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

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Vol. 9   No. 26

This issue is sponsored l'iluy Nishmas Chanah bas Yosef z.l.

Parshas Shemini

Nadav and Avihu

Nadav and Avihu died for bringing into the Mishkan a strange fire "which they had not been commanded to bring". It is not at first clear what is meant by this. Chazal, evidently viewing it at different levels, offer a number of interpretations. Rashi quotes the following two. Rebbi Eliezer attributes the death of Aharon's sons to their having issued a Halachic ruling in the presence of their Rebbe, Moshe; whereas according to Rebbi Yishmael, they were punished for entering the Mishkan after having drunk wine.

Rashi himself, at the beginning of Acharei-Mos, intimates that they died for entering the Holy of Holies (particularly, as others point out, before their father Aharon had had a chance to do so).

The Ba'al ha'Turim, commenting on the extra 'Vav' (whose numerical value is six) in the word "va'tochal osom", lists six reasons, the first two cited by Rashi, plus the following four:

1. ... for offering a voluntary incense offering, though the Ketores could only be obligatorily, twice daily.
2. ... for failing to marry and have children.
3. ... for anticipating Moshe and Aharon's death, so that they could take over the reigns of leadership of K'lal Yisrael.
4. ... for acting independently without consulting the leaders, or even each other.

According to Rabeinu Bachye, their sin lay in the fact that they literally brought a strange fire from outside, instead of taking coals from the Mizbei'ach ha'Olah. Alternatively, he says, they sinned by bringing the Ketores to the Midas ha'Din (which is the source of the Ketores) and not to the Midas ho'Rachamim (Hashem). Whereas according to the Ramban, their sin seems to have been that they placed the fire in the pan before the Ketores, instead of the other way round. (See also Parshah Pearls, 'Playing with Fire'.)


Most of these sins do not appear to be that serious, certainly not serious enough to warrant the death-sentence. In some of the cases in fact, their actions seem to have been an attempt at getting closer to Hashem, making one wonder why, considering their pure motives, Nadav and Avihu, deserved to die, even if they did perhaps, err in the process? Five possible answers come to mind:

1. There are of course, big sins and small sins. The various punishments, beginning with mere Teshuvah, and then ranging from just a Korban through to death by stoning, indicate the severity of the sin. Aside from this scale however, we are not competent to judge what is considered 'big' and what is considered 'small' (indeed, that very scale demonstrates just how little we understand about the 'size' of Mitzvos and Aveiros). Clearly, 'big' and 'small' in this area, are relative terms, and are set by the same Supreme Judge who initiated the Mitzvos and the Aveiros, as well as the system of reward and punishment.

But when it comes to Kodshim, it stands to reason that one must be more cautious than by most other sins. Someone who enters the king's palace, must take great care to conform with royal protocol. He must be aware that as long as he is there, his every action will be scrutinized to a degree that he could not conceive outside the palace. Consequently, he must adopt a more dignified and refined code of conduct there than he is accustomed to anywhere else outside the palace. And if proof is needed, the number of Miysos connected with the Avodah for seemingly insignificant infringements (such as a Kohen served after having drunk a glass of wine, or anyone who even just entered the precincts of the Beis-Hamikdash whilst he was Tamei)

2. It may well be, that any one of the above sins on their own, would have been considered minimal, but who's to say that Nadav and Avihu did not die for having committed all of them? And of course, the accumulative impact of a number of small sins performed simultaneously cannot be overestimated. We might compare this to the sin of Lashon ha'Ra, which is considered the worst of sins, the Chafetz Chayim explains, not necessarily because of its intrinsic evil, but because of the accumulative effect of the ongoing prattle of the person with a loose tongue.

3. Nadav and Avihu, as Rashi explains, were among the greatest Tzadikim of their generation, perhaps even greater than Moshe and Aharon, as Moshe himself put it to Aharon. That being the case, the size of the sin is not necessarily relevant, for so Chazal have said 'G-d is particular with his pious ones, for as much as a hairsbreadth'. And that explains why so many Tzadikim, starting with the Avos ... Moshe ... David ... had to pay such a heavy price for seemingly trivial sins, even when they were performed unintentionally.

5. Sometimes G-d punishes stringently for a small sin even there where He would have overlooked a far bigger one, simply because it was performed in public, and a sin performed in public, such as the one under discussion, constitutes a Chilul Hashem. Indeed, this is how Rashi (Bamidbar 20:12) explains Moshe's severe punishment for striking the rock, as against his having queried G-d's Omnipotence, (a seemingly far more serious offence) for which no punishment is recorded. In fact, the previous answer (that Tzadikim are punished more stringently than others), is no doubt due to the same consideration, since the greater the Tzadik, the more his sin affects the people in adverse ways, and the greater the Chilul Hashem.

6. Rashi at the end of Mishpatim quotes a Medrash Tanchuma who explains that Nadav and Avihu, as well as the elders, saw a vision of Hashem whilst eating and drinking. For this lack of respect, the Medrash explains, they deserved to die there and then. However, not wishing to disturb the Simchah of Matan Torah, G-d waited for a suitable opportunity to carry out the death-sentence. Consequently, when that opportunity arose, the smallest excuse would suffice for this to take place, and that excuse turned out to be one of the above sins, irrespective of its size. It was no more than the catalyst that goaded Divine Justice into action, not the cause of the punishment.


Parshah Pearls

On the Eighth Day

"And it was on the eighth day, Moshe called Aharon and his sons ... " (9:1).

Rabeinu Bachye ascribes the choice of the eighth day to inaugurate the Aharon as Kohen Gadol to the fact that the number eight figured so prominently in the realm of the Mishkan:

The Kohen Gadol wore eight garments (the Tzitz, the Choshen, the Eifod, the Me'il, the shirt, the hat [or turban] and the breeches); the spices of the anointing oil and the Ketores added up to eight (Mor, Kinmon, Koneh, and Kidoh in the former, and Notof, Shecheiles Chelbenah and Levonah in the latter).

There were eight poles (badim) altogether (two for the Aron, two for the Shulchan, two for the Golden Mizbei'ach and two for the Mizbei'ach ho'Olah - perhaps Rabeinu Bachye precludes the pole with which they carried the Menorah, because it was called a 'mot' and not 'badim' like the others).

It hardly needs to be said that the significance of the number eight in this area, lies in its symbolizing the Supernatural, which is well-known, particuplarly in connection with the Chanukah-lights.


How Much Can You Eat?

"And tell the B'nei Yisrael to take a goat for a sin-offering" (9:3).

They brought four sin-offerings on that day, two for the Milu'im (one for Aharon and one for Yisrael), the Musaf of Rosh Chodesh (Nisan) and the inaugural offering of Nachshon ben Aminadav.

Considering that initially, there were only five male Kohanim (Aharon and his four sons), and a sin-offering can only be eaten by male Kohanim, how could five Kohanim possibly eat four goats? Nor is one permitted to leave Kodshim uneaten, causing them to become Nosar?

Tosfos actually speaks of four Kohanim eating four goats, but in fact, Aharon and his four sons (Nadav, Avihu, Elazar and Isamar) numbered five; moreover, only three of the sin-offerings were goats, that of Aharon was a calf.


When it came to the crunch, of course, Nadav and Avihu were no longer alive to eat the sin-offerings, and the sin-offering of Nachshon (see Rashi 10:18) was burned. This left three sin-offerings to be eaten by Aharon alone, who was commanded to eat them, despite the fact that he was an Onan (though his sons were not - see Rosh that follows).

I quote the Rosh (commenting on the words of Aharon "ve'ochalti Chatos ha'yom va'tikrenoh osi ko'eileh, ha'yitav be'Einei Hashem" [10:19]): 'I have already eaten two sin-offerings today, that of Nachshon (in which point he disagrees with Rashi) and that of the day, and I am full). "And now this misfortune has befallen me! (that [two of] my sons who would have helped me eat the rest, died [rendering the other two Onenim, who cannot eat Kodshim either]). Would it be right in the eyes of G-d" (to eat a sin-offering knowing that some of it will become Nosar?)'.


In answer to Tosfos orginal Kashya, there springs to mind the Gemara in Pesachim 57a., which praises a Kohen by the name of Yochanan ben Naharvai, who, together with the members of his large household, would consume three hundred calves and drink three hundred barrels of wine, not to speak of an enormous quantity of birds, all Kodshim, to prevent them from becoming Nosar. One can assume that, under normal circumstances, this would be an impossible task. However, when a person is determined to perform a Mitzvah, then, no matter how difficult it is, as often as not, he receives Divine assistance, enabling to perform feats of which he would not otherwise have dreamt of performing. And this is reminiscent of Bisyah, Paroh's daughter, who stretched out her hand to retrieve the box that contained Moshe from the middle of the river, and succeeded.

Presumably, neither the Tzidkus nor the resolve of Yochanan ben Naharvai surpassed that of Aharon and his sons. Consequently, what he was able to achieve, they were able to achieve too.


Aharon and Micha'el

"Ki ha'yom Hashem nir'ah aleichem" (because today Hashem will appear to you)" 9:4.

The letters of "nir'ah aleichem" if rearranged, spell 'Aharon, Micha'el', comments the Rosh. To demonstrate to all that Aharon was pardoned for the role that he played in the Golden Calf, he explains, the Shechinah appeared publicly to the whole nation, as the Torah writes here specifically. And not only that, he adds, but Micha'el, Yisrael's defense counsel, was appointed in Heaven as Kohen Gadol (as Chazal relate elsewhere).

And that is why the Pasuk in Tehillim writes (133:2) "Like the good oil on the head, that drips down to the beard, the beard of Aharon ... ". David repeated the word "beard" twice, once with reference to Aharon, and once with reference to Micha'el.


Playing with Fire

"And a fire went out from before G-d ... " (9:24). Their death was truly 'Midah neged midah', explains the Rosh. What was their sin (see main article)?

True, we have a principle by Korbanos, that even though a fire would descend from heaven, it is a Mitzvah to bring human fire ("Return to Me and I will return to you" - Mal'achi 3:7).

However, that is only once the Divine fire has taken effect. Nadav and Avihu acted presumptuously by bringing fire before the Heavenly fire had ever descended. That is why they were struck by the very same fire that they preempted, as it came to do its job.


However, the Rosh concludes, the Gemara in Yuma does not take this view. According to the Gemara, it was not because they brought fire that they died, but because they ruled in the presence of their Rebbe, Moshe Rabeinu, that it is a mitzvah to bring human fire, as we explained.


Whose Clothes?

"And a fire went out and consumed them (osom)" - ibid.

In fact, the fire consumed them but not their clothes. Interestingly, in this point, their death resembled the punishment of s'reifah {burning), as carried out by the Beis-din. There too, the sentence entailed pouring boiling lead down the throat, burning the culprit's inside, but leaving his body and his clothes intact. The Gemara extrapolates this from the word "osom" - 'them, but not their clothes'.

Why do we need a Pasuk, asks Tosfos? Surely we know this already from the Pasuk later which describes how Mishael and Eltzafan carried them out 'by their shirts'?


However, replies Tosfos, if not for "Osom" we would have interpreted the latter Pasuk to mean that they carried them wrapped in Mishael and Eltzafan's own shirts. We would have translated the word ("be'kutonosom"), not as 'by their shirts, but as 'with their shirts'.


Incidentally, the Rosh finds a hint for the above in the words "va'tochal osom va'yomusu", which has the same numerical value as 'nafsham nisrefah ve'ha'guf kayemes' (their soul was burnt but their bodies remained intact').



The Amidah
(based largely on the Siddur "Otzar ha'Tefillos")
(Part XXI)

S'lach Lonu ... Ki Foshonu

The Eitz Yosef cites the Ya'aros D'vash, who explains the flow of the text of the B'rachah of S'lach lonu ... based on the premise that 'poshei'a' is someone who has repeated his sin three times (as the Gemara explains in Beitzah). Consequently, we ask Hashem to forgive us completely, like a father ('S'lach lonu Ovinu') for our once off sins ('ki chotonu'), but to pardon us at least partially ('m'chal lonu Malkeinu') like a King pardons his subjects ('ki foshonu'), for the sins that we repeated over and over again. Because it is this repetition that transforms us into posh'im, and changes our status from children before a Father to servants before a King.


In addition, 'Mechilah' (as opposed to Selichah) implies that although Hashem pardons us, this is only in conjunction with retribution, which must accompany His pardon.

Consequently, says the Ya'aros D'vash, this B'rachah needs to be recited with bitter tears, imploring Hashem not to smite us with the pain and suffering that we perhaps deserve, but that will result in Bitul Torah and Tefilah. For Chazal have said that the gates of tears are never shut. And if we beseech Hashem to accept our tears in lieu of the suffering that He has in store for us, maybe in His mercy, He will accept our prayers and let us off the hook for much less.


Ki Mochel ve'Solei'ach Atoh

Following the pattern set by the first half of the Brachah, we ought to have reversed the order and said 'ki solei'ach u'mochel Atoh'. We invert the order, explains the Eitz Yosef, in the form of a prayer that Hashem should forgive our more serious sins (signified by 'Mochel', as we explained earlier) and turn them into lesser ones (as signified by 'Solei'ach'). Much in the same way as Chazal point out out in Rosh Hashanah, to explain why the Torah writes "Nosei Avon vo'Fesha ve'Chata'ah ", when one would have expected "Fesha", which is the most stringent of all, to have appeared last.


Alternatively, Chazal might have had a different reason for inverting the order, because of what we wrote above, rather than in spite of it. Hashem sometimes forgives partially, we are saying, and what's more, He sometimes forgives completely (progressing from the small Chidush to the big one, as is the way of Chazal).

And thirdly, Chazal may have inverted the order, in order to juxtapose 'solei'ach' next to 'Chanun ha'marbeh li's'lo'ach' at the conclusion of the B'rachah, as is customary in the realm of Tefilah.


Chanun ha'Marbeh li'S'lo'ach

This implies that Hashem forgives our sins again and again, even though, by constantly repeating them, we make a mockery of His forgiveness. Nevertheless, He always accepts us when we ask Him to, irrespective of how many times we have already asked Him to forgive that very same sin. His patience never runs out. He always responds graciously ('Chanun ha'Marbeh li's'lo'ach').

And perhaps the title 'Chanun' also hints at Hashem's graciousness in forgiving our sins in the first place, even when we are being sincere, despite the fact that the very concept of forgiveness regarding sins against G-d defies logic, as we explained above. And if His forgiveness is an act of grace when our Teshuvah is sincere, how much more so when when it is not!


Re'ei No ve'Onyeinu ...

This B'rachah, says the Levush, corresponds to the angels, who proclaimed 'Go'el Yisrael', when Hashem said in Egypt "and I will redeem you".


Chazal fixed this as the seventh B'rachah, Chazal explain in Megilah (even though 'Refo'einu' should really have followed 'S'lach lonu', since they are juxtaposed in Tehilim [103:3]), because the redemption will take place in the seventh year. Strictly speaking, it will take place in the eighth year. However, since the war leading to the Mashi'ach will begin in the seventh year, that is considered the beginning of the redemption.

And besides, says the Levush, the redemption certainly requires Teshuvah and forgiveness as a prerequisite, whereas G-d, in His Divine Mercy, is prepared to heal the sick, even without prerequisites.


The gist of this B'rachah is that G-d should redeem us, to enable us to live free of pain and trouble, in order to study Torah and perform Mitzvos undisturbed and without sin. That is why we say 'and redeem us speedily for the sake of Your Name' (the Levush).

Rashi however, maintains that the redemption referred to here is not that of Mashi'ach, but of salvation from our day to day troubles. Otherwise, he says, it would not belong here, but later in the Amidah, closer to 'Sh'ma Koleinu', where these issues are discussed.


Incidentally, the (original) twelve middle B'rachos are divided into two groups of six, the commentaries explain. The first six B'rachos deal with matters that concern our current stay in this world, and which mainly take the form of mundane requests (starting with knowledge through to parnasah. Whereas the second six B'rachos (seven nowadays) are connected with the times of Mashi'ach and beyond. One wonders whether this is not connected with the two rows of bread (comprising the Lechem ha'Panim) on the Shulchan.

And this too, bears out Rashi's explanation, seeing as the first group of B'rachos deal with matters concerning our stay in this world.


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