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

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Vol. 24   No. 25

This issue is sponsored l'iluy Nishmas
R' Aryeh Leib ben Avraham z"l
t.n.tz.v.h.


Parshas Shemini

All Sins are Evil

There are few people who would tolerate a thief in their social circle. Most of us tend to brand a thief as a scoundrel, a menace to society who has no place within it. We have few kind words to say on his behalf and the reason for this is simple enough: stealing is an ab-horrent crime and there are few people who would tolerate it. There exist a number of crimes which the world views with similar abhorrence (murder, rape, etc.) and they too are univer-sally abhorred, and their perpetrators scorned. This attitude is based on logic, mainly be-cause the type of crime is anti-social, and as such it forms a threat to society as a whole and so society rejects it.

There is however, another kind of sin, which the religious sector of the community does not tolerate, viewing the perpetrator as an outcast from their society. One of those sins is that of eating "treifah" foods. It pains us to see someone eating "treif", and we take a dim view of that person. Clearly, that abhorrence does not stem from logic, since the prohibition of eating non-kosher foods is neither an apparent threat to society, nor is it in any way dictat-ed by reason. It appears to be rather a matter of training and symbolism. For some unde-fined reason, people are trained to equate kashrus with Yiddishkeit, alongside the keeping of Shabbos and fasting on Yom-Kippur. Kashrus has become one of the hallmarks of our reli-gion (to the exclusion of other mitzvos which are not necessarily less significant), and people have accepted it, even though they may not really understand why.

But what is our reaction towards someone who transgresses a sin which confirms nei-ther to our standard of logic nor to our trained sensitivity? What comparable degree of intol-erance do we display say, when we see a fellow-Jew who wears "sha'atnez", who doesn't daven Ma'ariv or whose family does not comply with the laws of "Tziny'us" required by the Shulchan Oruch? Why is it that most people, even religious Jews, are generally far more tolerant and understanding toward the latter than towards the former, even though there is nothing to suggest that the one is in fact any less sinful than the other? Surely if we were more concerned with seeking the truth and less involved with our own emotions, surely if we were more sensitive to G-d's feelings, towards the Torah, indeed to-wards the sinner himself, whose welfare we should also have at heart, we would not differ-entiate between mitzvos that appeal to us and mitzvos that do not appeal to us quite as much. After all, G-d's authority has been flouted and that should suffice to arouse our con-cern. If we are guided (or misguided) by our emotions, it is only to the extent that we are lacking in our quest for the truth. Such an attitude is clearly tainted with bias and as such it is dishonest. A Jew must loath sin and disagree with the sinner, not on account of his personal prejudices, but because it is evil - because it is breaching G-d's authority.

Rashi in Parshas Kedoshim quotes R' Elozor ben Azaryoh, who instructs us not to ab-stain from eating "treif" because it is abhorrent, but because it is the will of G-d. The Torah Temimah connects this idea to a Mishnah in Makos, which states that someone who sits and abstains from performing a sin, it is as if he had performed a mitzvah. Certainly, we are not speaking here of someone who has no desire to perform the sin - since what would he have done to merit a reward, but rather of someone who overcame the urge to sin - he sat himself down and refrained from acceding to this urge. Such a person is worthy indeed, as if he had performed a mitzvah. But, explains the Torah Temimah, that is only if be abstains because that is the Divine will, not if he does it for any ulterior motive. If we want to receive reward for the mitzvos that we do, then we must perform them because they are Divinely ordained, as indeed the word "mitzvos" implies. And it is for the very same reason that we must reject the "aveiros", whether they are carried out by ourselves or by others - because they contravene the wishes of G-d. In that case, it makes no sense at all to make any distinc-tion between one type of sin and another.

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Highlights from the Haftorah

(Sh'muel II 6:1 - 7:17)

We learn from the death of Nadav 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.

Nadav and Avihu failed to keep their distance, entering into an area that was forbidden to them, and a similar occurrence took place whilst David ha'Melech was transferring the Aron ha'Kodosh from Kiryas Ye'orim (the current location of Telstone) to Yerushalayim. The Aron 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'Navi (see Sh'muel I, end of Chap. 6).

*

The Aron 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 Kohanim who had been appointed to accompany the Aron, and who was walking respectfully beside it, quickly grabbed hold of it, to prevent it 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 Aron that transported the Kohanim 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 Aron, and that is why he died. He came too close to the Holy, just as Nadav and Avihu had done in their time.

Although the sin is attributed to Uzzo, the indirect cause of the incident is ascribed to David ha'Melech, who should have known that the Aron must be carried on the shoulders, not on a wagon.

The mistake occurred because David had previously referred to the words of Torah as "songs", and it is difficult to understand how David ha'Melech could possibly have erred in a direct pasuk ("they shall carry it on their shoulders", Bamidbar 7:9). The Redak gives two explanations: 1) It was only in the desert, when the other sections of the dismantled Mishkan were transported on wagons, that it was necessary to give kavod to the Aron (and the other Holy Vessels) by carrying them on their shoulders. Once the Mishkan ceased to exist, that no longer seemed relevant. 2) David ha'Melech simply took his cue from the P'lishtim, who returned the Aron on a wagon. Nothing happened to them, so David 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 Yisrael).

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 Aron much kavod 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 David ha'Melech, who had the Torah as a guide. He should have known that carrying the Aron 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 Aron on a wagon - David ha'Melech was.)

*

But the beauty of the Haftorah must lie, at least in part, in the sequel to the above episode. David ha'Melech, angry with himself for his error, and frightened to take the Aron to his city Yerushalayim, 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 David is told about this, he realises that one does not need to fear the Aron, 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 Aron to its rightful home in Yerushalayim. On the way, he prances energetically in front of the Aron, in a way that Michal, his wife, finds unbecoming for a King in the presence of his subjects. When she points this out to David, he replies that he was dancing before G-d, who chose him over Sha'ul her father (i.e. that he was simply relegating his own kavod in the face of G-d's, and that he was willing to relegate it even further, if need be).

Why did David see fit to make mention here of King Sha'ul? Presumably, it was to remind his wife that her father lost his kingdom for putting his own kavod 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, David, was chosen to succeed Sha'ul only because he placed G-d's honour before his own.

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

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