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Parshas Acharei Mos - Vol. 12, Issue 27
Compiled by Oizer Alport
The Gemora in Kesuvos (103b) relates that when Rebbi - Rav Yehuda HaNasi - passed away, a piece of paper fell from Heaven. On the paper was written that all who were present at the time of his death would merit a share in the World to Come. Although Rebbi's level of holiness and spirituality was tremendous, why don't we find similar episodes in conjunction with the deaths of other righteous individuals?
Rav Yitzchok Elchonon Spektor answers that the Gemora in Yoma (85b) records a dispute between Rebbi and the other Sages with respect to the atonement effected by Yom Kippur. The Sages maintain that Yom Kippur is only effective together with confession and repentance for one's misdeeds, but Rebbi maintains that the Holiness of the day intrinsically causes atonement and forgiveness for all. It is also known that the death of the righteous is compared to Yom Kippur in its ability to effect atonement (Gur Aryeh Bamidbar 20:1). Although the law is decided in accordance with the majority of the Sages, in deference to the honor of Rebbi his death was treated in accordance with his opinion, and all who were present received forgiveness, even if they didn't repent!
The Seforno notes that marriage to one's closer relatives would actually seem to be ideal. Their shared values, backgrounds, and personalities should combine to produce wonderful children. As evidence for this claim, he cites Amram, who married his aunt Yocheved (which was permissible prior to the giving of the Torah). From this close relationship were born Moshe, Aharon, and Miriam, the greatest leaders a generation of Jews ever enjoyed. If so, what could be the problem with such relationships, and why does the Torah prohibit a person from marrying his close relatives?
The Seforno writes that this would indeed be the case if the intentions of the couple were solely for noble purposes. Unfortunately, human nature makes this scenario incredibly rare. Along with the Rambam and the Ibn Ezra, the Seforno explains that Hashem ideally prefers that people be completely focused on and dedicated to serving him. Because we are human, He had no choice but to permit marital relations. However, in an effort to minimize them, the Torah forbids relations with all of a person's close relatives. Because he is so frequently surrounded by them, the regular contact could easily lead to constant involvement in our base human desires. As this would distract us from focusing on elevating ourselves and achieving our true spiritual purposes, the Torah therefore prohibited these relationships.
The Ramban questions this explanation. He points out that a man is Biblically permitted to marry as many wives as he wants, something which should clearly be forbidden if the Torah's goal was to minimize his involvement in marital relations in order to free him to pursue spiritual endeavors. He argues that it is illogical that marrying one's daughter or sister should be punished so severely when somebody else may marry 1000 wives with impunity. As a result, the Ramban suggests that the entire concept of the forbidden relationships falls into the category known as חוקים, mitzvos which seem to defy human logic and which we perform only because Hashem commanded us to do so, even though we are unable to understand the rationale behind them.
The Torah commands us in no uncertain terms not to turn for guidance or assistance to practitioners of sorcery and necromancy, discussing the prohibition against doing so three times in Parshas Kedoshim alone. Toward the end of Shaul's life, he was faced with a battle against an army of Philistine forces (Shmuel 1 28). When Shaul saw their army's encampment, he was terrified and confused about what to do, and he attempted every technique at his disposal to inquire of Hashem for guidance about how to proceed, but Hashem ignored Shaul and refused to answer him through his dreams, through prophets, and through the Urim V'Tumim.
After Shaul had exhausted all of his traditional options without any success, he told his servants to seek out for him a sorceress, and he proceeded to enlist her services to summon the spirit of the deceased prophet Shmuel to advise him about how to proceed. The tremendous difficulty with this episode is: How is it possible that Shaul, for all of his shortcomings and mistakes in judgment, could think that it was permissible to inquire of the dead using sorcery, something which is explicitly forbidden by the Torah?
The Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh (Devorim 18:14) and Oneg Yom Tov (Introduction) explain Shaul's reasoning by pointing out that the prohibition in Parshas Shoftim against turning to sorcerers and necromancers is immediately followed by the following explanation for the mitzvah (Devorim 18:14-15): For these nations that you are possessing hearken to astrologers and diviners, but not so has Hashem your G-d given for you. Hashem your G-d will establish for you a prophet like me from your midst, from your brethren; to him shall you hearken.
In other words, the Torah seems to say that the reason Hashem does not want us to turn to magicians and sorcerers is because these were the practices of the non-Jews who inhabited the land of Israel before us, but we do not need them since Hashem gives us prophets whom we can consult instead. As such, Shaul assumed that it is only forbidden to consult a sorceress or necromancer if one has an option of going to a prophet instead. However, in a situation in which that is not an option, such as in this case where he tried to do so but was not answered, Shaul thought that the prohibition did not apply and he was allowed to go to the sorceress.
Although the Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh and Oneg Yom Tov maintain that Shaul was incorrect in his judgment and they only give this explanation as a way of understanding Shaul's thought process and judging him favorably, the Netziv (HaEmek Davar 18:14) writes that not only was this Shaul's rationale, but he was in fact correct in his logic, as in a time of danger when no prophet is available to be consulted, it is in fact permitted to consult a sorcerer or necromancer for guidance.
Along these lines, the Shach (Yoreh Deah 179:1) rules that if a person is ill, it is permissible to use magic and sorcery to heal him due to the fact that we do not have prophets to ask. Although the Maharshal (Shu"t Maharshal 3) disagrees and maintains that if the person is merely sick it is forbidden to do so since it is not a case of pikuach nefesh (saving a life), this implies that it would be permissible if somebody's life is truly in danger, just like the Netziv writes regarding Shaul.
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Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):
1) Parshas Acharei Mos begins by describing the special Avodah (Divine service) that was performed by the Kohen Gadol on Yom Kippur to effect atonement for the entire Jewish nation (16:2-34). However, although the passage refers to Aharon by name seven times, it makes no mention of his position until near the end of the entire discussion (16:32), even though the Avodah can only be done by the Kohen Gadol. Why does the Torah go out of its way to avoid mentioning Aharon's title which made him eligible to perform this job? (Oznayim L'Torah)
2) How is it possible that a healthy person ate on Yom Kippur a quantity of edible 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)? (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 612:6)
3) How is it possible that somebody became Biblically impure and was able to become pure without having to wait for sunset? (Ibn Ezra and Ayeles HaShachar 16:26)
4) The Torah forbids the consumption of orlah, the fruits produced by a tree for the first three years (19:23). The Gemora in Shabbos (33b) relates that when Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai was forced to flee to a cave to save his life, a carob tree miraculously sprouted there to provide him sustenance. How was he permitted to eat the fruits, which are considered orlah? (Imrei Daas, Derech Emunah Hilchos Maaser Sheini 10:6, M'rafsin Igri, Ma'adanei Asher Lag B'Omer 5769)
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