by Dr. Avigdor Bonchek
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Parashas Shemini (71)
The sedra describes the sacrifices offered on the eighth day of dedications - the final day of dedicating the Mishkan. On that day there were two kinds of offerings - those which were to be in the future as the regular daily offerings and those special for this dedication ceremony. Then on this auspicious day a tragedy occurred - two sons of Aaron, the High priest, died in a fire from G-d. Aaron was the central figure of the dedication ceremonies. A dilemma was created - what offerings could the mourning Aaron be allowed to bring. Should he continue "business as usual" in spite of his personal loss or should ceremonies be suspended because of the tragedy. Aaron and his two remaining sons were commanded by Moses not to observe the customary mourning rites.
Moses had been commanded by G-d (verse 10:13) to have the kohanim offer and personally partake of the meal offering. Aaron offered some sacrifices and then an argument ensued between Moses and Aaron. Moses got angry with Aaron and his sons for not eating the sin offering. Aaron defended himself by telling Moses if he was permitted to offer the special sacrifices of the day that didn't mean he could partake of the regular offerings. When Moses heard this he admitted Aaron's reasoning was correct and that he, Moses, had erred. Then we have our verse.
And Moses heard and it was good in his eyes
and it was good in his eyes: Rashi: He admitted [his error] and was not ashamed saying, 'I have not heard it [but I heard and forgot it].'
HOW TO READ THIS RASHI
Just making sense of Rashi's words is a challenge unto itself! How should we read them?
There are two possibilities:
1) Moses was not embarrassed and he admitted: "I have not heard it."
2) He did not say, due to embarrassment, 'I did not hear' but rather he admitted saying 'I heard but I forgot.'
It is not easy to decide which is the correct reading because both possibilities have some backing in the Talmud.
It says in "Pirkei Avos ( 5;7) we find: One of the seven signs of a wise man is "About those matters which he has not heard he says 'I have not heard.'
On the other hand there is an interesting passage in Talmud Pesachim (66a). Where Hillel was chosen to be the Nasi because he knew the law regarding offering the Pesach sacrifice on Shabbos, while the Bnei Bessara had forgotten the law. The day Hillel was appointed he taught the people many laws, and was taunted by the Bnei Bessara. He was angry and yelled at them and said "What caused me to be appointed Nasi and you to lose the Nasi position? Because you were lazy and did not learn from your two great teachers, Shemaya and Avtalyon!" Then they asked Hillel another question and he said " I had heard it but I forgot it!"
So we see a similar answer by Hillel, which was certainly an indication of his modesty.
But of the two possibilities most commentaries on Rashi think the second one is the correct one. Because the first one says Moses was not embarrassed to say "I have not heard it" - but what is embarrassing about saying I have not heard it? But to say I heard but forgot is an admittance of failure, and that is embarrassing.
Let us go back to our basic question;
What is bothering Rashi that led him to this comment?
WHAT IS BOTHERING RASHI?
An Answer: The verse says: And Moses heard and it was good in his eyes. There is a redundancy here. Moses heard certainly doesn't mean his ears picked up Aaron's words. Of course, Moses was not deaf. The word "to hear" means to accept or agree with. Like we might say "I hear what you are saying" means I hear your point of view, meaning I accept to some extent what you say. Like (Genesis 37:27) "Let us sell him to the Ishmaelites…for he is our brother..' His brothers heard him" meaning they agreed. So once the verse said Moses heard we already know he agreed with Aaron, why the next words "and it was good in his eyes" ? What does that add to Moses agreeing to Aaron?
It is the extra words that led Rashi to make his comment.
How does the comment deal with the redundancy?
An Answer: 'Moses heard" only means he agreed. But Moses could have agreed silently by not putting up an argument, it was a passive agreement. The added words - and it was good in his eyes- mean Moses did more than just agree quietly, he also openly admitted his error.
AN INTERESTING LESSON IN DERECH ERETZ
When we compare the case of Moses hearing and forgetting the law with case of Hillel hearing and forgetting the law we can learn an interesting lesson. Moses got angry with the sons of Aaron for their apparent error. Then soon afterwards he himself made an error in understanding the law (as Aaron pointed out to him).
Similarly with Hillel who was angry with the Bnei Bessara and yelled at them, then soon afterwards he too forgot the law. Anger, as Rashi points out (Numbers 31:21) causes one to forget his learning.
But what is laudable in both cases is that in spite the fact that their egos where heavily invested in this argument (they had both lost their tempers) never the less they both were able to admit their error. A sign of true leadership and greatness.
"What's Bothering Rashi?" is produced by the Institute for the Study of Rashi and Early Commentaries. The five volume set of "What's Bothering Rashi?" is available at all Judaica bookstores.
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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