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 Parshas Acharei Mos - Vol. 3, Issue 26
Compiled by Oizer Alport


Vay’dabeir Hashem el Moshe acharei mos shnei b’nei Aharon b’kirvasam lifnei Hashem vayamusu (16:1)

The Gemora in Sanhedrin (52a) tells that while Moshe and Aharon were leading the way at Mount Sinai, Nadav and Avihu followed behind them and wondered aloud to one another when Moshe and Aharon might die so that they could assume the mantle of leadership. Hashem replied, “We’ll see who will bury who.” Rashi explains that the Gemora is coming to teach that it was for this act of seeking power that they died prematurely. This is difficult to understand for two reasons. First, the Torah gives an alternative reason for their death (10:1-2): they brought an offering which they weren’t commanded to bring. Second, nowhere do we find that the pursuit of power is a capital crime.

The Steipler resolves these questions based on a Gemora in Rosh Hashana (17a-b). The Gemora teaches that if a person acts humbly, Hashem overlooks his sins and gives him time to repent. The Steipler explains that the Gemora in Sanhedrin doesn’t mean to say that Nadav and Avihu were killed for seeking honor. Rather, it is bothered that Hashem normally gives a person a chance to repent and doesn’t punish him on the spot. Why were Nadav and Avihu immediately killed for their erroneous actions?

The Gemora answers that almost one year previously they expressed their jealous desire for power. As a result, they didn’t receive Divine mercy to give them time to repent. The actual cause of their deaths was the foreign sacrifice, as the Torah explicitly says. The reason that Hashem judged them so strictly was because they invited it upon themselves by coveting the leadership.

Based on the Steipler’s explanation, we may now resolve an apparent difficulty in “Elokai netzor,” the prayer said at the end of Shemoneh Esrei. Seemingly, the most important requests contained therein are “p’sach libi b’Sorasecha uv’mitzvosecha tirdof nafshi” – Hashem should open our hearts to His Torah and help us pursue the performance of mitzvos. If so, why don’t we begin the paragraph with these petitions?

The aforementioned Gemora in Rosh Hashana mentions that there is one other way to merit Divine leniency: to overlook wrongs done to us and not respond to insults. If Hashem grants our request to help us excel in our Torah study and mitzvos but judges them strictly, we don’t stand much of a chance. Many times they are performed without full concentration or for ulterior motives. We first ask for help in obtaining the two keys to eliciting Hashem’s mercy: “V’lim’kal’lai nafshi sidom v’nafshi ke’afar la’kol tihyeh” – To those who curse me, let my soul be silent, and let my soul be like dust to everyone. Only after we have the tools to merit Hashem’s compassionate judgment are we able to continue with our primary request.


B’zos yavo Aharon el ha’Kodesh (16:3)

            The Vilna Gaon quotes a fascinating Medrash (Vayikra Rabbah 21:7) which teaches that although all future Kohanim Gedolim were only permitted to enter the Kodesh Kodashim on Yom Kippur, Aharon was allowed to enter whenever he wanted as long as he performed the Yom Kippur service. This fact provides the key to resolve many difficulties regarding this section in the Torah.

The Vilna Gaon points out that the entire portion dealing with the Yom Kippur service repeatedly refers to Aharon and not more generally to “the Kohen Gadol” as one might have expected. Also, it concludes (16:34) by teaching that this service shall be a decree for the rest of the Jews once annually. The Chai Adam adds that with respect to other sacrifices, the Torah writes first the date and then details the appropriate sacrifice, whereas in our parsha, the date of Yom Kippur isn’t mentioned until the end (16:29) In light of the Medrash, we now understand that Aharon’s performance of this service was unrestricted, whereas for future generations it was indeed limited to once per year.

This Medrash also explains why the Gemora in Yoma (71a) teaches that the entire service should be performed in the order it is written in the Torah except for one verse (Rashi 16:23) which isn’t written in its proper place. The Gemora’s proof is that if the service was done in the order it is written, the Kohen Gadol would only have to immerse himself in a mikvah three times, which contradicts the Gemora in Yoma (30a) which teaches that he must do so five times. However, if we recognize that this section is addressing Aharon’s service on any day of the year that he chooses – when there is no obligation to immerse five times – we can understand that for Aharon, this verse is written in its appropriate place!

We may similarly explain another difficulty. At the end of this section, the Torah concludes (16:34) that Aharon did just as Hashem commanded him. Rashi, troubled by the fact that he was unable to do so since it wasn’t yet Yom Kippur, explains that Aharon performed the service when Yom Kippur arrived. However, according the Medrash, we may suggest that Aharon immediately entered and performed the Yom Kippur service, as only he was permitted to do, with great alacrity!

            The Gemora in Gittin (60a) teaches that there are eight portions of the Torah that were taught on the day that the Mishkan was erected, one of which is Acharei Mos. Rashi is bothered by the fact that all of the other portions were immediately relevant and needed to be taught at that point, but the details of the Yom Kippur service seemingly weren’t applicable for six more months. Rav Yaakov Kamenetzky notes that according to the Medrash, we understand that it was relevant at that time, as Aharon was able to immediately enter the Kodesh Kodashim to perform the Yom Kippur service.

            Finally, the Gemora in Yoma (53b) derives from 16:13 that if the Kohen Gadol leaves out one of the ingredients of the incense, he is liable to the death penalty at the hands of Heaven. The Shaagas Aryeh (71) questions why there is a need to derive this point from a verse discussing the Yom Kippur service, when we could alternatively learn it from the more general principle that because the Kohen Gadol made a forbidden fire on Yom Kippur, he is liable to the even more severe penalty of kares (spiritual excision). Citing the Medrash, the Steipler answers that this derivation is necessary with respect to Aharon, who was permitted to perform this service on days of the year when making a fire would otherwise be permitted, but improperly offering the incense in the Holy of Holies is not!


Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):

1)     When a person dies, the impurity from his dead body is transferred to everything under the same roof (Bamidbar 19:14). According to the opinion of Rebbi Akiva, who maintains that Nadav and Avihu died inside of the Mishkan, why is no mention made of the entire Mishkan and its vessels becoming impure from their deaths and requiring a 7-day cessation of the Divine Service until they could be properly purified with the ashes of the red heifer? (Daas Z’keinim, Tur HeAruch, Panim Yafos Bamidbar 8:3, Pardes Yosef, Har Tzvi, Chavatzeles HaSharon Bamidbar 8:3)

2)     How is it possible that a completely healthy person ate on Yom Kippur a quantity of food larger than the size of a large date in a normal manner and in less than two minutes, and yet he is exempt from punishment for eating on Yom Kippur (16:29)? (Orach Chaim 612:6)

3)     The Torah concludes the portion dealing with the Yom Kippur service by stating (16:34) that it will effect atonement for the Jewish people “Mi’kol chatosam” – from all of their sins. The term “cheit” is used to connote a sin which is done accidentally, which implies that one is unable to receive forgiveness on Yom Kippur for sins committed intentionally. Is this the case, and if not, why does the Torah use such seemingly misleading wording? (Kovetz Ma’amorim, Derech Sicha)

4)     The Gemora in Sanhedrin (74a) derives from the words “V’chai bahem” (18:5) – and (mitzvos) by which you shall live – that a person should transgress all of the mitzvos in the Torah rather than give up his life, with the exception of idolatry, murder, and forbidden relationships, regarding which the law is that a person should allow himself to die rather than transgress. How could it be that the words instructing a person to transgress rather than die aren’t applicable to the sin of forbidden relationships when they are specifically written together with those prohibitions? (M’rafsin Igri)

5)     The Torah implies (18:28) that anybody contaminates Israel by imitating the abominable practices of its former inhabitants will similarly be expelled. Why do we find so many people living there and committing immoral acts without any apparent ramifications? (Taam V’Daas)

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