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Torah Attitude: Parashas Shemini: Is this right in the eyes of G'd?
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? Aaron would first consider whether G'd would be pleased with what he was about to say or do, and only then would he 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 parasha, the Torah describes 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 a special offering and put fire and incense in their pans. However, since they had not been commanded to do so, G'd considered it to be an alien fire. They were therefore punished and a fire came forth from G'd and consumed them. Our sages discuss extensively what was the exact nature of their transgression and why they deserved capital punishment (see Torah Attitude Parashas Shemini: "Altogether" Righteous, April 12, 2006).
As a result of Nadav and Avihu's deaths, 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, G'd told Moses to instruct Aaron and his sons to eat the meal offerings, as well as their portions of the three sin offerings.
Burned sin offering
Aaron and his sons followed the instructions and ate the meal offerings and their portions of two of the sin offerings. However, they burned the third sin offering. When Moses heard that they had not eaten the third sin offering he got angry. He turned to his two nephews, Elazar and Ithamar, and asked: (Vayikra 10:17-18) "Why did you not eat the sin offering? … You should have eaten it in the Holy, as I instructed."
Aaron speaks up
Aaron was aware that Moses had turned his anger on Aaron's children rather than him out of respect for Aaron. He therefore felt that he should respond. In addition, Elazar and Ithamar felt that it was not proper for them to respond to Moses in the presence of their father. So Aaron spoke up and said, (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 why they had eaten the two sin offerings and burned the other one. The two sin offerings were special offerings brought on the occasion of the inauguration of the Tabernacle. One was 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 applied, and therefore Aaron and his children could not eat it. When Moses heard Aaron's reasoning, he admitted that this was exactly what G'd had instructed him, and he had forgotten this detail.
Aaron's answer not stated
We can learn many lessons from this episode. However, a question arises that needs to be addressed. If Aaron answered Moses and explained 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? Why is his answer described 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 used this phrase, "will this be right in the eyes of G'd?", before he said or did anything. 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 describes what is a lesson for future generations. Therefore, the Torah records how Aaron asked Moses if he agreed that his decision would please G'd, to teach us to strive and 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) states that although this verse is very short, 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 what we say and how we say it. It affects what we eat and how we eat it. And it affects our business transactions, and how we deal with our associates.
Set G'd before me always
The Rema introduces his annotations on the Shulchan Aruch with the words of the Rambam. The Rambam (Guide to the Perplexed 3:52) quotes from Tehillim where 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 constantly with the awareness of G'd's presence. Whether we are in the privacy of our home, or in a public place, whether we are doing business, praying, or studying Torah, in every 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 notes of Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.
Shalom. Michael Deverett
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