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

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Vol. 10   No. 26

This issue is sponsored
with wishes for a Refu'ah Sh'leimah for
Aharon ben Chayah n.y.
and Nancy Sharon bas Sophia n.y.

Parshas Shemini (Ha'Chodesh)

Two (Not So) Independent Mitzvos

Although the Mitzvah of Kidush ha'Chodesh is an independent Mitzvah, its application is deeply affected by the Mitzvah of Korban Pesach. More precisely, Yetzi'as Mitzrayim, which served as the basis for the Korban Pesach, also affects the application of Kidush ha'Chodesh. And that explains why the two, which are basically independent Mitzvos, appear together in Parshas ha'Chodesh.

In fact, so deep is the influence of Yetzi'as Mitzrayim on the Mitzvah of Kidush ha'Chodesh, that the Torah does not deign to speak about declaring Rosh Chodesh per se, only about declaring Rosh Chodesh Nisan as the head of the months, "ha'Chodesh ha'zeh lochem Rosh Chodoshim". Regarding the remaining eleven months, Rosh Chodesh is self-understood.


Prior to Yetzi'as Mitzrayim, Tishri was considered the first month. The world, after all, was created in Tishri (according to Rebbi Eliezer, whose opinion is the accepted one), so it stands to reason that the first month should coincide with the beginning of the year. Indeed, as far as the rest of the world is concerned, Tishri, from a Halachic point of view, is the first month. But from our point of view, Nisan is the head of the months. In fact, the Torah already broadly hints at this seemingly strange discrepancy, when it writes "ha'Chodesh ha'Zeh lochem Rosh Chodoshim" - implying that the change that is about to take place will affect you (Yisrael) but not the rest of the world.

Practically speaking, this distinction manifests itself with regard to the dating of documents, as the Mishnah in Rosh Hashanah clearly indicates. The opening Mishnah there lists as the first month of the year (with regard to documentation) first Nisan and then Tishri, and the Gemara establishes the former, with regard to Jewish kings, and the latter, to gentile kings. Sure enough, throughout the period that we dated documents after the Greek empire, the second and subsequent years of the king's reign would commence on the first of Tishri. Whereas, when dating them after Jewish kings, the second and subsequent years would begin in Nisan.

Interestingly, the two Mitzvos currently under discussion are both contained in the Mishnah's statement 'be'Echad be'Nisan Rosh Hashanah li'Melachim ve'li'Regalim'.


Even though the only practical application of Nisan as the head of the months concerns the dating of documents, in the world of Machshavah it has far deeper connotations.

The Ramban explains how, just as we fulfil the Mitzvah of remembering Shabbos, by calling the days of the week (which have no names of their own) 'the first day' (leading towards Shabbos), 'the second day', and so on, so too, do we fulfil the Mitzvah of remembering the Exodus from Egypt by calling the months of the year 'the first month' (of our nationhood), 'the second month' and so on.

This may have changed with the Exodus from Bavel, when we focus on the miracle of the Exodus from Bavel, by referring to the Babylonian names that the months adopted from that time on, as the Ramban himself explain. Nonetheless, the fact that Nisan is the head of the months, has not changed. Consequently, whenever we recall it (even by virtue of the way we list the months), we are attaching importance to Yetzi'as Mitzrayim, in the spirit of the Mitzvah of 'Zeicher li'Yetzi'as Mitzrayim'.


At a more simple level, we can understand the connection between the Mitzvah of Kidush ha'Chodesh and that of the Korban Pesach, by bearing in mind that in the year that Yisrael left Egypt, the Mitzvah of Kidush ha'Chodesh took on special practical significance. On the tenth of that month they were destined to participate in the great miracle that was 'Yetzi'as Mitzrayim', as indeed the Torah continues in the Pasuk that follows. Indeed, it was only due to that participation, that the miracle could possibly take place (see Rashi Bo 12:6). In other words, the combination of Rosh Chodesh, Nisan and the Korban Pesach are what set the great miracle of Yetzi'as Mitzrayim in motion. And that is what Parshas ha'Chodesh is all about.


Parshah Pearls

Two Levels of Sin

"Take for yourself a calf from the herd as a Chatas (a sin-offering)" (9:2).

This teaches us, says Rashi, that this calf would serve to atone for Aharon's role in the sin of the Eigel ha'Zahav. B'nei Yisrael too, received an atonement here for their role, only they brought a calf as an Olah (a burnt-offering). Why the difference?

The Chasam Sofer attributes this distinction to the fact that whereas Yisrael sinned intentionally, Aharon's sin was unintentional. That being the case, it was appropriate for Yisrael to bring an Olah, since it is common to bring an Olah for a sin involving Machshavah (thoughts). Aharon, on the other hand, brought a Chatas, because that is what one brings for a sin that one performed factually, but unintentionally.


The Two Options

"Come near to the Mizbei'ach" (9:7).

Rashi explains that Aharon was embarrassed to approach the Mizbei'ach (and begin the Avodah) on account of his participation in the sin of the Eigel. Moshe therefore said to him 'Why are you ashamed? That is why you were chosen'. The Gemara in Sanhedrin relates how Rebbi Zeira would originally hide from the Sanhedrin, to avoid being given Semichah, because he heard the statement of Rebbi Elazar, who extolled the virtues of retaining a low profile. Yet later, when he heard a second statement by the same author to the effect that a person rises to greatness only after all his sins have been forgiven, he turned full circle, and went to great effort to receive Semichah. After reconsidering his options, it seems, he came to the conclusion that it was worth suffering the losses of gaining a high profile, if it would result in attaining foregiveness for his sins.

Aharon, it seems, held like the first opinion of Rebbi Elazar, says the Olelos Efrayim, so he did everything he could to escape the leadership. Moshe however, held like Rebbi Elazar's second opinion, which is why he told him that this is precisely why he was chosen - to obtain Mechilah for the sin which caused him such embarrassment.


Substitutes for Snakes

"And fire went out from before Hashem and burned them (Nadav and Avihu)" (9:22).

Chazal explain that two tongues of fire came out of the Kodesh Kodshim and entered Nadav and Avihu's nostrils.

Why specifically fire, asks Rebbi Yonasan Eibeshitz?

And he answers according to those opinions who attribute Nadav and Avihu's death to the fact that they ruled in front of Moshe Rabeinu that even though fire descends from Heaven to consume the Korbanos, it is a Mitzvah to apply human fire. Because someone who issues a ruling in front of his Rebbe deserves to be bitten by a snake.

The Medrash relates how tongues of fire emerged from the Kodesh Kodshim and burned the snakes and scorpions that normally abound in the desert. Seeing as there were no longer any snakes available to perform the task of punishing Nadav and Avihu, Rebbi Yonasan Eibeshitz explains, it stands to reason that the tongues of fire that dispensed with the snakes, should stand in for them and do their job for them.

In addition, Chazal say (in Sanhedrin) that nowadays, when the four deaths at the hand of Beis-Din are no longer practiced, someone who ought to have received 'S'reifah' (burning), might be bitten by a snake. Clearly then, the burning sensation that follows a snakebite is considered as if the victim had actually been burned, in which case the punishment hat they received was appropriate too.


To Err or Not to Err ...

"And a fire went out from before G-d and it 'consumed' them" (10:2).

Rashi cites the opinion of Rebbi Eliezer (among others) that Nadav and Avihu died because they issued a ruling in the presence of their Rebbe, Moshe Rabeinu.

According to the interpretation that we cited a little earlier, their ruling was correct, and it was the audacity of the fact that they ruled in the presence of their Rebbe that caused their untimely death.

Rabeinu Bachye (in Parshas Vayikra 1:7), citing R. Sa'adya Ga'on, however, describes the ruling in question as being a Mitzvah to bring fire from external sources on to the Mizbei'ach (as opposed to kindling a fire there). In that case, as R. Bachye explains, they erred in their ruling, too.

Certainly R. Sa'adya Ga'on's explanation fits smoothly into the Pasuk preceding Nadav and Avihu's punishment, which reads " ... and they brought before Hashem a strange fire which Hashem did not command".


The Tum'ah of Insects

"And these are the Tamei species of creepy-crawlies (ha'sheretz - insects) that crawl on the earth ... " (11:29).

Rashi explains that this Tum'ah has nothing to do with the prohibition of eating insects. It is a Tum'ah that renders whoever touches them (the eight insects listed here) Tamei, forbidding him to eat Terumah and Kodshim or to enter the Beis Hamikdash.

The word "ha'sheretz", says the Ba'al ha'Turim, has the same numerical value as 'ki'Se'orah' (the size of a barley), a broad enough hint at the minimum volume of dead Sheretz that renders those who touch it Tamei. Bearing in mind that the measurement of most Isurim is a 'ke'Zayis' (the volume of an olive), and this includes the tum'ah of other Tamei species, this is a distinct Chumra (stringency) that is unique to the Tum'ah of Sheratzim.

The Ba'al ha'Turim also ascribes the fact that, unlike all other categories of forbidden species, the Torah does not allow any kind of insect to be eaten, to the fact that the hated snake belongs to this category.

In view of this however, we need to understand why that same snake belongs to the Tahor insects, and not to the Tamei ones. To answer this question, the Or ha'Chayim explains that the Tum'ah of the insects is based on the fact that the Torah considers the body of those species obnoxious. Regarding the snake, on the other hand, it is not its body that the Torah abhors, but its soul; and once the snake is dead, its soul departs, and its body is no different than the Tahor species of insects.

The Oznayim la'Torah however, points out that the snake's evil character and dangerous disposition only existed as long as it walked on two legs and spoke. At that stage, he points out, it belonged to the category of wild beasts (indeed, the Torah itself describes the snake as "the most cursed of all the wild beasts of the field" [Bereishis 3:14]). And it is only following the curse, after its legs were cut off, that its status changed to that of a creepy-crawly, by which time, it had also lost its power of speech, and with it, its evil influence.


From Walker to Crawler

"Whatever crawls on its belly ... do not eat it" (11:42).

This refers to the snake, explains Rashi (which is classified as a creepy-crawly, because it has no legs).

Why asks the Oznayim la'Torah, does the Torah refer to the snake in such a strange way? Why not call a snake a snake? And he answers this with the explanation that we just cited.

The Torah deliberately avoids referring to the snake by its original name, because then one would wonder why it is not listed together with the Tamei snakes. So the Torah calls it by a name that describes its new status as a creepy-crawly. As we explained, in that capacity, it could no longer speak, and could no longer kill with its smooth talk. And what's more, now that together with that change, G-d had created an enmity between Chavah's descendants and those of the snake, people would know to run away from snakes, and the threat that it originally posed no longer exists. That is why the snake is not listed together with the Tamei insects.


The Disappearing Tum'ah

"And if a carcass falls on sown seeds which have been sown (asher yizorei'a), they remain Tahor" (11:37).

This teaches us, says Rashi, that whatever grows from the ground is not subject to Tum'ah until it has contact with water (see also following Pasuk).

The Ba'al ha'Turim writes that the numerical value of the words " ... asher yizorei'a, Tahor ... " have the same numerical value as 'Temei'in she'zora, tehorin' (Tamei seeds that one planted become Tahor).


(Adapted from the Rambam Ma'aseh ha'Korbanos 12 & 13)

The Korban Minchah - Part 2

8. The Minchah of a woman who is married to a Kohen is not eaten, because of the part that belongs to her husband (whose Minchah is not eaten). Neither is it entirely burned, because of the part that belongs to her. Consequently, the Kometz is burned on the Mizbei'ach, and the remainder of the Minchah is scattered in the Beis ha'Deshen (the area where the ashes are thrown).


9. The Kemitzah could be performed anywhere in the Azarah, though if it was performed in the Heichal, it was Kasher.


10. One sanctified the Minchah (but not the Kemitzah) by placing it in a holy vessel that was lying on the floor, and that is from where the Kemitzah was performed.


11. The remainder of the Minchah became permitted to the Kohanim only once the majority of the Kemitzah was aflame.


12. All Menachos that were brought on the Mizbei'ach had to be made as Matzah, and the same applies to the remainder of the Minchah that was eaten by the Kohanim. They were permitted to eat it in any way that they pleased, even with honey - but not Chametz! In fact, whoever caused it to become Chametz would receive Malkos, and that includes someone who added Chimutz or who added a further stage of preparation to it once it was already Chametz.

Consequently, someone who kneaded the Chametz dough of a Minchah, arranged it, moistened it and baked it, would receive four sets of Malkos.


13. The same applied to the Lechem ha'Panim and to the Minchas Nesachim, though the latter was not subject to Malkos.


14. The wheat of the Minchah was not subject to 'lesisah' (moistening the dough before grinding), because it required special care to prevent it from becoming Chametz, and not everyone could be relied upon to do this. This precludes the Minchas ha'Omer, which was a communal offering, and the community (Beis-Din) are generally careful.

And in similar fashion, all Menachos that required baking, were kneeded with warm water, and guarded against Chimutz, because the kneading and the baking (as opposed to the lesisah) were performed in the Azarah, and we have a principle that Kohanim are careful.


15. The Menachos had to be baked in the same location as other Kodshei Kodshim were cooked (in the Azarah).


16. The Menachos were ground and sifted outside the Azarah, whereas the kneading, the arranging and the baking had to be performed in the Azarah. A Zar (non-Kohen) was eligible to do all the preparations of the Minchah up to the Kemitzah. All Avodos from then on had to be performed by a Kohen.


17. There was a flat pan and a deep pan in the Azarah, both of which were K'lei Shareis (holy vessels). The oven in the Mikdash was made of metal (to sanctify the Sh'tei ha'Lechem and the Lechem ha'Panim [and they did not make K'lei Shareis of earthenware]).


18. It is a Mitzvas Asei to prepare each Minchah in accordance with its specifications.


The Minchas Chavitin

19. Although it was brought in halves, the Minchas Chavitin could not be sanctified in halves. Consequently, the Kohen Gadol would bring an Isaron of flour, sanctify it (in a K'li Shareis) and divide it in two, placing half in each of two dishes, each measuring half an Isaron. He also brought together with the flour, three Lugin of oil (like the Minchah of a lamb). After mixing the two together, he would scald the mixture in boiling water. From each half-Isaron he would then proceed to bake six loaves, twelve in all.


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