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Parshas Shemini - Vol. 4, Issue 27
Compiled by Oizer Alport


Vayikchu b’nei Aharon Nadav v’Avihu ish machtaso vayitnu bahen aish vayasimu aleha ketores vayakrivu lifnei Hashem aish zarah asher lo tzivah osam vateitzei aish milifnei Hashem vatochal osam vaymusu lifnei Hashem (10:1-2)

            The tremendous joy of the inauguration of the Mishkan was marred by the tragic deaths of Aharon’s two oldest sons, Nadav and Avihu. Although the Medrash offers numerous opinions about the nature of their sin, the Torah tells us only that they erred by bringing an offering which they weren’t commanded to bring. What lesson is the Torah teaching by emphasizing this as the cause of their deaths?

            The Medrash (Sifri V’zos HaBeracha 2) relates that before giving the Torah to the Jewish people, Hashem first offered it to all of the other nations of the world. Each of them asked what is written in it. Hashem responded with the mitzvah which would be most difficult for that nation to observe. Not surprisingly, they all declined. Some commentators question why Hashem didn’t similarly test the Jews by presenting them with the mitzvah which would be the hardest for them to keep.

            The Chiddushei HaRim suggests that Hashem also challenged the Jews in their weakest spot. Hashem told Moshe (Shemos 19:12) to set boundaries for the people around Mount Sinai, warning that anybody who attempted to touch the mountain would be killed. The core of every Jewish soul yearns for spirituality. As it was created next to Hashem’s Throne of Glory, it pines to come as close to its source as possible. The notion that a Jew is limited in his spiritual ascent, being told that there are boundaries to how close to Hashem he may come, is anathema to his very essence. Still, the Jews passed this test, recognizing that true closeness to Hashem comes only from fulfilling His will. Approaching the mountain counter to His instructions may have felt holy, but would in reality have been spiritually vacuous.

When the Imrei Emes assumed the position of Gerrer Rebbe, he decreed that his disciples must be careful to recite the morning prayers at the proper time. This was a landmark enactment, as for decades they had been accustomed to spend hours spiritually preparing themselves for a sublime and awe-inspiring prayer experience. One of the chassidim came to complain. He argued that since he began obeying the new rule, he lacked the necessary time to properly ready himself to pray. The quality of his prayers had declined and lacked the uplifting feeling of closeness to Hashem that he had once enjoyed.

The sagacious Rebbe responded that the Yerushalmi (Yoma 23a) teaches that if honey was added to the incense mixture, its smell would have been wonderful. If so, why does the Gemora rule that adding honey to the incense invalidates it? Although its smell may have seemed out-of-this-world, it would have been missing one critical ingredient: Hashem’s instructions to do so. Similarly, elaborate preparations for prayer may seem to result in an enhanced experience, but if it takes place outside of the time that Hashem allotted for the prayers, the perceived spiritual closeness doesn’t find favor in Hashem’s eyes.

            Nadav and Avihu were overwhelmed by the inauguration of the Mishkan, a place where Hashem’s presence was palpable. In their excitement to come closer to Him, they forgot the most critical prerequisite: a Divine commandment to perform the action. We live in a generation that actively promotes “spiritual” experiences. Temporary highs may seem tempting, but the lesson of Nadav and Avihu is that there are no shortcuts to closeness to Hashem, which comes only from fulfilling His expressed will.


Vayiktzof al Elozar v’al Isomar b’nei Aharon hanosarim leimor madua lo achaltem es hachatas bim’kom haKodesh (10:16-17)

            The Rambam rules (Hilchos Deios 6:7) that a person who sees his friend transgressing or engaged in inappropriate behavior is required to rebuke him and explain to him the error of his ways. The Rambam adds that this must be done in a soft voice and gentle manner, making it clear that the criticism emanates solely from a pure desire to assist and benefit his friend. In fact, Rav Chaim Volozhiner maintains that a person who is only able to deliver rebuke in an angry, condescending manner is exempt from this mitzvah based on the requirement of the Rambam.

A beautiful hint to this concept is found in our verses. The Torah tells us explicitly that Moshe was angry at what he perceived to be an incorrect judgment on the part of Aharon and his sons. Nevertheless, the first letters of the words of his actual criticism spell out “Malei ahava” – full of love – hinting that even as Moshe carried out what he perceived to be his Divine obligation to protest their actions, he did so in a way which demonstrated his love for them and his pure motivations!


L’havdil bein hatamei uvein hatahor uvein hachaya hane’echeles uvein hachaya asher lo seiachel ... Isha ki sazria v’yalda zachar (11:47-12:2)

            When he was six years old, the Vilna Gaon was asked if he could explain the juxtaposition of the end of Parshas Shemini to the beginning of Parshas Tazria, two portions with no immediately apparent connection. He walked to the bookshelf, brought a Gemora Yoma to the table, and opened to folio 82a.

The Gemora there discusses an episode in which two women were pregnant on Yom Kippur. Both smelled a pungent aroma which caused them to be seized with an overwhelming need to eat immediately. The Sages suggested that somebody whisper in the ear of each woman a reminder that it was Yom Kippur. One woman was able to regain her senses and successfully completed the fast, while the other continued to demand food. Because it was a question of saving her life, she was permitted to eat. The Gemora concludes that the first woman gave birth to the righteous Rebbi Yochanan, while the second woman gave birth to the wicked Shabsai Otzar Peiri, who used to hoard fruits to drive up the prices, thereby causing untold suffering to the poor.

The Vilna Gaon suggested that the juxtaposition may be read as hinting to this episode. Our parsha ends by teaching that a separation between the pure and the impure will be caused by the difference between the pregnant woman (often referred to in the Gemora as “chaya”) who eats (on Yom Kippur) and the one who doesn’t, and Parshas Tazria begins by clarifying that the difference in purity will be manifested in the sons they will bear!


Answers to the weekly Points to Ponder are now available!
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Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):

1)     Rashi quotes (10:2) an opinion that maintains that Nadav and Avihu were killed for entering the Mishkan to bring an offering while drunk. How could they be held responsible for violating a prohibition which was only taught after their deaths (10:9)? (Ramban, Raavad Toras Kohanim Acharei Mos, Shu”t Rosh 13:21, Tur HeAruch, Kol Bo 70, Kli Yakar, Ayeles HaShachar)

2)     The Torah permits (11:3) the consumption of any land animal which chews its cud and has split hooves. Do these signs or their absence cause the permissibility or prohibition of consuming an animal, or are they simply signs indicating whether a species is kosher? (Moreh Nevuchim 3:48, Kovetz Shemuos Chullin 27, Lev Aryeh Chullin 65b, Ayeles HaShachar 11:2, M’rafsin Igri)

3)     The Rema rules (Yoreh Deah 82:3) that one may only eat a bird for which there is a mesorah (tradition) that it is kosher. If somebody travels from a community that doesn’t have a tradition that a certain bird is kosher to another community that does have such a tradition, is he permitted to rely on their tradition to eat the bird, and does it make a difference whether he plans to remain permanently in the new location or to eventually return to his original home? (Rosh Chullin 3:60, Shu”t Rosh 20:20, Divrei Chamudos Chullin 3:323, Ayeles HaShachar)

4)     The Gemora in Berachos (53b) derives from 11:44 the requirement to wash one’s hands at the end of a meal (mayim acharonim). Are women obligated in this mitzvah? (Halichos Bas Yisroel Chapter 3 footnote 11, Shu”t Salmas Chaim 177, Shu”t Shevet HaLevi 4:23, Mor U’Ketzia 181, Shu”t Teshuvos V’Hanhagos 1:174, Piskei Teshuvos 181:1)

 © 2009 by Oizer Alport. Permission is granted to reproduce and distribute as long as credit is given. To receive weekly via email or to send comments or suggestions, write to


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