Thoughts on the Weekly Parshah by HaRav Eliezer Chrysler
Formerly Rav of Mercaz Ahavat Torah, Johannesburg

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Vol. 4 No. 26

Parshas Shemini (Hachodesh)


The potential damage inherent in wine did not take long to become exploited, and we find Odom Ho'rishon committing his fatal sin because of the wine he had drunk at his own wedding, causing untold suffering and ultimate death to himself and to the whole of mankind.

The Da'as Zekeinim mi'ba'alei Tosfos (on whose words this entire essay is based), commenting on the prohibition of the Cohanim from drinking wine before doing the "avodoh" in the Beis Ha'mikdosh, explains at length how the mind can easily be affected and sometimes even impaired, by excessive drinking. True, wine drunk in moderation and at the right time has the ability to soothe and to calm a person who is agitated, and even to bring him to a state of happiness. This in turn, may well enhance his spirits and improve his thinking ability, which is why R. Chonon said: "Wine was created solely to comfort the mourners", yet he added "and to reward the wicked". Drinking the correct amount at the correct moment is a rare art that, it would seem, so many people do not easily master.

The Da'as Zekeinim cites a list of famous figures, whose downfall was caused by drinking either too much or at the wrong time: No'ach, who brought disgrace upon himself and ended up cursing his son Chom; Nodov and Avihu, Aharon's two sons, whose sin was attributed to having drunk wine before entering the Mishkon (which is why the Torah immediately follows the episode of Nodov and Avihu with the admonition that the Cohanim abstain from drinking wine before doing the avodoh). Nodov and Avihu subsequently died for entering the Mishkon in that state. And he also cites the ten tribes, who were exiled largely on account of their excessive wine-drinking, as well as "the rebellious son", who is put to death because he drank wine excessively.

Playing on the similarity between the Hebrew words for cup and purse (kos and kis), the Da'as Zekeinim quotes a saying: "The drunkard looks at the cup (koso) and the wine-seller looks at his (the drunkard's) purse (kiso)".

A man's attraction to women becomes compulsive, he explains, when he has drunk wine, and he says things that would normally make him blush. Not only does "avodoh zoroh" become feasible, as we see from the golden calf, by which the revelry only began after they had drunk wine, but adultery and murder also fall within the realms of possibility. Nothing in fact, remains out of reach, once wine takes control of the person, and the person loses control of himself.

It is because of the role that wine plays in sin that Rabbi Akiva, at a banquet at his son's wedding, would accompany each cup of wine with the words, "Wine and life (as opposed to the death that Odom Ha'rishon's drinking caused) to the mouths of the Rabbis and of their disciples". No doubt, this is the source of the custom to raise one's glass and to say "lechayim", (insinuating "to life", and not "to death"). That is also the source of the "kos shel brochoh", the cup of blessing that accompanies many mitzvos - Kiddush, Havdoloh, Birchas ha'mozon, weddings, etc. It is to teach us that, as long as wine is drunk at the time and in the right place (and which better time and place can there be than at a table of mitzvah), it is achieving a positive purpose - even to the point of rectifying the original sin by using it correctlly in the ultimate service of G-d.

Yes, wine has very positive uses, but basically, the dangers of wine-drinking are potent and far-reaching. Chazal tell us that a person's true character is revealed in one of three ways - one of them being "through his cup". If a person cannot guarantee full self-control after drinking, then he should not drink. And that is even said at Se'udas Purim, when it is a mitzvah to drink wine.


Adapted from the Torah Temimah

Human Flesh

"Ach es zeh lo sochlu" (11:4). The word "ach" always comes to exclude. Chazal therefore make a d'roshoh "This (the camel etc.) is forbidden, but not the flesh of those that walk on two legs - humans (had they used the conventional "odom", we would have thought that the flesh of non-Jews is not included in this concession, since only Jews are called "Odom" - Torah Temimah).

According to the Rambam, there is an Isur Asei min ha'Torah to eat the flesh of a live person, since the flesh of a dead person is anyway ossur be'hano'oh.

The Ramban and the Rashbo however, disagree. In their opinion, the Toras Cohanim, which the Rambam brings as proof, is only an "Asmachta", so that there is nothing more than an issur de'Rabbonon to eat human flesh. (The precise wording of the Gemoro that we quoted at the outset, would appear to support their opinion, since it writes "I might have thought that human flesh is also ossur, therefore the Torah writes "Ach" etc. This suggests that human flesh is not ossur at all. Had there nevertheless been an issur asei, the Gemoro should have written "chayav" instead of "osur", from which we could have insinuated that one is not chayav for eating human flesh, though there may well be an issur asei.)

Human Blood and Milk

The posuk concludes "tamei hu lochem", on which Chazal comment - "hu tomei", it is tomei, but the milk and blood of humans is tohor (permitted). Everyone agrees however, that human blood is ossur de'Rabbonon once it has emerged from the body.

The Torah Temimah brings a proof for the opinion of the Rambam, whom we quoted above as saying that although there is no la'av for eating human flesh, there is an asei.

In that case, we understand why the Torah needed to permit human blood and milk. But, according to the Ramban and Rashbo, in whose opinion human flesh is permitted by the Torah, why should the Torah need to permit human blood and milk?

The Torah Temimah's proof is based on the principle that, whatever comes from something which is not kosher, is itself not kosher and vice-versa.

His proof however, is unclear, since, from the blood of kosher animals, it is evident that blood (and consequently milk, which is a derivative of blood) is not ossur merely because it comes from a non-kosher animal, but because it is intrinsically rejected by the Torah. In that case, the Torah will need to inform us that human blood is not included in the prohibition of blood which pertains to all the other animals, in spite of the fact that the flesh is permitted.

To be Tahor on Yom-tov

"Do not touch their carcasses" (because touching the carcass of a dead animal renders one tomei). (11:8)

"But how can that be?" asks the Gemoro. (Rosh Hashonoh 16b) Even Tum'as meis, which is stricter than Tum'as Neveiloh, is confined only to Cohanim. So how can Yisre'eilim be prohibited from becoming Teme'ei Neveiloh? The Gemoro therefore concludes that the possuk is speaking about Yom-tov, when it is a mitzvah to be tohor (in order to appear before Hashem in the Azoroh with the Olas Re'iyoh).

Therefore, the Gemoro concludes, everyone is obligated to make himself tohor on Yom-tov.

Here again, the Ramban disagrees with the Rambam, who learns that we are dealing here with a Torah obligation. According to the Ramban, this is only an asmachto mide'Rabbonon. But in any event, everyone agrees that nowadays, when we have no Beis Ha'mikdosh and no Korbonos, the obligation to be tohor for Yom-tov is no more than a mitzvah de'Rabbonon.

A Fishy Business

A fish must have fins and scales in order to be kosher. In fact, there is no such fish that has only scales and no fins - if it has scales, then it will have fins (even if one cannot see them - for whatever reason). (Chullin 66b)

Consequently, any fish that has only scales is kosher. So why did the Torah write fins at all? In order to emphasize the Torah's greatness (See Torah Temimah 11:32). To demonstrate that the Torah knows everything, because one will never find a species of fish which has scales but no fins.

A fish with one scale and one fin is kosher, because the Torah uses the singular - "a fin and a scale". (Toras Cohanim)

A fish which had fins and scales, but shed them before leaving the water, is nevertheless kosher.

More Fishy Business

Rabeinu Bachye cites Chazal, who derive from the possuk "and their carcasses you shall abhor" (4:11) (written by the fish), that it is forbidden to do business with non-kosher species of fish, in the same way as the Torah forbids one to do business with non-kosher animals. And the Torah writes "their carcasses" to teach that the prohibition applies whether the fish are alive or dead.

The prohibition only extends to trading in the above goods, but not to selling an animal that one comes by casually, through inheritance, or by some other casual means - that is permitted.


(Shemini) (Shmuel II 6:1-7:17)

We learn from the death of Nodov and Avihu , with how much respect we must treat those things that are holy. On the one hand, they are the source of indescribable pleasure and benefit, both physical and spiritual, provided one handles them with the reverence that is due to them. But on the other, one dare not take them for granted, because, like a fire that provides warmth and heat, they are lethal if one handles them carelessly.

Nodov and Avihu failed to keep their distance, entering into an area that was forbidden to them, and a similar occurrence took place whilst Dovid Ha'melech was transferring the Oron Ha'kodosh from Kiryas Ye'orim (the current location of Telstone) to Yerusholayim. The Oron had been in Kiryas Ye'orim for the past twenty years, since the men of Beit-Shemesh died for treating it with disrespect in the days of Sh'muel Ha'novi. (See Sh'muel I, end of Chap. 6)

The Oron had been placed onto a new wagon, which in turn, was being drawn by two oxen, when suddenly the oxen slipped. Uzzo, one of the two Cohanim who had been appointed to accompany the Oron, and who was walking respectfully beside it, quickly grabbed hold of it, to prevent if from sliding off the wagon. G-d was angry with Uzzo, and he paid for his mistake with his life. What was his mistake? He should have known that the very same Oron that transported the Cohanim who carried it across the River Jordan, as described in Yehoshua (Chapter 4), could certainly carry itself, and was hardly in jeopardy of falling. Consequently, there was no justification in grabbing hold of the Oron, and that is why he died. He came too close to the Holy, just as Nodov and Avihu had done in their time.

Although the sin is attributed to Uzzo, the indirect cause of the incident is ascribed to Dovid Ha'melech, who should have known that the Oron must be carried on the shoulders, not on a wagon.

The mistake occurred because Dovid had previously referred to the words of Torah as "songs", and it is difficult to understand how Dovid Ha'melech could possibly have erred in a direct possuk ("they shall carry it on their shoulders", Bamidbor 7:9). The Redak gives two explanations: 1) It was only in the desert, when the other sections of the dismantled Mishkon were transported on wagons, that it was necessary to give kovod to the Oron (and the other Holy Vessels) by carrying them on their shoulders. Once the Mishkon ceased to exist, that no longer seemed relevant. 2) Dovid Ha'melech simply took his cue from the P'lishtim, who returned the Oron on a wagon. Nothing happened to them, so Dovid figured that it must be in order to do that (maybe, he thought, carrying it on the shoulders only applied to the desert, not to Eretz Yisroel). (See also "Gems", Parshas Nosso, 5715)

Why in fact, were the P'lishtim not punished? Because, "how could they possibly have known better?" ,answers the Redak. On the contrary, they gave the Oron much kovod by sending it on a new wagon and by using cows that had never before carried a yoke. But this was not the case with Dovid Ha'melech, who had the Torah as a guide. He should have known that carrying the Oron on a wagon is prohibited. (It is not clear why the Redak does not answer simply - because the P'lishtim were not commanded to refrain from placing the Oron on a wagon - Dovid Ha'melech was.)

But the beauty of the Haftorah must lie, at least in part, in the sequel to the above episode. Dovid Ha'melech, angry with himself for his error, and frightened to take the Oron to his city Yerusholayim, places it in the temporary care of Oved Edom the Gitti (a Levi). An amazing thing then happens - both Oved Edom's wife and each of his eight daughters-in-law give birth within the year, to sextuplets.

When Dovid is told about this, he realises that one does not need to fear the Oron, but to treat it with due respect, in which case it becomes the greatest source of blessing. He then proceeds immediately, amidst great pomp and ceremony, to transfer the Oron to its rightful home in Yerusholayim. On the way, he prances energetically in front of the Oron, in a way that Michal, his wife, finds unbecoming for a King in the presence of his subjects. When she points this out to Dovid, he replies that he was dancing before G-d, who chose him over Shaul her father (i.e. that he was simply relegating his own kovod in the face of G-d's, and that he was willing to relegate it even further, if need be).

Why did Dovid see fit to make mention here of King Shaul? Presumably, it was to remind his wife that her father lost his kingdom for putting his own kovod before that of Hashem - when he acceded to the people, allowing them to bring back animals for sacrifices, although G-d had ordered all the captured animals to be killed. He Dovid, was chosen to succeed Shaul only because he placed G-d's honour before his own.

It may also well be that by dancing wildly before the Oron, denigrating his own dignity before the Torah's, he atoned for the sin that had so worried him, namely, that of carrying the Oron on a wagon, and the sin that had caused that, denigration of kovod ha'Torah, by referring to it as songs.

Yisochor Ish Kfar Barkai

In last week's edition (in "Gems") we inadvertently omitted to mention that Yisochor Ish Kfar Barkai insisted on doing the Avodah in the Beis Ha'mikdosh with gloves, in order not to dirty his hands with the blood of the Korbonos - in spite of the halochoh that requires the Cohanim to work with their bare hands.

His punishment therefore, was truly "midoh keneged midoh".

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