel, for it is

said: He walked with Me in peace and integrity, returning

many from sin (Malachi 2)

And for the impureThose are the spies; these praised the

Land of Israel and those degraded it, neither group entered the Land, as it is

written, for the good and for the pure, and for the impure…

For the good and for the sinner – the good – that is

David, for it is said, and he sent and brought him, and he was good to look

at (I Samuel 16). R. Yitzhak said: Good

to look at for halakhah, anyone who looked at him

would recall the material he had studied.

For the sinner – That is Nebuchadnezzar, for it is said, redeem

your sins (Daniel 4:24), this one built

the Temple and reigned forty years, that one destroyed the Temple and reigned

for forty years – that is one fate… Another opinion: One fate – That

is Aaron's sons, for regarding them it is written, in peace and integrity

(Malachi 2).

For the wickedThat is Korah's

congregation, of whom it is written move away. These entered to

sacrifice in controversy and ended up being burned, while those entered to

sacrifice without controversy and also ended up being burned.

(Vayikra Rabbah



The Limitations set by the Rules of Impurity of Animals and the Laws of

Slaughter are Steps to a Higher Spiritual Ascent

This is the animal

that you shall eat: It starts by permitting those which may be eaten, as we

find with [the lists of] fish and grasshoppers, implying that it would be

proper not to eat living things at all, and so it had to begin: Speak unto

the Israelites and say: "This is the animal that you shall eat"

since the granting of permission is itself the innovation there.

(From the HaTaM Sofer's commentary, Torat

Moshe, as quoted by

Prof. Nehamah Leibowitz in her Iyyunim

Hadashim BeSefer Vayikra, pg. 127)


A Torah scholar, a

spiritual man, and at the same time he is regularly employed in the slaughter

of animals and the taking of their souls – this does not agree with the heart's

pure emotions. Even though slaughter and the eating of animals in general must

still be practiced in the world, in any case it would be preferable that this

work be performed by people who have not yet achieved emotional refinement. Learned, ethical people, who

are knowledgeable and religious, are appropriate to serve as overseers who

guarantee that animals not be killed in a barbaric fashion, and that the whole

matter of flesh-eating should be infused with a noble light which may, in its

own time, light up the world. This is truly contained in the laws of slaughter

and forbidden meat.

(From Rav Kook ztz"l's Igrot HaRAYaH, vol. 1, letter 178)


Forbidden Foods: the Chicken and the Egg

The section before us contains

no hint of the notion that the Jewish People should observe these laws in order

to isolate itself from the other nations; to the contrary, here it says the

opposite, that since God separated Israel from the other nations they are

required to observe the commandments given them by God which came to

distinguish between the clean and unclean animals, just as they are responsible

– for the same reason – to observe all of the other commandments given to them.

Notice that while the Torah offers clear warnings to be careful of Egyptian

practices and customs (Vayikra

18:3), it does not do so in order to appear externally different from

them, but rather because the practices of those nations were abominable and

their customs disgusting (VaYikra

18:24, passim, 20:23, passim)

 (From R. David

Hoffman's commentary on Vayikra, as quoted in

Prof. Nehamah Leibowitz in her Iyyunim

Hadashim BeSefer Vayikra)



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