Shemini-Personal Profession

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In the beginning of this week’s Torah portion of Shemini, we find the tragedy of Nadav and Avihu who were killed by Hashem through a fire coming down from Heaven for sinning in the Mishkan. “Moshe summoned Mishael and Eltzaphan, sons of Aharon’s uncle Uziel, and said to them, ‘Approach, carry your brothers out of the sanctuary to the outside of the camp'” (Vayikra 10:4).
 The Moshav Zekeinim points out that it mentions that Uziel was the uncle of Aharon because he was very close to Aharon. Just as Aharon pursued peace and loved peace, so did he. The Moshav Zekeinim then asked an obvious question. Wasn’t Moshe Rabbeinu as righteous as Aharon? Why wasn’t Moshe known as one who pursues peace and loves peace? He answered, that because Moshe was a judge he couldn’t just compromise but rather he was only able to minimize the mountainous judgement, as it says in Sanhedrin 6b, he would first listen to each side of the argument, and he knew who the judgement sided with and he couldn’t just tell them go and split it, and He wasn’t able to make peace. But Aharon was good at making peace and that is why he was known for peace and running after peace. (Click here for Hebrew text.)
 Remember that Moshe Rabbeinu had an incredible love for the Jewish People and was willing to sacrifice his own life for their sake. He also listened to their plight and arguments day in day out to try to resolve all issues amongst them before Yisro advised him to make a court system to split up all the cases. And it’s very clear in halacha that part of the court system is compromise. Before deciding who is guilty and who is innocent the judges give each litigant a chance to compromise, so why wasn’t Moshe on the same stature as Aharon running after and loving peace?

 Because his profession of being a judge required him to hear each side of the argument and, at best, compromise, Moshe wasn’t as quick to pursue peace as Aharon who had a natural tendency to just look at a situation and figure out how to resolve it peacefully. We see from here the impact one’s profession can make on one’s essence. Moshe definitely loved peace and would do anything to create peace in Klal Yisrael, but the vigor and way he went about doing it was hindered by his professional thinking as a judge and, therefore, it wasn’t as great as Aharon, his brother.

We see how much of an impression one’s profession has on oneself.

Shemini – The Holy Vanguard Elite

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At the very end of this week’s Torah portion of Shemini, while discussing kosher and non-kosher animals, the Torah says in reference to small, non-kosher animals like frogs, turtles, vermin etc., “These are the contaminated ones to you among the creepy crawlers that crawl on this earth” (Vayikra 11:29).
 The Daas Zekeinim points out that it sounds like for “you” they are a contamination, but not for the gentiles. This is what it means when the pasuk in Chabakuk (3:6) says “He gave up on the nations,” for he allowed them to eat creepy crawlers and vermin. This is comparable to two sick people who the doctor came to visit, as brought down in the Medrish Tanchuma, parshas Shemini, paragraph 6. (Click here for Hebrew text.)

The medrish there is discussing how Hashem purposefully gave the Torah in public to the Jewish people after he went around to every nation asking if they wanted the Torah and each one refused. Hashem was ready to revert the waters back to the second day of creation when there was no dry land, but the Jewish people accepted the Torah, and the world was spared. At that time Hashem passed a verdict on the gentile nations that prohibitions on the Jews were permitted to them and they were even allowed to eat creepy crawlers and vermin. The medrish gave this parable to explain why Hashem did this. “A doctor visited two sick people, he saw one of them was in danger of dying, and told his family to give him anything he wanted to eat. He saw that the other one would live in the future. He said to them [his family] that you should feed him this food but not that food. They asked the doctor, ‘what is this? To one you said he can eat whatever he wants and to the other you said he shouldn’t eat this and that?’ The doctor responded to them, ‘The one who will live I said he should eat this and not that. But the one who will die, I told them whatever he wants to eat give him, because he won’t live any way.’ So to Hashem permitted creepy crawlers and vermin to the gentiles but the Jews who will have [eternal] life, he told them, ‘And you shall be holy for I am Holy’ (Vayikra 11:44) ‘Don’t make your souls abominable’ (11:43) ‘This you should eat and this you should not eat, do not be contaminated by them…’ Why? For the sake of your life, as it says, ‘And you who cling to Hashem your G-D, will all have life that day…” (Click here for Hebrew text.)
 The Daas Zekeinim brought this parable mentioned in the medrish to explain why the Jews were commanded to keep kosher, while gentiles were not only not commandedto, but were permitted to eat whatever they want, as if Hashem gave up on their lives and their purity. A purity which gives one the ability to come closer to Hashem. Why is that fair on the gentiles? How is it possible that The All Merciful All Gracious Hashem could just give up on and let the gentiles just rot like that? They are also human beings, made in the image of Hashem, with the potential to strive and to grow, to choose between good and bad?
 However, in pasuk 45, Hashem reiterates, “You shall be holy for I am holy.” The Daas Zekeinim on this pasuk says that for this reason its befitting that since Hashem is holy then His servants should also be holy, and the poet pointed this out in the liturgy of the high holy days when we say each year during mussaf, right after kedusha, “It is fitting that the Holy One be glorified by holy ones.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)
The Daas Zekeinim is sending us a message in these back-to-back commentaries. Hashem expects the Jewish people to conduct themselves on a different plane than the gentiles because we’re the servants of Hashem, the elite vanguard of the King Of Kings, Holy and Blessed is He. A priestly nation and a light onto the world, we are therefore treated and correspondingly expected to act in a more pure and sanctified manner. We chose life while the gentile nations rejected the eternal life. They have the ability individually, on their own, to choose life and convert. It’s a responsibility, not just an honor, which is supposed to be taken seriously. Hashem didn’t give up on the nations, the nations gave up on themselves; but they can individually come back and are accepted by Hashem if they completely accept Him.

However, because we Jews accepted Hashem when we were asked to accept Him and His Torah then even if we stray from Hashem and contaminate ourselves, He never gives up on us and is always waiting with open arms like a father to a son, for us to return and purify ourselves.

Shemini – Hard Work and a Thorough Analysis

In this week’s Torah portion of Shemini we find the episode of Nadav and Avihu. By the dedication of the Mishkan they erred while bringing the incense, and Hashem killed them on the spot. “And Aharon’s sons, Nadav and Avihu, each took his pan, put fire in them, and placed incense upon it, and they brought before Hashem foreign fire, which He had not commanded them. And fire went forth from before Hashem and consumed them, and they died before Hashem” (Vayikra 10:1,2).

According to the Sforno their mistake was as follows: “They were under the impression that just as the incense came after the daily offering whereby the Shechina manifested itself, as it says, ‘It shall be a continual burnt offering throughout your generations at the door of the Ohel Moed before Hashem, where I will meet with you’ (Shemos 29:42), so it would be proper to burn additional incense now that the Divine Glory had been revealed to all the people and the fire had descended, therefore they offered it before Hashem on the inner alter, of which the Torah said, ‘You shall offer no strange incense on it’ (Shemos 30:9). Now even if it was the proper thing to do had they but been commanded to do so, nevertheless they sinned by doing it now, since He had not commanded them, as Chazal said, ‘They decided the halacha in the presence of Moshe their teacher’ (Eruvin 63a).”
The Sforno is of the understanding that Nadav and Avihu’s sin was that they decided a halacha on their own, when they could have asked their teacher, Moshe Rabbeinu, what to do. Even though their thought process made a lot of sense, and it therefore seemed obvious to them that this should be their next move, they still should have consulted with their rebbe who, was not too far away, to be sure they did not overlook something. The next pasuk says that Aharon was silent, and the Sforno observes that he was “comforting himself in the thought that Hashem was sanctified through their death.”

However, at the end of the perek we find that, at first glance, it would seem Aharon himself overlooked something. “And Moshe thoroughly investigated concerning the sin offering he-goat, (The Sforno says, ‘that goat was for an everlasting statute, namely, the goat for Rosh Chodesh, a holy sacrifice for future generation.) 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, (The Sforno points out, ‘although it was given to you, you had no permission to burn it because it was given to you to eat in order to bear the iniquities of the congregation,) to effect their atonement before the Hashem! Behold, its blood was not brought into the Sanctuary within, so you should have surely eaten it within holy [precincts], as I commanded!’ And Aaron spoke to Moshe, ‘But today, did they offer up their sin offering and their burnt offering before Hashem? But [if tragic events] like these had befallen me, and if I had eaten a sin offering today, would it have pleased Hashem?’ (The Sforno explains, ‘His reasoning was: if the situation were such that they were sacrificing their obligatory sin offering and their freewill burnt offering, even though these sacrifices are not permanent communal holy offerings, and we were to have eaten the sin offering today while in a state of aninus, mourning, would it have been pleasing in the sight of Hashem that in a state of aninus we should also eat a sacrifice which is obligatory upon all generations? It is well known that if a kohen who is an onen eats an offering with knowledge and intent, it cannot atone, as it says regarding kodshim kalim, the lesser holy, ‘I have not eaten thereof in my mourning’ (Devarim 26:14). Although you commanded us to eat the meal offering which is of transitory sanctity, even in a state of mourning, it does not follow that this ruling also applies in the case of permanent sacrifices.) Moshe heard [this], and it pleased him.” (Which the Sforno says means, ‘He rejoiced in the good reasoning of his brother and his sons who understood and taught, [decided the law,] so well) (Vayikra 10:16-20). (Click here for Hebrew text.)
Aharon and his sons were supposed to have eaten their portion of the Rosh Chodesh goat-offering along with the portions of other sacrifices they had brought on the day Nadav and Avihu died, and they were in mourning. Yet they chose to burn the meat of the Rosh Chodesh offering as a mourner would normally do, because they figured that only the special offerings brought specifically for the dedication of the Mishkan were allowed to be eaten in a state of mourning, while the regular offerings that would be continued for generations were not allowed to be eaten in a state of mourning, as halacha normally would dictate.

If Aharon and his sons had just seen the sudden death by Heaven of their sons and brothers for not first consulting with Moshe Rabbeinu, and the Torah even attests that Aharon understood and accepted what happened, why then did they not first consult with Moshe Rabbeinu before wasting and burning the holy meat they were supposed to eat? What is even more perplexing is that Moshe Rabbeinu was happy over Aharon’s response as to why he did what he did; were they not in the same position as Nadav and Avihu? What changed?
If we analyze each situation carefully according to the Sforno we will find that the difference between Nadav and Avihua and Aharon and the rest of his sons was the approach they took to the situation. Nadav and Avihu thought that they had a good idea which made sense, and they had only positive intent. But they did not think it through, to the very last possibility, and therefore they were faulted for acting too quickly when they should have first asked the rabbi if what they were doing was correct. Aharon and the rest of his sons, on the other hand, went through every step of the situation and completely analyzed the issue until they knew that they were making the correct choice, and were able to defend their actions accordingly.

We learn from here no matter how much we think we make sense of something, especially in halacha, we should first consult with higher authorities before acting on impulse, unless we have thoroughly analyzed the matter and know for sure that what we are doing is without a doubt correct. Yet we should be very wary of relying on our own understanding of a situation unless we are absolutely confident and know we aren’t fooling ourselves, which is not so easy to figure out. So better to err on the side of caution.