Shemini 5765 – Gilayon #388
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THIS IS THE RITUAL LAW
THAT THE LORD HAS COMMANDED: INSTRUCT THE ISRAELITE PEOPLE TO BRING YOU A RED
COW WITHOUT BLEMISH, IN WHICH THERE IS NO DEFECT AND ON WHICH NO YOLK HAS BEEN
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
…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
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,
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
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.
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"
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 impure – Those 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
For the wicked – That 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.
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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