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Parshas Shemini - Vol. 12, Issue 25
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. 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 U'bayom ha'syhemini yimol besar orlaso (12:3) - 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 Parshas Shemini?
The Shemen HaKik explains by noting that the Gemora (Niddah 31b) questions why bris milah is performed on the eighth day and not on the seventh. 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 father and mother, 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.
Earthenware vessels are unique in that if a spiritually impure object comes into contact with the outside of the vessel, it does not become impure. However, if the impure item enters the interior of the vessel, even if it is merely in the airspace and has no physical contact with the vessel, it becomes impure. Additionally, once an earthenware vessel has become impure, it cannot be purified through immersion in a mikvah, and it must be broken. The laws governing metal vessels are just the opposite. They are rendered impure if an impure object comes into contact with their exterior, but not if it merely enters their internal airspace without actual contact, and in the event that they become impure, they can be purified through immersion in a mikvah.
The Kotzker Rebbe explains that the difference in the laws governing these two different types of vessels emanates from a fundamental distinction between them. Earthenware vessels are formed from a cheap, ephemeral substance and therefore don't have any inherent value. Their entire significance is due to their insides, which enable them to store valuable contents. Therefore, they are unable to contact impurity through contact with their exterior walls, but as soon as an impure item enters their internal airspace, which represents their potential worth and usage, they become impure and must be broken.
The value of a metal vessel, on the other hand, is largely based on the material from which it is made. As a result, it contracts impurity through contact with its walls, which represents its primary significance, but not its airspace. In the event that it becomes impure, it still retains its inherent value and can therefore be restored to its original state via immersion in a mikvah.
Although today all of our vessels are assumed to be impure, these laws are still relevant to us. The Kotzker Rebbe points out that man is also formed from the earth (Bereishis 3:19). As such, just like an earthenware vessel, our entire value comes not from our superficial external appearances, but from the values and morals that we contain within, and just as an earthenware vessel must be broken to be purified, so too the key to purifying ourselves is a broken and contrite heart.
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 parshios with no immediately apparent connection. He immediately walked to the bookshelf, brought a Gemora Yoma to the table, and proceeded to open 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 çéä) 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.
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Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):
1) 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?
2) Parshas Shemini introduces us to the laws governing kosher and prohibited foods (11:1-47). How is it possible that a person combined two distinct food items, one kosher and one forbidden, and as a result, the kosher food became prohibited, while the forbidden one was rendered kosher?
3) The Rema rules (Yoreh Deah 82:3) that we may only eat a bird for which there is a mesorah (tradition) that it is kosher. If a person travels from a community that does not 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 and eat the bird, and if so, does it make a difference whether he plans to remain permanently in the new location that has such a mesorah, or if he intends to eventually return to his original home that does not? (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)
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