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Parshas Shemini - Vol. 5,
Compiled by Oizer Alport
Vayomer Moshe el Aharon hu asher dibeir Hashem leimor bikrovai ekadeish v’al p’nei kol ha’am ekaveid vayidom Aharon (10:3)
Parshas Tzav concluded by describing the service that Moshe performed for seven days to inaugurate the Mishkan. Parshas Shemini begins with the climax of this period, which was reached on the eighth day, at which time Aharon and his sons were consecrated to serve as Kohanim in the Mishkan. Tragically, just at the peak of the joy of the inauguration ritual, Aharon’s two oldest sons, Nadav and Avihu, performed a service in the Mishkan which they weren’t commanded to do, and they paid for it with their lives.
Reacting to this terrible loss, Rashi writes that Moshe told Aharon that he knew that the Mishkan would be sanctified through the death of somebody close to Hashem, but he assumed that it would be either himself or Aharon. In light of what transpired, Moshe said that he now recognized that Nadav and Avihu were even greater than them. This comment is difficult to understand. How could Moshe, whom the Torah testifies (Bamidbar 12:3) was the most humble man to ever walk the earth, be so presumptuous as to assume that he was the most beloved by Hashem in his entire generation?
Rav Leib Chasman explains that this question is rooted in a fundamental misunderstanding about the nature of humility. People are accustomed to thinking of a humble person as one who views himself as low and unworthy. The Torah, however, doesn’t equate humility with low self-esteem. On the contrary, a humble person may be well aware of his tremendous talents and skills. Nevertheless, he doesn’t view himself as worthy of praise and respect for them. In his humility, he attributes his talents to Divine gifts. Similarly, Moshe was well aware of his lofty spiritual status and naturally assumed that Hashem would choose to take him to consecrate the Mishkan, yet this in no way detracted from his humility.
This understanding of genuine humility can be contrasted with the misguided demonstration of modesty in the following amusing story. There was once a yeshiva in Europe which emphasized to its students the importance of acquiring the trait of humility and minimizing one’s view of his worth and value. To that end, there were students who would repeat to themselves over and over the Yiddish expression, “Ich bin a gornisht” – I am a nothing – in an attempt to internalize this understanding.
One day a new student arrived in the yeshiva. Upon entering the Beis Medrash, he encountered a number of students sitting and repeating to themselves this phrase. Assuming that this was the practice of the yeshiva and wanting to fit in, the new student sat down and joined them, repeating loudly and with great fervor this expression. One of the older students approached him and rebuked him, “You just arrived here. Who are you to be a gornisht!?” Suffice it to say that although we have learned that a person should strive toward a humble and modest view of himself, this isn’t the “humility” that the Torah had in mind!
Vayidom Aharon (10:3)
The tremendous joy of the inauguration of the Mishkan was marred by the tragic deaths of Aharon’s two oldest sons, Nadav and Avihu. The Torah relates that upon learning of their deaths, Aharon remained silent. On this verse, there is a perplexing Medrash Pliah. From the Torah’s emphasis on Aharon’s silence, the Medrash understands that there was something which he wished to say but didn’t. What complaint was he holding inside? The Medrash answers cryptically that Aharon would have argued (12:3) “U’vayom ha’shemini yimol besar orlaso” – When a woman gives birth to a male child, the baby should be circumcised on the eighth day. What possible connection could this have to the events of our parsha?
Several commentators explain by noting that the Gemora in Niddah (31b) questions why circumcision is performed on the eighth day and not on the seventh day. The Gemora answers that when a woman has a male child, she becomes impure and forbidden to her husband for seven days. If the circumcision was performed on the seventh day, the guests would be rejoicing while the parents, the central figures at the celebration, would still be sad. On the eighth day, the mother has had the opportunity to immerse in a mikvah and become permitted to her husband, allowing them to also enjoy the occasion.
Based on the Gemora’s reasoning, we may explain that Aharon was the primary participant in the joy of the inauguration of the Mishkan, in which he served as Kohen Gadol. After seeing the lengths to which the Torah goes to ensure that the parents are able to be happy at their son’s circumcision, Aharon was bothered that he lost two of his children on the day which was supposed to be so dear to him.
Aharon’s argument would have been bolstered by Rashi’s comment (Shemos 24:10) that Nadav and Avihu should have been killed at Mount Sinai for irreverently indulging in food and drink while gazing at a prophetic revelation of Hashem, but He spared their lives temporarily so as not to mar the joy of the giving of the Torah. Aharon could have easily questioned why he wasn’t entitled to enjoy his day as the “Baal Simcha” like Moshe at Mount Sinai and the parents at a circumcision, but he remained silent and was rewarded for his unquestioning acceptance of Hashem’s just ways.
Kol holeich al gachon (11:42)
Dovid HaMelech writes in Tehillim (119:160) “Rosh devarcha emes” – Your first utterance is truth. The Baal HaTurim points out that the final letters of the first three words in the Torah (Bereishis bara Elokim) spell the word Emes, hinting to the fundamental importance of the value of truth in Hashem’s eyes. Indeed, the Gemora in Yoma (69b) teaches that Hashem’s seal is Emes. Further, the final letters of the last verse describing the Creation (Bereishis 2:3 – Bara Elokim la’asos) also spell the word Emes, alluding to the fact that the universe was created with Hashem’s attribute of truth from beginning to end.
Rabbeinu Bechaye points out that the first verse in the Torah contains every vowel except for one: the shuruk is missing from this verse. He explains that this is because the letters which spell the word shuruk can also be rearranged to spell the word “sheker” (falsehood), and because Hashem created the world to be a place of truth, there was no room for a shuruk in describing the beginning of the Creation.
It is not only the Written Torah which is emblazoned with Hashem’s seal of truth, but the Oral Torah as well. The Aseres HaDibros begin with the letter aleph, the Mishnah begins with the letter mem, and the Gemora starts with the letter tof, again spelling the word Emes.
The Vilna Gaon notes that it is not only the Torah itself which is encoded with Hashem’s seal, but even the great commentaries upon it are embossed with this commitment to truth. In our verse, the Torah forbids the consumption of all creeping creatures which slither on their bellies. Interestingly, Rashi renders the word “belly” as “me’ayim” – innards. This would seem to be anatomically imprecise, as “beten” would be a more accurate translation. Further, the word “gachon” appears much earlier in the Torah (Bereishis 3:14), in reference to the punishment of the serpent which tempted Chava, yet Rashi felt no need to explain the meaning of the word until its appearance in Parshas Shemini.
The Vilna Gaon beautifully explains that the Gemora in Kiddushin (30a) teaches that the letter “vov” in the word “gachon” is the middle letter in the Torah. Rashi begins his commentary on the Torah with the letter aleph and ends with the letter tof. Rashi didn’t feel the need to translate the word “gachon,” or else he would have done so where it initially appeared. However, because this is the middle of the Torah, and therefore of his commentary, he wanted to explain it using a word beginning with the letter mem to hint that the Torah, along with his Divinely-inspired commentary, is Emes from the start to the middle to the very end.
Answers to the weekly Points to Ponder are now available!
Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):
1) Although Nadav and Avihu sinned by bringing an alien fire that Hashem hadn’t commanded them to bring (10:1), Hashem normally gives a person time to do teshuvah (repent). Why were they punished so severely with immediate death instead of being given an opportunity to repent their sin? (HaEmek Davar, Birkas Peretz, Ayeles HaShachar)
2) Rabbeinu Bechaye writes that the fire which consumed Nadav and Avihu (10:2) was one of 12 fires which descended from Heaven at various times. Six represented Divine satisfaction and came to indicate the acceptance of offerings, and six exacted punishment as an expression of Divine anger. How many of the 12 can you identify?
3) Parshas Shemini concludes (11:44-47) by stressing the importance of keeping the laws of kosher food in order to become holy and pure. If a person is required to consume non-kosher food for the sake of his health, does it still cause him spiritual impurity? (Toras Chaim, Shu”t Chasam Sofer Orach Chaim 1:83, Meshech Chochmah Devorim 6:11, Orchos Yosher 13, Derech Sicha)
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