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Torah Attitude: Parashas Shemini: Is this right in the eyes of G'd? Tikkun Olam
Our sages discuss extensively the exact nature of the transgression of Nadav and Avihu and why they deserved capital punishment. The general rule is that an onen may not eat any of the offerings brought on the Altar. Instead of eating the third sin offering, they burned it. The regular rules of an onen applied to the monthly sin offering, brought in honour of Rosh Chodesh, and could therefore not be eaten by Aaron and his children. Why does the Torah not expressly state Aaron's answer? Only after he first considered whether G'd would be pleased with what he was about to say or do would Aaron proceed. "In all your ways you should be aware of Him [G'd]." "I always set G'd before me."
At the beginning of this week's portion, the Torah discusses the service on the eighth and final day of the inauguration of the Tabernacle. In their eagerness to serve G'd on this special day, the two sons of Aaron, Nadav and Avihu, prepared an offering and put fire and incense in their pans. However, since they had not been commanded to do so, it was considered by G'd to be an alien fire. They were therefore punished and a fire came forth from G'd and consumed them. Our sages discuss extensively the exact nature of their transgression and why they deserved capital punishment (see Torah Attitude Parashas Shemini: "Altogether" Righteous, April 12, 2006); however, here we will analyze a different point.
As a result of the deaths of Nadav and Avihu, their father Aaron and their two brothers Elazar and Ithamar became onenim (the status one enters the first day when a close relative passes away). The general rule is that an onen may not eat any of the offerings brought on the Altar. This applied even to Aaron the High Priest although he was permitted to perform the service as an onen. However, Moses was told by G'd to instruct Aaron and his sons to eat the meal offerings, as well as their portions of the sin offerings.
Burned sin offering
Aaron and his sons followed the instructions and ate the meal offerings and the portions of two of the three sin offerings that had been brought on that day. However, they burned the third sin offering. When Moses heard that they had not eaten the third sin offering he investigated what had happened. He turned in anger to his two nephews and asked them, (Vayikra 10:17-18) "Why did you not eat the sin offering in the Holy Place? … You should have eaten it in the Holy, as I had commanded."
Aaron speaks up
Aaron was aware that Moses had turned his anger on Aaron's children rather than him out of his respect for Aaron. He therefore felt it was appropriate for him to respond to Moses' investigation. In addition, Elazar and Ithamar decided that it was not proper for them to respond to Moses in the presence of their father. So Aaron spoke up and responded, (Vayikra 10:19) "As such has befallen me [that I have lost a close relative and have become an onen], were I to eat today's sin offering would that be right in the eyes of G'd?"
Rosh Chodesh offering
Rashi quotes from our sages that Aaron explained to Moses the difference between the two sin offerings that they had eaten and the one that they burned. The two sin offerings were special offerings brought on the occasion of the inauguration of the Tabernacle. One was brought as a communal sin offering and the other was brought by Nachschon, the leader of the Tribe of Judah (see Bamidbar 7:1-17). These offerings were similar to the meal offerings as they were all brought in honour of the inauguration of the Tabernacle. However, the third sin offering was the regular sin offering to be brought every Rosh Chodesh in the Sanctuary (see Bamidbar 28:11-15). Aaron argued to Moses that G'd's command to eat the offerings only referred to the special sin offerings of the day, similar to the special meal offerings that had been brought. In regards to the monthly sin offering in honour of Rosh Chodesh the regular rules of an onen would apply, and therefore could not be eaten by Aaron and his children. When Moses heard Aaron's reasoning, he admitted that this was exactly what G'd had instructed him but he had forgotten this detail.
Aaron's answer not stated
Many lessons can be learned from this episode. However, a question arises that needs to be addressed. If Aaron responded to Moses' investigation and reasoned the difference between the two special sin offerings versus the regular sin offering of Rosh Chodesh, why does the Torah not expressly state Aaron's answer? What is the purpose of describing his answer with the words "would that be right in the eyes of G'd"?
Eyes of G'd
The late Rosh Yeshiva of Manchester Yeshiva, Rabbi Yehuda Zeev Segal, once explained this with an amazing insight. The Torah here teaches us a profound lesson how Aaron conducted himself in every detail of his life. Aaron actually said the words "would this be right in the eyes of G'd?" as he would question before he pursued any course of action. Whatever he said and whatever he did, Aaron would first ask himself, will this be good and right in the eyes of G'd? Only after he was convinced that G'd would be pleased with what he was about to say or do would Aaron proceed. As always, the Torah only writes the portion of our ancestor's life that is a lesson for future generations. The Torah records how Aaron asked Moses if he agreed that his decision would please G'd as this is a most important lesson for all of us to strive to emulate this conduct of Aaron.
In all your ways
King Solomon writes (Mishlei 3:6) "In all your ways you should be aware of Him [G'd]." The Talmud (Berachot 63a) teaches that as short as this verse is all parts of the Torah depend on it. It affects our lives from when we get up in the morning till we go to bed at night, every single day of our lives. If affects our speech, what we say and how we say it. It affects our food, what we eat and how we eat it. And it affects our business transactions, what we deal in and how we deal with our business associates.
Set G'd before me always
The Rema introduces his annotations on the Shulchan Aruch with the words of the Rambam (Guide to the Perplexed 3:52) who quotes from Tehillim. It says (16:8), "I always set G'd before me." The Rambam explains that "this is a major rule in the Torah … for a person's movements and dealings are very different when he is by himself in private than when he is in the company of a big king … How much more should a person live with an awareness that he is constantly in the company of the King of all kings who observes his every action …" The Torah expects us to live with the same awareness of G'd's presence when we are in the privacy of our own home, or conducting business, as when we are in the synagogue, praying to G'd or studying His Torah, or in any given situation. We must ask ourselves "what I am about to do now will this be right in the eyes of G'd?"
These words were based on a talk given by Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.
Shema Yisrael Torah Network