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by Dr. Avigdor Bonchek


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Parashas Sh'mini(66)

This week's sedra tells of the dedication of the Tabernacle (Mishkan) and the tragic deaths of two of Aaron's sons when they, in their spiritual enthusiasm, brought an offering which they had not been commanded by G-d to bring.

Leviticus 10:4, 5

4. And Moses called to Mishael and Eltzafan, the sons of Uziel the uncle of Aaron and He said to them: Draw near, bear your brothers from the front of the holy [place] to outside the camp.

5. And they drew near and carried them in their robes outside the camp, as Moses had spoken.


In their robes: Rashi: [the robes] of the deceased. This teaches us that their garments were not burned only their souls; something like two threads of fire entered their nostrils.

What Is Rashi Saying?

Rashi is telling us that the robes referred to in our verse were the robes of Nadav and Avihu. Since it only says "their robes" it is not clear whose robes - either those of Mishael and Eltzafan, cousins of the deceased, who removed the dead bodies from the Tabernacle or the robes of the deceased themselves.

What would you ask here?

Remember a simple rule of thumb. When Rashi tells us something we apparently already know, we must ask: What's bothering him? When he tells us something we didn't know previously, we ask: How does Rashi know this?

Your Question:

Questioning Rashi

A Question: How does Rashi know that these were the robes of Nadav and Avihu and not those of Mishael and Eltzafan?

Can you figure out what allowed Rashi to draw such a conclusion?

Your Answer:

Understanding Rashi

I will present two answers that are given to this question. Which of the two seems best to you?

* An answer given here is that כתנות were one of the priestly garments and not the garb of the Levites. And since Mishael and Eltzafan were Levites and not priests, these robes must be those of the dead priests, Nadav and Avihu.

* Another answer given is that if these were the robes of Mishael and Eltzafan there would be no point in the Torah mentioning it. It is an irrelevant piece of information.

Which answer seems best to you?


Your Choice:

Understanding Rashi's Thinking

An Answer: It seems to me that only the second answer reflects Rash's logical thinking style. First of all, the Levites almost certainly had their own robes even if they weren't the linen robes that the priests wore. They wore something, why not robes? So these could have been the non-priestly robes of Mishael and Eltzafan. But more to the point: If they were the robes of Mishael and Eltzafan, why are they mentioned at all? This would be an irrelevant fact. Rashi is always hyper sensitive to any extra words in the Torah and the need to explain them. In fact, all Torah commentary (including the Talmud ) is based on this approach. The Torah does not tell us anything irrelevant to its message. To tell us that Mishael and Eltzafan dragged out the bodies while wearing their robes or with their robes, would be perhaps thorough reporting, but it would not enlighten us in any significant way. But if, on the other hand, these were the robes of the deceased, that meant that the fire that consumed Nadav and Avihu, didn't touch their clothing. Before the microwave, this was quite a feat! Thus, as Rashi continues, it teaches us the miraculous way Nadav and Avihu were killed by this Divine fire.

So only the second explanation for Rashi's comment gives a logically constructed answer. The kind that epitomizes Rashi style.

The Lesson

When trying to understand Rashi's reason for one of his comments, think in terms of what is apparently redundant in the verse. What meaning might this redundancy carry? In this way we can get into Rashi's mental shoes and understand his way of thinking.

Shabbat Shalom
Avigdor Bonchek

"What's Bothering Rashi?" is a production of "The Institute for the Study of Rashi." The 5 Volume set is available at all Jewish bookstores.

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