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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland

Parshas Shmini

And Moshe spoke to Aharon: Approach the Altar and offer your (korban) Chatas and your (korban) Olah. (9:7)

Chazal explain why it was necessary for Moshe to speak emphatically to Aharon saying, "Approach the Mizbayach." Aharon was "shy," afraid to approach the Mizbayach. He saw the likeness of an ox with its horns in the Mizbayach, and he was afraid. Moshe told him, "Take courage and approach the Mizbayach." Aharon was anxious, reflecting a fear that ought to take hold of any conscientious leader who assumes his position. He understood the heavy responsibility of his position and the lofty mission of being leader, teacher, and interpreter of d'var Hashem.

His fear, however, had an additional aspect. The image of an ox brought back memories of the fateful day upon which the Golden Calf was made. As Horav Shlomo Breuer, zl, comments, Aharon knew only too well the effect of an offense which a Torah leader commits. Regrettably, he experienced the tragic results of an error which one who stands at the forefront of Klal Yisrael commits. While a leader's positive actions may not necessarily inspire widespread enthusiasm, his weakness, his deference to overwhelming pressure, can have tragic repercussions. Aharon knew experientially the sad outcome of his misinterpreted action concerning the Golden Calf. Horav S.R. Hirsch, zl, explains Aharon's reason for making a calf: Aharon sought to channel the people's rebellion into an innocuous outlet. The people clamored for a leader. Initially, they said they were seeking a replacement for Moshe Rabbeinu; in truth they wanted a new divinity. In order to confine the rebellion, Aharon selected a member of the calf family. In the vernacular of sacrifice, the calf represents servitude as opposed to mastery. It would serve as an insignificant outlet for the people's insurrection. By selecting the weak, subordinate calf , over the strong, more independent ox, Aharon sought to downplay the people's rebellion.

The people did not accept the eigel, calf, as Aharon had intended. They danced before it and bowed to it, as if it were a G-d. They transformed the eigel into a shor, ox. They took what was intended as an illusion of divine intermediary and transformed it into Divinity. The shor represented full-fledged idolatry. The nation that Hashem had selected to be His People, the nation that had achieved nobility, abdicated its achievements for a shor--a new god.

Aharon brought two sacrifices when he assumed office as Kohen Gadol--a shor and an eigel. He was required to bring both of these animals as an act of atonement so that he would confront the devastation that can result when one accepts any concession in the representation of the Divine truth--the eigel turns into a shor!

Is it any wonder that Aharon was overcome with anxiety and humility as he approached the Mizbayach? As Horav Breuer so beautifully puts it: Aharon's appearance before the Mizbayach, the central site of his new duties, vividly recalled for him the darkest hour of his past. In the Altar he saw the shape of an ox, implying the heavy burden and awesome responsibility of Torah leadership. Moshe asked him, "My brother, why do you fear? It is the specific fact that you are nervous; your very reticence bespeaks your fitness for the position. Only a leader who fears the results of error, who places before himself the overwhelming responsibility of his position, is qualified to lead. This is probably true in every area of endeavor. One who does not fear the result of his error should not be in a position of leadership. True success is achieved when one has the ability to acknowledge and confront error.

And Aharon was silent. (10:3)

Ramban explains that Aharon actually did cry. Aharon silently accepted Hashem's decree only after Moshe consoled him by telling him of the enormous kiddush Hashem, sanctification of Hashem's Name, which Nadav and Avihu had effected. Aharon's response to the tragic deaths of his two eldest sons serves as a paradigm for those who confront tragedy. He was silent, accepting the decree. Did Aharon exhibit the loftiest form of acquiescence, or is there another -- more exalted -- way of confronting Hashem's decree?

Tiferes Shlomo, the Admor m'Radomsk, zl, comments that Chazal laud Aharon Ha'kohen for his "silent" response to his sons' deaths. In fact, we find that Hashem singled out Aharon, speaking directly to him about the laws concerning Kohanim serving in the Mikdash after having imbibed intoxicants. There is, however, yet a higher plane of acceptance, one more praiseworthy than silence, one that David Ha'melech employed during his most painful and afflicting times. David sang! In Tehillim 30:10, where David Ha'melech says, "So that my soul might make music to You and not be stilled, Hashem my G-d, forever will I thank You." To be silent, not to criticize what is unmistakably a painful and overwhelming decree, is truly a level that most people cannot attain. To be able to sing praise to Hashem, expressing love and devotion amidst pain and sorrow, reflects an attitude that only David Ha'melech exhibited. We must endeavor to understand the difference between Aharon and David. Indeed, Chazal seem to characterize Aharon's response as being the most impressive.

We may suggest that the difference lies in the type of tragedy. To lose a child, especially two sons of such remarkable caliber on the most joyous day of one's life, is an unparalleled tragedy. That is not the reason, however, that Aharon kept silent and did not sing. A feeling of guilt accompanies the crushing pain and debilitating sorrow of losing a child. Were the parents in any way responsible? Was it something that they did or did not do that effected this terrible punishment? In most instances, such emotions are ridiculous, but that is human nature. Thus, while Aharon apparently accepted Hashem's decree, his role as a parent might have restrained him from exhibiting a more positive response.

We must always bear in mind that everything that occurs comes directly from Hashem. Consequently, it is only to Him that we can turn for hope and salvation. This writer had occasion recently to visit with Horav Eliezer Levi, Shlita, rebbe and distinguished member of Telshe Yeshivah's faculty, during his recent illness. Upon entering the room, I encountered Horav Levi sleeping. A few minutes later he woke up. After acknowledging my presence he said, "Do you know the meaning of 'Hope to Hashem, strengthen yourself, and He will give you courage; and hope to Hashem'? Why do we repeat the phrase 'Kaveh el Hashem'? The answer is that it is not sufficient to simply say, One must infuse "Hope to Hashem" into one's heart and very being, so that he really means it. It must be an expression of the heart. It should strengthen and encourage someone. Only then does it really have meaning."

What powerful words! How often do we say, "Got vet helfen," the Ribono Shel Olam will help, simply as a figure of speech, without really believing it in our hearts? The feeling that Hashem is with us at all times and can respond in the blink of an eye must be something more than a statement we make by rote; it must be part of every fiber of our being.

An interesting vignette was heard recently regarding the phrase "Got vet helfen": Someone came before Horav Shraga Feivel Mendelson, zl, seeking a brachah, blessing, for someone who was ill. Horav Mendelson responded, "Got vet helfen." A distinguished student, himself a great talmid chacham, was sitting nearby and said, "Got vet nisht helfen!"--"Hashem will not help!" Everyone looked at him puzzled. "What do you mean that Hashem will not help?" The rav responded, "Hashem does not help--He does everything --Himself!" We must open up our eyes and see through the maze of ambiguity, so that we realize that it is only to Hashem that we can turn. Perhaps the sooner we acknowledge this fact, the less frequently we will have to be taught this message.

The camel, for it brings up its cud, but its hoof is not split, the hyrax, for it brings up its cud but its hoof is not split..., and the hare, for it brings up its cud and its hoof is not split.
(11:4, 5, 6)

The Torah identifies those animals that have only one siman, sign, of kashrus. Interestingly, the Torah seems to employ the three tenses concerning the lack of split hooves in describing the animals: past, present, and future. The Torah says, --"it does not have split hooves," in the present; --"it will not have split hooves," the future;

-- "it's hooves were never split," in the past. What is the significance of these three expressions? Ma'ayanah shel Torah cites one of the gedolei ha'mussar, who infer a noteworthy lesson from this pasuk. When one is about to declare an individual or an organization tamei, spiritually unclean, it is imperative that we take everything into account--not simply the present situation. All too often we are quick to pass judgment, criticize, and perceive the present negativity of an individual.

The Torah exhorts us to view people and issues in a total context. Let us look at the past! Do certain factors in one's past mitigate his present status? Is he merely a victim of circumstances, or did his past influence his present behavior? Even if the past looks bleak, if we cannot ameliorate his present activities by looking back at his past, then we should look to the future in order to ascertain whether one still exists. Perhaps sometime in the future, this individual will perform teshuvah, repentance. Before rendering a decision of tumah, we should confirm that all hope has been lost.

We may add that in dealing with circumstances involving a person's life, it is imperative that we be aware of all of the issues. Just because an individual did not do well in the past in a specific scenario--school, teacher, home, or community, we should not accept this as a definitive indication for the future. We should not smugly pass judgment upon a student simply because we have not been a successful teacher. Perhaps we are not the best teacher for that student. Others might have succeeded where we have failed.

This writer once heard a fascinating thought from Horav N.Z. Dessler, Shlita, who related it in the name of Horav Leib Chasman, zl. A carpenter works with wood. Consequently, during the course of the day, wood chips will fall to the ground. As he walks around his shop or work-site, the carpenter will be stepping upon wood. Thus, the glazier, who works with glass, will be stepping upon glass. A mechanech, Torah teacher, works with Yiddishe neshamos, Jewish souls. If he is not careful, he will step upon the neshamos that fall by the wayside! As transmitters of Torah from one generation to the next, we must reflect upon our awesome task and its overwhelming component responsibilities.

You shall hallow yourselves and be holy...For I am Hashem Who took you up from the land of Egypt to be your G-d, you shall be holy for I am holy. (11:44)

This pasuk, which concludes the parshah, comes at the end of the Jewish dietary laws. Kashrus is one of the areas in which the Jew distinguishes himself from the rest of the world. The message of this pasuk reveals the significance of this distinctiveness. Horav Moshe Swift, zl, notes the words, "For I am Hashem Who took you up from the land of Egypt." Elsewhere in the Torah and in our tefillos, prayers, we say, "Who brought you out of the land of Egypt." The Torah emphasizes here that we were brought up--elevated--to a higher level, so that Hashem would be our G-d, that He should be seen in us. We are to be holy because He is holy. We are to reflect His presence in our total demeanor. The Jew is to be distinct from the nations of the world. This distinctiveness is the symbol of his inherent kedushah, which should be his source of pride.

We must view our distinctiveness as a source of pride and honor. It raises us up; it consecrates our lives, as it sanctifies us. The Jew who is ashamed of his Jewishness, probably has many other sources of shame.


1. How many times is Klal Yisrael blessed in this parsha?

2. How did Aharon react to the deaths of his two eldest sons?

3. Is a Kohen permitted to perform the avodah after he has drunk an intoxicating beverage such as wine?

4. What special reward did Elazar and Isamar (Aharon Ha'kohen's other sons) receive for accepting their brothers' deaths silently?

5. May one feed non-kosher food to a young child?

6. Before a food can become tamei, it must first receive .

7. Can a body of water that is attached to the ground become tamei?


1. Twice. The first time Aharon blessed them with the Bircas Kohanim. The second time they were blessed by Moshe and Aharon.

2. He accepted Hashem's decree in silence.

3. No. If he had performed the avodah, it is rendered invalid.

4. They were to teach the laws of kashrus to Klal Yisrael.

5. No

6. Hechsher, preparation. The food must first become moistened by one of seven liquids: water, dew, wine, oil, blood, milk, and bee's honey.

7. No


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