Back to this weeks Parsha
Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum

Parshas Shmini

I will be sanctified through those that are nearest to me, thus I will be honored before the entire people. (10:3)

This pasuk expresses the entire concept. Hashem expects and demands more from those who are close to Him. Those who serve as an example must live up to the values which they represent. This idea is regrettably foreign to those outside of Torah circles. It has become the accepted norm that social and intellectual accomplishment grants one license to pursue whatever moral transgressions his heart desires. We have only to look at the secular leadership of modern society to recognize this unfortunate truth. Not so our Torah leadership; they must be the paragon of moral purity, the model of dignity and integrity, and the symbol of humility and caring for others. Indeed, they set the standard for the entire nation.

Responsibility, however, is an an integral part of the package. Hashem imposes strict justice on those closest to him. Unfortunately, the hamon am, common Jew, does not always accept or understand this. Horav Yosef Shaul Nattenson, z"l, the baal Shoel U'meishiv, identifies a contrast in the pasuk. The root word of "achabeid" is kavod, which usually is translated as "honor". It also means "heavy". In this context, the pasuk can be interpreted as telling us that Hashem becomes sanctified in the eyes of His kerovim, close ones. Bnei Yisroel understand that decrees must be issued. These decrees can be unusually harsh and devastating. Yet, these devotees understand that every gezeirah emanates from Hashem, thereby increasing their faith in Him. Conversely, those who have not had the opportunity to develop their faith, have a difficult time accepting Hashem's decree. It hangs "heavy" on their minds.

At times, the same decree that generates faith among the "keruvim" also creates a weakness of spirit and trust among the "kol ha'am", the common Jew, whose emunah has not been tempered through Torah and avodah. The most propitious advice would be to observe the leaders in order to discern how they accept Hashem's decrees. They have the resources to handle what Hashem metes out to them. To consider them "trusting and simple" is to malign them. This has always been the flimsy excuse embraced by those who would rather denigrate than venerate the ben Torah who believes in Hashem with an unequivocal faith. If they would exhibit greater "honor" for Torah leadership, the decrees would not seem as "heavy".

And Aharon fell silent. (10:3)

The Ramban notes that Aharon maintained his silence only after first breaking into sobs. The Abarbanel disagrees, asserting that Aharon did not react to the tragic death of his sons. In an attempt to defend the Ramban's position, the Chasam Sofer explains that while Aharon did weep, he cried in response to his sins which he felt precipitated the tragedy that befell his sons. Aharon's silence was a sign of acceptance, of inner peace, of profound faith in the Almighty. Aharon's silence reflected his serenity at accepting the Divine decree issued against his sons. How did he gather the fortitude to accept in silence, to acquiesce to such difficult terms? From where did he conjure up the inner strength to remain serene in the presence of such tragedy? What makes it more incredible is that Aharon lost his sons on a day that was exceptional, a day marked for glory, joy and excitement. This only served to exacerbate his pain. Yet, he endured and accepted in silence. How did he do it?

The answer to this question -- the response to all situations where our people have suffered devastating blows, tragic, heart-breaking misfortune with courage and resolve -- is found in a profound thought from Horav Eliezer Zisha Portugal, zl, the Skulener Rebbe. As a young man the Rebbe did everything within his power to bring Jews closer to their faith. In fact, he would convince young men not to join the Romanian army lest they become lost to Yiddishkeit in the harmful environment. Instead, he encouraged them to go to a yeshivah where they would study Torah and strengthen their faith. As it would be, someone reported the Rebbe's "seditious" activities to the authorities, who promptly arrested him. He was thrown into a dirty cell, bereft of any amenities for maintaining cleanliness or hygiene. The Rebbe was a frail, sickly man, who would not be able to survive very long in this cold, dirty dungeon.

What could he do to maintain his sanity under such horrible conditions? He began to daven. The Rebbe's kavanah, concentration, during tefillah was legendary. He prayed for hours with incredible devotion, entreating the Almighty on behalf of His people. In this extraordinary predicament one can imagine that he poured out his heart with even greater fervor and emotion. He enunciated every word with the greatest passion, the entire tefillah constituted a lesson in avodas Hashem. The Rebbe was troubled by the meaning of "Baruch She'omar": "Blessed is He Who spoke and the world came into being; Blessed is He Who speaks and does; Blessed is He Who decrees and fulfills." He had recited this prayer countless times over the years. Suddenly, he was bothered by the word "gozer u'mekayeim", "He decrees and fulfills". This phrase did not belong in the tefillah. It did not fit in. This prayer praised Hashem for all the wonderful, positive things he was doing for us. The phrase, "gozer u'mekayeim", seems out of place. A gezeirah, decree, is usually an edict that carries with it harsh ramifications. Why then would the fact that Hashem decrees and fulfills His decrees be mentioned in the tefillah in which we thank him for something about which we rejoice?

After some thought, the Rebbe noted another meaning to "u'mekayeim". In addition to meaning "to fulfill", it also means who sustains, who endures, who perseveres; this interpretation gave the phrase an entirely different perspective. There are times when, for reasons beyond our understanding, Hashem must issue a decree against an individual. This decree can have a devastating effect upon the person. How can he "make it" through all the suffering that was assigned to him. The answer is, "Baruch gozer u'mekayeim". While it is true that Hashem makes the gezeirah, He is also "me'kayeim", He gives succor and strength to the person to persevere. Hashem sustains the individual, giving him the fortitude to endure the crisis that has challenged him. The Rebbe realized that while he was the victim of a serious decree, Hashem would sustain him and enable him to prevail over his torment. His attitude changed and he was released from his predicament a few days later. Every year on the anniversary of his release from prison, the Rebbe would recount this episode in his life and explain to those assembled how Hashem sustains those who are true objects of his gezeirah. He taught people not to be broken by events that challenge them, because Hashem gives one the strength to overcome.

Hashem gave Aharon the ability to overcome the challenge, to triumph over the pain, to accept the tragic loss with courage and faith and to go on. In truth, it is only with such Divine assistance that one can "make it".

And the pig, for its hoof is split and its hoof is completely separated, but it does not chew its cud, it is unclean to you. (11:7)

We are presently considered to be in the exile of Edom, the nation whom Chazal have compared to the pig. Just as the pig stretches out its kosher sign, its leg, claiming that it is kosher, so does the Edomite government boast of its just laws and democracy, while concealing its immoral and depraved behavior. We are subject to the influence of the culture and society we live in. How often have our own people fallen prey to the sham that constitutes today's society. History has demonstrated time and time again that the "pig" shows its true colors and lashes out with a savagery consistent with its true nature. Regrettably, the individuals who think they were achieving some success by assimilating with the present representatives of Eisav, have suffered the most.

Horav Moshe Mordechai Epstein, zl, gives deeper insight to the words of Chazal. Eisav was a hunter. He was a "tzayid b'fiv", ensnared people with his mouth. He used guile to captivate people and convince them to follow in his ways. How did he achieve his goal? He elaborated upon the importance of observing mitzvos bein adam l'chaveiro, those commandments whose focus is on the relationship of man with his fellow man, the "social" mitzvos. He chose to expound on these mitzvos. After all, he was following in the footsteps of his grandfather, Avraham, who exemplified the middah, character trait, of chesed, kindness. Once he "modified" the Torah/observance of mitzvos into an abbreviated form of humanistic and social-related mitzvos, he accumulated a following. He, of course, never divulged the "other" area of observance, mitzvos bein adam la'Makom, commandments that address man's relationship with the Almighty. Indeed, these mitzvos define the true concept of "bein adam l'chaveiro". Without the guidelines of the Divine, the human element has little substance.

The Torah requires us to look for two signs that render an animal kosher, split hooves and the chewing of cud. These two signs allude to the kosher signs of a human being. The first, split hooves, signifies the purity of one's "hands," the significance of mitzvos that address relationships between people. The other sign, chewing of cud, implies one's inner service, his relationship with Hashem. Eisav manifests one sign, the symbol of external observance, the belief in those mitzvos that are logical, that concentrate on man and his fellow man. We cannot divide up the Torah, picking and choosing those mitzvos that are logical, that make us feel good, with which we agree. We have seen throughout history how the great humanitarian races plundered and killed those that did not fit into their humanistic guidelines. Hence, Eisav/Edom/the pig, is rendered unclean.

You shall hallow yourselves and be holy, for I am Hashem who brought you up from the land of Egypt to be your G-d. (11:44,45)

Hashem adjures us to sanctify ourselves, to act differently, to be kadosh, because He brought us up from Egypt. We were raised up from the murky depths of depravity which symbolized the land of Egypt. We are to be separate. We are to be different. We are to distinguish ourselves in the way that we live; in the way that we act among ourselves and in the manner that we interface with others. We suggest that Chazal are teaching us an important lesson. How are we to respond and execute this distinction? Are we to be reclusive, hiding from the world as we perform our service to Hashem? Are we to lock ourselves up in ghettos concealed from society? No! We are to raise our heads up high with pride. The Torah says that "Hashem brought us up from Egypt. He distinguished us by raising us up above the nations." Is that a reason to hide?

This does not mean that we should revoke our separations, leave the ghetto and join contemporary society on their terms. Never!! We are to live openly, not concealed and ashamed. We are to maintain our observances, tzitzis, Shabbos, kashrus, our mode of dress, everything that constitutes living a Jewish life. We remain where we are -- but we observe Torah with pride, dignity and joy. We have nothing to fear but our own insecurity; we have nothing of which to be ashamed, but our own lack of self-respect. Hashem has raised us up; only we can denigrate ourselves.

You shall not contaminate yourselves through any teeming thing that creeps on the earth. For I am Hashem who elevates you from the land of Egypt. (11:44.45)

What is the relationship between the exodus from Egypt and the prohibition from eating insects? Horav Mordechai HaKohen in his sefer Al HaTorah cites a thoughtful response. Certain individuals are extremely careful not to eat any insect. They painstakingly check vegetables with a microscopic lens to make certain that even the tiniest bug, not visible to the naked eye,enters their mouth. Regrettably, these same people have no problem swallowing up a person, enslaving their brethren, spilling their blood and flaying their skin. They have no feelings for their fellow Jew. Disparaging comments can destroy a life. Subjecting a fellow Jew to the most menial forms of labor, stepping on him, taking away his dignity, is "at least" as bad as swallowing an insect.

For this reason the prohibition of eating insects in juxtaposed upon the exodus from Egypt. As Hashem punished the Egyptian nation for enslaving the Jews, so too, will Hashem exact punishment from those who take advantage of their fellow man.

Perhaps, this is the underlying message of David Hamelelch when he cried out to his enemies, "I am a worm, AND NOT A MAN" (Tehillim22;7). "Why do you chase after me, tearing at my heart, spilling my blood, saying that you would swallow me up alive? Make believe that I am nothing more than a mere worm. Perhaps then your noble efforts and sentiments on behalf of "harmless" insects might be aroused, so that you would spare me. Regrettably, David Hamelech's critique is just as compelling and warranted today as it was then.


1) Why did Moshe call the zekeinim when Aharon was commanded regarding the korbanos he was to bring?
2) What reward did Aharon receive for the way he accepted Hashem's judgment in the tragic death of his sons?
3) Who carried out the bodies of Nadav and Avihu from the Mishkan?
4) How many Seirei Chatas, sin offerings, were brought on the Yom Ha'shemini?
5) Who were Moshe and Aharon to instruct first in the laws of forbidden foods?
6) Which bird shares its food with its "friends"?
7) A. If one suspends a davar tamei into the air- space of an earthen-wax vessel, will the vessel become tamei? B. Does this law likewise apply to a metal vessel?


1) He wanted them to hear for themselves that Aharon was chosen to be Kohen Gadol by Hashem, that he had not taken it by himself.
2) The parsha concerning the prohibition for Kohanim to bring intoxicants prior to performing the avodah was given through Aharon
3) Mishael and Eltzafan
4) Three 1. The Seir Rosh Chodesh 2. The Seir Chatas for the entire nation. 3. Seir of Nachshon ben Aminadav
5. Elazar and Isamar
6. The chasidah
7. A. Yes b. No

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