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Parshas Shemini - Vol. 10, Issue 26
Compiled by Oizer Alport
The tremendous joy of the inauguration of the Mishkan was marred by the tragic deaths of Aharon's two oldest sons, Nadav and Avihu. A number of opinions are given by Chazal regarding the nature of the sin for which they were killed. The Daas Z'keinim (16:1) offers an explanation which seems particularly relevant in our generation. The Daas Z'keinim writes that the sin for which Nadav and Avihu were killed was their refusal to get married. Although numerous beautiful maidens waited patiently for the opportunity to marry them, Nadav and Avihu maintained that none of them was worthy of being their wives due to their illustrious lineage, as their paternal uncle (Moshe) was the King, their father (Aharon) was the Kohen Gadol, their maternal uncle (Nachshon) was the leader of his tribe of Yehuda, and they themselves were assistants to the Kohen Gadol. Because they felt that none of the eligible women were good enough for them, they refused to get married.
The Daas Z'keinim adds that this explains the apparent redundancy in the verse (16:1) that records that "Hashem spoke to Moshe after the death of Aharon's two sons, when they approached before Hashem, and they died." Why does the Torah mention their death twice? The Daas Z'keinim explains that the first expression refers to their own deaths, while the second phrase connotes that they had no children to carry on their names and legacies.
When discussing Nadav and Avihu and the nature of their sin, it is essential to remain cognizant of their spiritual greatness and to understand that faults on their lofty levels are not comparable to our petty foibles and mistakes. Rashi writes (10:3) that Moshe told Aharon that he had known that the Mishkan would be sanctified through the death of somebody close to Hashem, but he had assumed that it would be either himself or Aharon, yet he now recognized that Nadav and Avihu were even greater than them. At the same time, everything that is recorded in the Torah is intended to be relevant to every Jew, and the Daas Z'keinim maintains that Nadav and Avihu were killed for rejecting countless potential wives as unsuitable and not good enough for them.
One of the greatest crises in our generation is that there are many wonderful young men and women who are yearning to get married, but struggling to find a spouse. Although this phenomenon is complex and has many levels to it, it is clear that one component of the problem is that many singles are seeking perfection. Young men are looking for a wife who is beautiful, wealthy, from a renowned family, with a good job and exceptional middos, while young women desire a husband who is a serious Torah scholar from a respected family, with sterling character traits, good looks, and a realistic plan to support the family in comfort, and the list goes on. If a prospective match fails to meet even one point on the multi-faceted checklist, he or she is rejected immediately.
Rav Yissocher Frand suggests that part of the problem is that we live in a pampered society that encourages us to seek perfection in every other area in life, which leads us to believe that perfection should also be attainable in such an important decision as the selection of a lifelong marriage partner. Just as we can custom order a car by designing every detail and option to our exact specifications, and just as we can now order what used to be a simple cup of coffee in every possible flavor and variety, so too it is only natural to expect to "design" our future spouses to meet our precise requirements. Unfortunately, a marriage partner is not a car or a cup of coffee, and people are by Hashem's design imperfect, which means that a lifelong pursuit of the perfect spouse is guaranteed to be an exercise in futility and frustration. Instead, the list of desired qualities in a spouse should be narrowed down to a few essential - and realistic - points, as we learn from Nadav and Avihu that while we will never find a spouse who is perfect, we can indeed find one who is perfect for us.
Parshas Shemini introduces us to the laws governing which animals may be eaten, and which are not kosher. In order for a land animal to be kosher, it must possess split hooves, and it must chew its cud. The Torah notes that there are three animals that chew their cud, but which are forbidden because they do not possess split hooves. However, in recording this information, there seems to be a glaring grammatical inconsistency. The Torah explains that even though they chew their cud, the camel is not kosher because its hoof is not split (present tense), while the hyrax may not be eaten because its hoof will not be split (future tense), and the hare is forbidden because its hoof was not split (past tense). Why does the Torah use a different verb tense for each of these animals?
Rav Yissocher Frand explains that in deliberately switching the verb tenses, the Torah is teaching us that before we can label a species - or any individual - as non-kosher, we must first examine and take into account its past, present, and future. Only if we know with certainty that an animal did not have split hooves, does not presently have split hooves, and will never have split hooves can we rule that it is forbidden. If, however, we are unaware of any one of these three components, we are missing the full picture and cannot definitively declare something to be non-kosher, as illustrated by the following story.
There was a religious couple in Europe who endured all of the unspeakable pain and suffering of the Holocaust. Although they survived physically, the husband informed his wife that after everything he had gone through, he was no longer interested in Torah and mitzvos. His wife begged him to at least go to shul each day, but he refused. Changing her tack, the wise woman asked him to do her a favor. Each morning, he bought the daily newspaper and read it at the breakfast table. She suggested that instead of returning home from the newsstand, he should take the newspaper to the synagogue and read it there. Although the man had no interest in the synagogue and the religious services taking place there, he loved his wife and wanted to make her happy, so he agreed to her unusual request, and each day he began to sit in the back row of the shul and read the daily paper from cover to cover.
If we would see an older man coming to our morning prayer services, not opening a siddur and not putting on his tallis or tefillin, but instead spreading out with his newspaper, most of us would respond critically, advising him to respect the sanctity of the synagogue and read the newspaper elsewhere. Had the individuals in this particular shul done so, that would have been the end of this man's religious experiences. Instead, they took the opposite approach. They made small talk with him and slowly got to know him, and they invited him to join them for an occasional l'chaim after services when one of them had yahrtzeit. After being warmly welcomed and socially accepted, the bitter Holocaust survivor returned to his roots, putting his newspaper aside so that he could pray with them three times daily, and he eventually became the president of the shul.
Rabbi Frand points out that the natural reaction to label the Holocaust survivor's conduct as non-kosher was incorrect because the observer did not know the whole story. Without being aware of his past suffering and how it impacted his actions, without any insight into his unorthodox present situation, and without any way of knowing about his potentially bright future, passing critical judgment on his actions would have been premature and misguided, as the Torah intentionally changes the verb tenses to hint to us that we can only judge something and label it non-kosher if we know its past, present, and future.
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Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):
1) The Gemora in Sanhedrin (52a) teaches 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. How is it possible that Nadav and Avihu, who were spiritually even greater than Moshe and Aharon (Rashi 10:3), could speak or even think such thoughts? (Rav Asher Kalman Baron quoted in Peninim MiShulchan Gevoha)
2) One of the species of birds ruled non-kosher by the Torah is the Chasidah (11:19). Rashi explains that its name is derived from the fact that it displays kindness ("chesed") by sharing its food with others. If it is so merciful and compassionate, why does the Torah forbid its consumption? (Chiddushei HaRim, Taam V'Daas, Even Meira, Matamei Yaakov)
3) The Gemora in Berachos (53b) derives from 11:44 the requirement to wash one's hands at the end of a meal (mayim acharonim). After doing so, may one speak prior to Birkas HaMazon? (Kesef Mishneh Hilchos Berachos 6:20, Magen Avrohom 179:1, Eliyah Rabbah 181:9, Shulchan Aruch HaRav 181:6, Aruch HaShulchan 181:1, Mishnah Berurah 179:1 and 181:24)
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