Shemini 5770 – Gilayon #645

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Parshat Shmini

I will be sanctified through those near to Me


…One may, perhaps, go even further and say: The pious believer who was

not there but meekly submits, not to his own destruction, but to that of six

million of his brethren, insults with his faith the faith of the concentration

camps. The k'doshim, who affirmed their faith in the God of Israel in

the light of the doom that surrounded them may well say to such an eager

believer: "What do you know about believing, about having faith? How dare

you submit into suffering that is not yours. Calm yourselves and be

silent." But they, too, who were not there and yet declare from the

housetops their disbelief in the God of Israel, insult the holy disbelief of

the concentration camps. They who lost their faith there may well turn to our

radical theologians, saying: "How dare you speak about loss of faith, what

do you know about losing faith, you who have never known what we have known,

who never experienced what we have experienced?" In the presence of the

holy faith of the crematoria, the ready faith of those who were not there, is

vulgarity. But the disbelief of the sophisticated intellectual in the midst of

an affluent society – in the light of the disbelief of the crematoria – is


(R. Eliezer Berkovitz: Faith

After the Holocaust, pg. 5)



Would it have

pleased the Lord?

Uri Granat

Parashat Shmini opens with a description of

the acts performed by Moses, Aaron, and his sons on the eighth day of the

Tabernacle's dedication. Those acts reached their climax with Moses and Aaron

blessing the people, after which the glory of the

Lord appeared to all the people. 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 (9:23-24).

Here God's revelation is depicted as a communal experience of joy

and great excitement. The description's focus and context are public and

religious, and the human characters in the story (Moses, Aaron, and Aaron's

sons) serve only as representatives who mediate between God and His people and

between Heaven and earth. They are not personalized figures whose

thoughts, feelings, and autonomous individual deeds are a matter of interest.

They fulfill their mission by painstakingly

carrying out God's commands. Scripture describes the command concerning the

seven days of dedication received by Aaron and his sons in these words: And you shall stay day and night for seven days at the

entrance to the Tent of Meeting. You shall observe the Lord's vigil, so that

you will not die, for thus I was commanded (8:35). The priests were obliged to observe

God's vigil and to perform the sacrificial rite, even at the expense of

sacrificing their own personal desires when conflicts between the two realms

arise. Aaron and his sons took their mission upon themselves and performed all

the things the Lord commanded them through Moses (8:36). Rashi's comment

on this verse and so Aaron did (Bamidbar 8:3) is well known: "[These

words come] to praise Aaron for he did not deviate [from the divine


It is exactly at the climactic

moment mentioned above, when the people achieves the lofty religious experience

of divine revelation, that the threat of death against priests who deviate from

the precise execution of God's word is transformed from a warning into a

tragic reality: 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 (10:1-2).

Scripture emphasizes that Nadab and Abihu acted of their own initiative, thus

clearly overstepping their authority (they brought… foreign fire,

which He had not commanded them). Their deed's terrible consequences

further emphasize that the priestly service is performed on behalf of the

public, and that this public aspect must vanquish the priests' own egos; the

personal must be nullified by the communal. Be that as it may, I would now like

to claim that Scripture's account of the reactions to Nadab and Abihu's deaths

during the remaining hours of the eighth day presents us with a more

complicated picture of the correct balance between the personal and public


Moses' own reaction

to these events ignores their personal aspect and is markedly communally-oriented.

Even before we have managed to digest the brothers' deaths, Moses pronounces

before 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'" (10:3). After Scripture

explains the reason for their deaths, Moses assigns them a function as well:

the destruction of those close to God relays a message to the entire people,

inspiring in them feelings of awe and respect. The deaths are not

"normal," "individual," or "insignificant" – they

bear a communal meaning and serve a communal purpose. Just as the lives of

Aaron's sons were not private and were devoted to a mission, so too their

deaths bore a communal significance – they died as people who were near to God,

thus magnifying His eminence before the entire people. Moses ignores the

personal, emotional, and human aspects of the tragedy and sees it as a public

affair, something between the community and God.

Moses continues this

approach when speaking to Aaron and his surviving 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). The bereaved family must avoid any acts

of mourning – and, perhaps, any feelings associated with the tragedy – because

these might endanger the entire community. According to Moses, in this case

tears and mourning are not a matter for the limited family circle, rather the

entire nation must engage in them. All members of the nation have become brothers

to the victims' family.

Alongside Moses'

words we find Aaron's thundering silence: and Aaron kept silent (10:3). Aaron's

reaction reflects a different mode of coping than that found in Moses'

rhetoric. Having just lost two sons, he is not comforted by Moses'

justifications. The assignment of a communal function to the deaths does not

mitigate his personal pain and sorrow – certainly not on the very day of the

catastrophe. Aaron does choose to continue fulfilling his practical obligations

but he is unable to disregard his own humanity. At this stage the gulf between

the two approaches is expressed by a mute disagreement that is only verbal and

emotional and without practical consequences; the commitment to the communal

mission remains categorical and uncompromising – even for Aaron.

Now there is a

surprising transformation. The story reaches a surprising turning point when

Elazar and Itamar burn the sin offering instead of eating it, as they had been

commanded (10:16-18).

Their action seems to deviate from God's command in a manner similar to that of

offering foreign fire, but it does not result in a similarly punitive

divine reaction. Even Moses, who is angry at first and tells them, you

should have surely eaten it within holy [precincts], as I commanded you (10:18), changes his

mind after Aaron speaks.

Consider Aaron's

words: 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? (10:19). Aaron is now saying in words

that which he had expressed earlier with his silence, i.e., that he and his

sons find themselves in an emotional state that does not allow them to perform

deeds bespeaking great joy and celebration. There is no alternative to making

some change in the execution of the divine command in the face of these human

concerns; it would be unreasonable to think that God Himself would want those

concerns to be neglected. It is important to take note of the personal tone of

Aaron's speech – he is talking about himself in the first person, and he even

points out the emotional inappropriateness of performing the joyous act on the

very day his sons died and his family is deep in mourning. Aaron emphasizes

the personal and human problem of eating the sin offering at that particular

point in time. Moses, the most humble of men, recognizes the truth of Aaron's

words: Moses heard [this], and it pleased him (10:20).

What brought Moses to recognize the necessity

of taking human concerns into account? Why was God's reaction to the act of

Elazar and Itamar so different from that suffered by their brothers? Had there

been some kind of change to the previous approach which had demanded that

personal difficulties must give way to the obligations and responsibilities of

public roles?

Perhaps Moses remembered a similar crossroads

in his own earlier life – the story of Jethro's advice. In that incident,

Jethro saw Moses devoting all his energies to the people, who stood

before him from morning until evening (Shemot

18:13), not leaving him a moment for himself. Moses' humility and

devotion to his role led him to believe that by leaving some room for his own

private existence he would be sinning against his communal mission to make known the statutes of God and His teachings

(Shemot 18:16). In reaction to this,

Jethro tells him that The thing you are doing is not

good. You will surely wear yourself out

both you and these people who are with you (18:17-18). He tells

him that sooner or later absolute and categorical devotion to communal

needs will bring destructive self-harm in its wake, which will eventually harm

the nation itself. If so, it is vital that public servants leave room for their

own private lives if they are to carry out their missions properly. Returning

to our story, we find that by burning the sin offering Aaron's sons did not adversely

affect the execution of their public roles; in fact, they acted in a way that

was necessary from a long-term perspective. Nadab and Abihu had to overcome

their private volitions, sacrificing them upon the altar; Elazar and Itamar,

however, acted correctly when they did not execute a command that was

completely at odds with their private pain over their brothers' deaths.

It is instructive that the story which makes

so much of personal sacrifice and the dangers of deviation in the execution of

divine commands ends by granting legitimacy to individuals and their feelings. This

may be seen as a warning sign against immoderate incursions upon the private

realm and upon personal feelings and sensitivities in the name of the common


Uri Granet is a graduate of Yeshivat

Kibbutz HaDati in Maale HaGilboa


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


And Aaron was silent – Silence

of Pain or of Acquiescence


heart turned silent as a 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 Moses,

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 (Psalms 107:27),

They reeled and staggered like a drunken man and further on They

rejoiced when all was quiet (yishtoku).

But demama also indicates inner calm,

serenity of the soul… therefore the Torah testifies that Aaron, 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)


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

maimed 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


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


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


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.


Rabbah 20)


The Death of the Righteous is Troubling for the Holy One

blessed be He and Effects Atonement

R. Abba bar Avina said: Why is

the story of Miriam's death placed next to [the passage regarding] the [red]

heifer's ashes? To teach that just as the heifer's ashes atone, so too the

death of the righteous atones.

R. Yudin said: Why does [the

story of] Aaron's death appear next to [the story of]

the breaking of the Tablets? To teach that Aaron's death was as troubling for

the Holy One blessed be He as was the breaking of the


R. Hiya bar Abba said: Aaron's

sons died on the first day of Nisan, so why are their deaths mentioned in

connection with Yom Kippur? This is in order to teach that just as Yom Kippur

atones, so too the deaths of the righteous atone. From

whence do we know that Yom Kippur atones? Because it is said, For on that day [He] will atone you to purify you

(Vayikra 16).

And from whence do we know that the death of the righteous atones? Because it

is written, And they buried Saul's bones

and it is written, After that, God responded to the plea of the land (II Samuel 21).


Rabbah 20)


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