Shemini 5768 – Gilayon #542


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Parshat Shmini

THIS IS THE STATUTE OF THE TORAH WHICH

THE LORD COMMANDED, SAYING, SPEAK TO THE CHILDREN OF ISRAEL

AND HAVE THEM TAKE FOR YOU A PERFECTLY RED UNBLEMISHED COW,

UPON WHICH NO YOKE WAS LAID.

(Bamidbar

19:2)

 

have them take for you a…

red… cow – it will always be called by your name [The secret of the

red cow was revealed to Moses alone; that is why Scripture says that he

prepared it, because he really knew about it].

(Rashi

Bamidbar 19:2, with footnote from the Torat Hayyim

edition)

 

however, they further stated in Midrash Rabbah (Vayikra 25), [their

idea being] founded upon columns of gold [i.e., well-supported], "These

are the sections of the Torah that are expounded upon [in accordance with that

which appears] before and after them." If so, the reason for the

juxtaposition of the section about the cow to the section about Korah must be explained. We have already explained the

matter in parashat Korah,

how 250 men sinned by trying to sanctify themselves beyond the limit set for

them by the Torah. This damaged the Torah and created a quarrel

in Israel. Next to that passage is found the matter of the cow, which comes

only to purify but not to sanctify, and because of that people at the level of

purity of a tavul yom

or onen can prepare it, as will become

clear to us. However, the Sadducees did not agree with this and tried to have

it prepared by someone at the level of purity of me'uravei

shemesh [a more stringent level of purity]. The

Sages were so careful about it [about not allowing the stricter Sadducee ruling

to become custom] that when it happened once that it [the cow's ashes] was

prepared by a me'uravei shemesh

they pronounced it unfit and the ashes were spilled on the ground, as we learn

in Tosefta Parah. There

they explained the rationale as being, "That they should not besmirch the

earlier generations." That rationale is not so applicable to something

that is only performed every few years and even then only by great men. There

is an [additional] secret rationale, which is that the Sadducees wanted to

treat as sacred something that was only pure, and that could have destroyed the

laws of religion concerning several topics in the Torah. That is why it [the

cow-passage] was written down next to the story of Korah.

(Ha’emek

Davar, ad loc)

 

Silence and Eating

Moshe Meir

A description of the deaths of Aaron's

children appears at the center of parashat Shemini:

And

fire went forth from before the Lord and consumed the burnt offering and

the fats upon the altar, and all the people saw, sang praises, and fell upon their

faces. And Aaron's sons, Nadab and Abihu, each took his pan, put fire

in them, and placed incense upon it, and they brought before the Lord

foreign fire, which He had not commanded them. And fire went forth from before

the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord. (Vayikra

9: 24- 10:1,2)

At

first glance it appears that Aaron's sons died because they had brought a

foreign fire, but upon further inspection, qualms arise in connection with that

explanation. The purpose of the fire was to make an offering to God; the sin

does not seem sufficiently serious to warrant their deaths. The Sages gave

expression to this qualm in Vayikra Rabbah (7:1):

This

may be compared to the case of a king who had a faithful attendant. When he

found him standing at tavern entrances, he severed his head in silence, and

appointed another attendant in his place. We would not know why he put the

first to death, but for his enjoining the second thus: 'You must not enter the

doorway of taverns'; whence we know that for such a reason he had put the first

to death. Thus [it is said], And fire went

forth from before the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord,

but we would not know why they [i.e. Nadab and Abihu] died, but for His commanding Aaron: Drink no wine

nor strong drink. We know from this that they died precisely on account

of the wine. (Soncino translation)

The

Sages held that bringing foreign fire did not justify death. Instead, they

inferred from the juxtaposition of the prohibition against priests drinking

wine to the story of the death of Aaron's sons that they had been punished for

drunkenness. Ignorance invites speculation. Since we do not know why Aaron's

sons died, the reader is left with no alternative but to concentrate upon Aaron's

response:

Then Moses

said to Aaron, "This is what the Lord spoke, [when He said], 'I will be

sanctified through those near to Me, and before all

the people I will be glorified.' " And Aaron was silent.

(10:3)

Moses' words to Aaron are opaque, but they

imply that although the dead sons were men of great quality, they had to die

for the sake of the entire nation. Aaron's silence can be understood in two

different ways: either he agrees with Moses, or he disagrees but chooses to

remain stoically silent, since death is something beyond the realm of human

freedom and possibilities.

And Moses said to Aaron and to Eleazar and to Ithamar, his sons,

"Do not leave your heads unshorn, and do not rend your

garments, so that you shall not die, and lest He be angry with the entire

community, but your brothers, the entire house of Israel,

shall bewail the conflagration that the Lord has burned. (10:6)

Moses

commands Aaron and his remaining sons not to practice the customs of mourning,

since their priestly roles require that they continue to function as if nothing

had happened. Their pain will be expressed by the other members of the

community who are not required to perform the rite. Aaron and his sons obey,

but they may have attributed a different significance to not leaving

their heads unshorn and not rending their garments. It may be that in their

minds the neglect of mourning practices goes together with the silence; they

are all a matter of stoically renouncing any expression of grief and anger. When

death is arbitrary there is no room for expressions of rage. Anger and grief

can only appear in the presence of meaning.

And

Moses thoroughly investigated concerning the sin offering he goat, and behold,

it had been burnt! So he was angry with Eleazar and Ithamar, Aaron's surviving sons, saying, "Why

did you not eat the sin offering in the holy place? For it is holy of holies,

and He has given it to you to gain forgiveness for the sin of the community, to

effect their atonement before the Lord!… And

Aaron spoke to Moses, "But today, did they offer up their sin offering and

their burnt offering before the Lord? But [if tragic events] like these had

befallen me, and if I had eaten a sin offering today, would it have pleased

the Lord?" Moses heard [this], and it pleased

him. (10:16-20)

Moses

continues along the lines he had begun; the rite must continue. Just as the

priests had not left their heads unshorn or torn their garments, so too

they shall eat the meat of the sacrifice as usual. Aaron accepted the command

not to leave his head unshorn or rend his garments, but he rejects the command

to eat meat. Why?

Hair and clothing belong to a person's outer

shell, and the stoic reaction of the father and brothers of the deceased leave

that shell intact. Similarly, silence also involves keeping a sound from

escaping outside of oneself. When the outside is preserved in silence, a person's

inner space is liberated. No one can know what goes on in the hearts of others,

no one knows whether they protest against their fate or make their peace with

it. Eating involves food entering a person's inner space. That is already too

much. Aaron demands that his inner space remain empty, so that it can be an

empty void [halal panuy].

Every other day he eats meat – but not today; that which takes place inside of

him will remain beyond Moses' purview. Moses will not know whether Aaron makes

his peace with the Divine judgment, or whether he cries and burns with anger

within his heart.

 

Nadav and Avihu died before

the Lord while offering a

strange fire (Bamidbar

3:4)

Rabbi Yohanan

said: Did they die before the Lord?

Rather, this teaches us that the hour in which the children of the righteous

die while the latter are still alive is difficult for the Holy One blessed be

He.

(Tanhuma Aharei Mot 6)

 

Foreign fire, which He

had not commanded them

– Emotions and Spontaneity in the Worship of God

They too in their joy – when

they saw a new fire, they wanted to add more love to their love: each

took his pan.

(Sifra 24)

 

The worship of God is not a

matter of momentary enthusiasm; it is not even a matter of momentary

self-sacrifice. Rather, it is a matter of the accepting the yoke of the Kingdom

of Heaven and the yoke of The Torah and the commandments. Many feel that this

subordination to the commandments (as against spontaneous worship dictated by

emotion and subjective taste) is mindless habit – the worst possible epithet in

their vocabulary. The Sifra shows us that Aaron's

sons sinned precisely in their unrestrained desire to fly to the heights.

(Prof.Nehama Leibowitz z"l, Iyyunim Hadashim LeSefer Vayikra)

 

The faith which finds

expression in practical commandments and in the service of God is not something

intended to offer expression and release for human emotions. Rather, their

significance is that a person takes upon himself that which post-biblical

tradition refers to as the yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven and the yoke of Torah

and the commandments. This faith is expressed by the deeds which a person

performs out acknowledgment of his duty to perform them and not from some

autonomous drive – even if it is the drive for self-satisfaction associated

with worship. The latter is a foreign fire. Those whose worship is motivated by

self-satisfaction, even the first priests who accompanied Aaron who dealt that

way with the sacred, are judged as if they had committed idolatry.

This sends a great message to

all generations: do not turn the service of God into something that offers

release for human drives, even if the latter are honestly clothed in the garb

of divine worship.

(Prof.

Yeshayahu Leibowitz, z"l, He'arot leParshiyot haShavua)

 

Forbidden Foods: the Chicken and the Egg

This is one of the points in which Judaism and

Paganism go in diametrically opposite directions. The Pagan brings his offering

in an attempt to make the god subservient to his wishes. The Jew, with his

offering, wishes to place himself in the service of God; by his offering he

wishes to make himself subservient to the wishes of God. So that all offerings

are formulae of the demands of God, which the bringer, by his offering,

undertakes to make the normal routine for his future life. So that self-devised

offerings would be a killing of just those truths which our offerings are meant

to impress and dominate the bringers, would be placing a pedestal on which to

glorify one's own ideas, where a throne was meant to be built for obedience,

and obedience only.

(Rabbi

S.R. Hisch's commentary on VaYikra

10:2, Isaac Levy translation)

 

Those things that taint the soul alone, such

as fish and fowl and the other creeping things that do not cause impurity

through touch are referred to as abominations, as it says, it is an abomination

for you, do not eat it, it is an abomination; do not eat them for

they are an abomination.

(Seforno Vayikra 11:2)

 

It is known that the fruit born by a tree

before its third year is over is useless and harmful, just as any fish lacking

fins and scales damages the body and the flesh of birds of prey and impure

animals harms the soul of wisdom. The knowledgeable understand this.

(Ibn Ezra Vayikra 19:23)

 

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)

 

In Memory of the Students of Yeshivat Mercz HaRav who were murdered in the Beit

Midrash

A little more than forty years

ago, before I actually made aliyah, I studied in Yeshivat Mercaz Harav during zeman Elul.

There was a feeling of spiritual uplift in those days following the victory of

the Six Day War. The voices of "not one bit of land" and the

proclamation of "Do not be afraid" [lo taguru]

that prohibited the return of territory had yet to become public.

Although the time I spent in

the yeshiva was short, I remember my studies there and the High Holy days of

that year as important and meaningful experiences.

As the years passed, I

increasingly came to feel unable to return to Yeshivat

Mercaz Harav. During the

first years after my aliyah I was still able to

celebrate Israel Independence Day and Jerusalem Day with the students and rabbis

of the yeshiva. However, the differences between our respective spiritual paths

distanced me from Mercaz HaRav.

Today I do not consider myself a student of the yeshiva. Its rabbis are not my

rabbis and its emphases in the service of God are different from mine in many

ways. I am also sorry about the nationalist extremism of some of its graduates

that has influenced the general direction of national-religious education in

Israel and alienated it from wider Israel society.

Despite all of the above, when

a terrorist enters the hall and murders eight boys who are in the middle of

studying Torah, I feel that each and every one of us could have been there and

in that sense I was there as well.

I think that Rabbi Weiss, the

Rosh Yeshiva of the Yeshiva for youth, spoke honestly and movingly; the

nobility of his words was reminiscent of the RaShBaM's

comments on Aaron's reaction to the death of his sons. As is well known, RaShBaM interprets the words bekrovi

akadesh [I shall be sanctified by those close

to me] as offering instruction to Aaron and his sons and as expressing the

expectation that they will continue in the service of God despite their

feelings of loss. Rabbi Weiss expressed in exquisitely human terms the pain and

the restraint required of one who aspires to holiness.

There is an ingrained tendency

to become angry, to accuse, and to seek revenge when children or innocent

civilians are killed. Those feelings and drives also found expression.

The need to blame the "other"

in such situations springs from our inability as human beings to accept the

fact that we may not understand the reason, and that therefore it is easier for

us to lay the blame on those who think differently from us. This tendency found

expression from people on both sides of the political spectrum; this is both

understandable and regrettable.

The RaShBaM

and Rabbi Weiss teach us that perhaps there is no place for reciprocal blame or

for blaming God. There is room to feel the pain, and perhaps there is also room

to find – in the world of the faithful – the sources for the love of humanity

that was created in God's image. As the Sages stated: "Who

is courageous? He who makes a friend of his enemy"

(Avot DeRabbi Natan 23).

Pinchas Leiser – Editor

 

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