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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland

Parshas Shemini

A fire came forth from before Hashem and consumed them...Moshe said to Aharon, "Of this did Hashem speak saying, "I will be sanctified through those who are dearest to Me...and Aharon fell silent. (10:2,3)

This is one of the most compelling statements in the Torah. For a father to witness the devastating death of his two sons -- men who had exemplified service to the Almighty, who had brilliant futures before them -- and to remain silent as stone is incredible. How are we to understand this? Indeed, throughout the generations parents have suffered grievous losses and have accepted it as Hashem's Will. Where does one conjure the temerity, the superhuman strength, to transcend human emotion to acccept Hashem's edict in such a manner? Apparently, these have not been ordinary people with an ordinary perception of Hashem's guiding-hand throughout our every endeavor. They believed in the Almighty in such a manner that accepting His decree, however difficult, is a natural response.

Chazal say that Hashem is not content with silence alone. In the Talmud Berachos 60b, Chazal relate that one must bless Hashem for the bad as well as for the good. Silence is not a sufficient response; we must welcome the bad, as we would the good. This is, indeed, a reaction that goes beyond the norm. Yet, this is the ideal that is expected of us. We should bear in mind that the Almighty gives strength to withstand His decrees. He does not demand from a person more than he is capable of handling. He certainly knows us better than we know ourselves.

There is a very moving story told about the Aderes, Horav Avraham David Rabinowitz Tumim,zl, regarding his reaction to the tragic death of his son. He was known to be punctual in his conduct with the community. They rarely had to wait for him. It was the day of his young son's funeral, and the entire community was waiting outside his home for him to come out. They waited and waited, but the Rav did not come out. After two hours, he came out and recited the brachah, "Baruch dayan ha'emes," after which they began the funeral. After awhile, his students asked him what had delayed him in the house.

He explained the delay in the following manner: We are told to make a blessing over bad news, "k'shem" - "like" we make a blessing over good news. The emphasis on the word "k'shem" - "like" - indicates that one must accept bad news with the same joy with which he accepts good news. When I prepared to recite the brachah of "Dayan Ha'Emes," praising Hashem as the True Judge, accepting His verdict, I could not arouse in myself the same sense of joy I felt when I had recited the brachah at my son's Bris. I remained alone in the room for awhile in order to bring myself to that level of emotion.

Horav Avrohom Grodzinski, zl, was a baal yissurim, one who went through life amidst great suffering. Never did it dampen his spirits. He drew strength from his suffering, becoming a better person for it. Shortly after he was appointed Mashgiach of the Slobodker Yeshiva, he was struck by waves of troubles. His wife passed away, leaving him to care for eight young children. It was characteristic of the Mashgiach not to recite the brachah of Dayan Ha'emes immediately upon hearing the tragic news, for he felt that he would not recite it with the proper kavahah, concentration. If Chazal required one to be in a proper state of mind to perform Tzidduk Ha'din, proclaiming the justness of punishment, he must wait until he could accept the terrible decree with an affirmation of joy. He waited two days before reciting the brachah with complete intent and awareness.

We must remember that these stories are not about people who lived hundreds of years ago, but rather in the past generation. These stories demonstrate how Torah study refines one's character and enhances his perspective.

Moshe said to Aharon: Of this did Hashem speak..."I will be sanctified through those who are nearest to Me,thus I will be honored before the entire People." (10:3)

In this parsha, the Torah recounts the tragic loss of Aharon's two sons, Nadav and Avihu. The tragedy in itself is overwhelming; the fact that two such remarkable young men were taken from us under such circumstances makes it even more difficult to accept. Yet, this is part of the Divine plan. Who are we to question the Almighty? Indeed, Chazal state a number of reasons to explain the punitive divine measures against Nadav and Avihu. They are to be considered spiritually deficient only in the context of their lofty plateau of holiness. "Bikrovai Ekadesh;" "I will be sanctified through those who are nearest to Me," seems to be the stated rationale for such severe justice. When a great saint suffers, Hashem has imposed punishment upon the righteous. Through this act, He conveys a message to the rest of the community. If this is how the righteous suffer, surely the punishment in store for the wicked will be much more severe. Nadav and Avihu were selected to be the two paradigms who would sanctify the Mishkan. Moshe told Aharon, "I knew the Mishkan would be sanctified by someone in whom the glory of Hashem rests. I thought it would be one of us. I see now that they are greater than either one of us."

We now have some idea of the madreigah, spiritual plateau, which Nadav and Avihu attained. This makes the circumstance even more enigmatic. Was the lesson that Klal Yisrael would derive from their deaths more important than the lives of these two precious tzaddikim? Can we imagine how much we could have learned from their lives? They were greater than Moshe and Aharon. The Torah and chesed that they might have taught would have been amazing! The opportunity was wiped out in one moment. Their deaths circumvented any possible "living" lesson. Is not the incurred loss greater than the benefit derived from their deaths?

Horav Avigdor Halevi Nebentzhal, Shlita, suggests that it must have been worth it: for Hashem, for Klal Yisrael and for Nadav and Avihu. Chazal tell us that this deficiency was the only flaw on their spiritual character. Their deaths served to atone not only for their generation, but for all ensuing generations! Indeed, Chazal say that one who weeps on Yom Kippur -- when the deaths of Nadav and Avihu are read from the Torah -- is guaranteed that his sins will be forgiven, and he will not outlive his children.

Yet, Hashem saw fit to remove these two tzaddikim from the world. Apparently, they had a greater purpose in death, a greater merit in leaving this world the way they did, than in remaining here. Their Kiddush Hashem, sanctification of Hashem's Name, is greater than the entire Torah and all of the mitzvos that they would have fulfilled during their lifetime.

Kiddush Hashem is the purpose of life. Every creation is created to sanctify Hashem's Name. Performing mitzvos and studying Torah are all for the purpose of glorifying the Almighty. Hashem felt that teaching the people the idea of Morah Mikdash, reverence and awe for the Sanctuary, was of supreme importance. We understand this from Moshe. He thought that his death would be mechanech, dedicate/inaugurate and sanctify the Mishkan. He realized that whatever he would accomplish as Klal Yisrael's leader would pale in significance to the benefit of Kiddush Hashem. He understood that the esteem in which we hold the Mikdash is the foundation of our religion. Respect and fear, reverence and awe, define our relationship towards the Sanctuary.

Horav Nebentzhal takes this idea a step further as he explains the concept of Kiddush Hashem and its underlying rationale. We have a halachic axiom that there are three cardinal sins for which one must give up his life rather than transgress. They are: murder, immorality and idol worship. We can rationalize including murder and immorality; in both circumstances one betrays or hurts another Jew, but why should idol worship be included? As long as the individual knows in his heart that bowing down to this idol is an involuntary act of submission, he should not be compelled to give up his own life. Imagine, a great sage: one whose death will leave a great void in the spiritual landscape of our People; one who would inspire and minister to the spiritual needs of thousands. His positive influence would be eliminated by his unnecessary death. Why should he go through with it?

One must understand that kavod Shomayim is the supreme act of service to the Almighty. The honor we accord Him takes precedence over every Torah-related endeavor we could ever do. If that basic reverence is lacking, then nothing else has value. This principle is demonstrated by Moshe's willingness and readiness to die in order to dedicate the Sanctuary, to teach Klal Yisrael the compelling importance of kavod Shomayim. Furthermore, although Nadav and Avihu's act of Kiddush Hashem was a public occurrence, it does not have to be that way. The very same obligation applies to an individual in the privacy of his own home - in hiding like so many of our anscestors during pogroms and inquisitions. Kiddush Hashem begins in the heart of each individual. Does the Almighty have ultimate value in your eyes? Does He take precedence over everything? Does it have greater importance than your life? Whenever we attribute greater value to anything than we do to the Almighty, it is a blatant desecration of Hashem's Name - regardless if our action is public or private!

In summation: First, Kiddush Shem Shomayim is the purpose of Creation and should be the objective of humanity. One who does not have this in mind, who does not place his greatest emphasis on this point, does not fulfill his purpose in life, and, in essence, has no inherent meaning in his life. Second, Kiddush Hashem does not necessarily mean to give up one's life for Hashem. One does not have to die to be mekadesh Shem Shomayim. There is kiddush ha'chaim, the sanctification of life, in which every aspect of our lives reflects the greatest reverence and value to kavod Shomayim. After all, this is the way our anscestors lived for thousands of years.

These shall you abominate from among the birds, they may not be eaten - they are an abomination...the chasidah. (11:13,19)

One would think that with a name as impressive as chasidah, a derivative from chesed, kindness, this bird would rate a high standard of kashrus. Why is it included as a non-kosher fowl? Commenting on the Talmud Chullin 63a, Rashi attributes the name chasidah to the kindness it displays towards members of its species by sharing food with them. Yet, its comparison is not recognized . The Chidushei Ha'Rim explains that it directs its kindness only towards its own species / fellow. In other words, chesed is not a commodity that we control at our pleasure. If someone does not fit into our criteria for chesed, if he is not one of our fellows, then we do not perform chesed for them. That is not the Torah's perspective on giving . Chesed is a G-d-given mandate. Those whom Hashem has made fortunate enough to do chesed to benefit others, should view themselves as a conduit for helping all who are in need.

We may add another lesson to be derived herein. Performing chesed is not necessarily a sign of kashrus. The fowl must conform to the laws of kashrus, it must have the necessary signs that deem it kosher. Perhaps this might serve as a lesson for us. While performing humanitarian acts of kindness is certainly a valuable trait, it does not mitigate non-conformance to Jewish law. One will receive his due reward for his act of benevolence. Unfortunately, he will also have to answer for ignoring the rest of the Torah.

If an animal that you may eat has died, one who touches its carcass shall become contaminated. (11:39)

We can derive some thoughtful lessons from the laws of tumah and taharah, ritual purity. Horav S.R. Hirsch, zl, contends that the various cases of ritual contamination are derived from the principal source of tumah, the avi avos ha'tumah, "father of the fathers of contamination," the human corpse. Death is the ultimate expression of the separation of the soul and spirit from the matter which we call the human body. Hence, the corpse represents the physical dimension in its totality, in its most absolute form, severed from the moral freedom that life offers us. The freedom to choose between right and wrong, between good and evil, is the basis of our relationship with the Almighty. It gives the ability to rise above the mundane to serve Hashem. The closer a creature is to the human condition, such as mammals, or the more an object or garment brings to mind his presence, the greater the susceptibility to contamination.

Horav Hirsch suggests that clothing, vessels, and tools implement the most direct indication of man's activity and presence. Thus, the laws of tumah, contamination, regarding these objects are identical with those which apply to man. This is consistent with the halachic axiom of "cherev, harei hu k'chalal," a sword is like, (contracts tumah) the actual corpse. By avoiding tumaas- keilm, contamination of our vessels and the objects of our social and individual activity, we elevate and consecrate them to our holy ideal.

Another important lesson to be noted from the laws of tumah may be derived from the fact that contamination spreads to any article through the vehicle of simple contact. This is in stark contrast to holiness which is transmitted through actual absorption of the holy object. Horav Eli Munk, zl, draws a parallel to good and evil. While evil is spread easily, travelling like an unleashed disease, holiness and good require real penetration in order to be transmitted to others. While it is true that exposure to good is in itself a wonderful opportunity for inspiration, if it is to endure, one must assimilate this virtue into his psyche.

1. A. On which month of the year did the "Yom Ha'shmini" occur?
B. Which day of the week was it?

2. What was the significance to Aharon of the eigal for the Korban Chatas?

3. The Parsha of "shtuyei yayin," drinking wine prior to performing the avodah was said to _____________. Why?

4. Where may Kodoshim kalim be eaten?

5. Is one permitted to feed non-kosher food to young children?

6. If a tamei object is descended into the airspace of a metal vessel, will it become tamei?

7. If one transforms an earthenware vessel that is tamei into a flower pot, may he use it?


1. A. Rosh Chodesh Nissan
B. Sunday

2. It was an indication that Hashem forgave him for his involvement in the chet ha'eigel.

3. Aharon; it was a reward for his acceptance of Hashem's decree against his two sons. He remained silent and did not lose control of his emotions after the tragedy.

4. Anywhere in Yerushalayim.

5. No.

6. No. It must touch the vessel.

7. Yes.


in honor of our dear parents
Joseph and Celia Saff
"May you share many more healthy and happy
years together, enjoying nachas from your
children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren"


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