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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


A fire came down from before Hashem…and they died before Hashem…and Aharon was silent. (10:2,3)

As the joy surrounding the inauguration ritual reached its zenith, tragedy suddenly struck. Aharon's two oldest sons died during their performance of an unauthorized incense service. Aharon's classic response - or lack thereof - attests to his greatness, his nobility and his resolute faith in Hashem. He accepted Hashem's Divine decree. He was silent. He did not exhibit any form of emotion. Hashem's decree is not to be questioned, because the answer is above us. Chazal tell us that misas tzaddikim, the death of the righteous, is "me'chaper," atones for our sins. This idea is derived from the fact that the Torah juxtaposes the laws of the Parah Adumah, Red Heifer, upon the death of Miriam. We infer from this that just as korbanos, sacrifices, atone, so does the death of a tzaddik. Horav Gedalya Eiseman, Shlita, commented on this Chazal, when he spoke shortly after a G-d-fearing woman was brutally murdered during an Arab terrorist attack.

If the Torah is conveying to us the idea that a tzaddik's death atones as completely as a korban, why did it not record Miriam's death in those parshios that address the laws of korbanos intended for atonement, such as the sin-offering or burnt-offering? Why is her death chronicled adjacent to the Parah Adumah, which serves essentially as a vehicle for taharah, ritual cleanliness? He explained that the Parah Adumah is the classic example of a "chok," mitzvah whose rationale and meaning are beyond our understanding. We accept it just because it is Hashem's command. We do not ask, because we will not receive an answer. We accept the reality because that is part of being a Jew: we accept Hashem's decree - unequivocally.

This same idea applies to the death of a tzaddik. We hope that no one dies. We pray that tragedy not befall anyone, but when it occurs to a tzaddik; when someone who is devout, pious, virtuous and saintly is taken from our midst, usually under heartbreaking circumstances, we ask: Why does tragedy befall such a special person, such a young soul, such a saint who has already suffered so much? The only response is that it is a Divine decree, and we do not question the Almighty. The Parah Adumah is an anomaly. Just as it defies human rationale, so, too, do the deaths of the righteous raise questions for which there is no logical human response. It is a test of our faith and trust in the Almighty. That is the essence of Judaism.

Aharon HaTzaddik set the standard for response to tragedy. It was a day of heightened joy in which he, as Kohen Gadol, was intimately involved. Others have learned from him not to permit personal tragedy to override the joy and sanctity of Shabbos or Yom Tov, Hashem's days of joy. A very poignant example is provided by the following inspiring story:

The Rema in Orach Chaim 288:2 writes, "One who feels pleasure (i.e., finds relief) when he cries, in order to soothe his heart's pain, may do so on Shabbos." Nonetheless, many great and simple Jews would not give into emotion and have not expressed their grief on Shabbos, so as not to disrupt the joy and sanctity of the holy day. Horav Rephael David Auerbach, Shlita, was one such person. A terrible terrorist explosion rocked Yerushalayim. His son, Aharon Meir, and another young man, Arye Yosef Sheinfeld, were two of its victims. They were rushed to Hadassah hospital on Erev Shabbos - both mortally wounded.

As night fell and the Shabbos Queen was ushered in, Ahraon Meir Auerbach lay in his bed suffering indescribable pain. Hundreds of splinters of glass riddled his body, terrible burns tortured his skin, as the blood so vital to life was continually ebbing from his wounded body. In a nearby room, his father welcomed Shabbos with what seemed to be his usual serene and enraptured self. Earlier that day, his whole life had been shaken at its very core when he heard the news of the explosion. Knowing that his son would be on his way home exactly at that time, he could barely control himself through the hours of worry and uncertainty. His fears were confirmed: his son lay mortally wounded in Hadassah. He rushed to the hospital, only to be told by the doctors that there was no hope for his son's life. Many yeshivah students came to give blood for their friend, but it was to be of no avail.

Shabbos arrived, and Reb Raphael David donned his Shabbos clothes to welcome the Shabbos with joy. "Shabbos is not a time for tears," he said, his voice filled with faith and reassurance. He ate his Shabbos meal, sang zemiros, the traditional Shabbos songs, his face radiating an inner glow, a joy endemic to one who serves Hashem with love.

The hospital staff would peer into the room, shocked in disbelief. Here was a man singing Shabbos songs, while his son's life slowly ebbed away. Just minutes before he had been filled with worry and anguish over his son's condition. How could he have transformed so radically? They did not understand what Shabbos meant to Reb Rephael David.

He sat by his son's bed all through the night, praying silently - never weeping. In a nearby room, Aryeh Yosef Sheinfeld, the other victim, breathed his last breath. Everyone was in shock - except Reb Rephael David, who told them how to move the body and care for it on Shabbos. In the morning, Reb Rephael David and his wife stood by their son's bed, reciting Shema Yisrael as their son's holy neshamah, soul, rose and soared Heavenward. He did not cry - and he instructed all those present that it was Shabbos. One should not cry.

Suddenly, he began to sing Ein K'Elokeinu, There is no one like our G-d. As he sang, memories rose up before him. His son was only fifteen years old, but he had accomplished so much. An exceptional student, he was the apple of his father's eye. A budding Torah scholar, he had mastered hundreds of pages of Talmud. He had had a bright future, but now his brief life had come to a tragic end.

Yet, Reb Rephael David's faith in Hashem was not shaken. He was resolute in his belief. His voice continued firmly: Mi K'Elokeinu, Who is like our G-d? Reb Rephael's older son arrived after a long walk. But it was too late. He could not see his brother alive. His father greeted him with the bitter news, immediately adding, "Remember, you cannot cry. It is Shabbos Kodesh."

The hours went by and Reb Rephael constrained himself. He did not allow his emotions to overwhelm him. He ate Seudah Shlishis, as he always did. After all, it was Shabbos. He waited a little longer. The Shabbos Queen withdrew: Shabbos was over. Only now did a fountain of tears stream forth, as fifteen years of love - pent up throughout the Shabbos - poured from him. This was Aharon's student.

And your brethren the entire house of Yisrael shall bewail the conflagration that Hashem ignited. (10:6)

The Rambam in Hilchos Aveilus 13:10 writes, "One does not weep for the deceased more than three days. But for a Torah scholar, it depends upon their level of wisdom. Nevertheless, one does not weep more than thirty days. There are clearly defined parameters for the length of time one may express emotional grief upon the death of another Jew. Yet, the Torah does not seem to place a time limit concerning the weeping for Aharon's sons. When Moshe Rabbeinu - the quintessential leader and rebbe of Klal Yisrael - died, Klal Yisrael was instructed to mourn for thirty days. For Nadav and Avihu, Aharon's two sons who died tragically, the Torah does not seem to have mandated a limit for the mourning period. Why?

Horav Nachum Percowiz, zl, in his eulogy for his father-in-law, the venerable Rosh HaYeshiva of Mir Yerushalayim, Horav Chaim Shmuelevitz, zl, distinguishes two types of weeping: weeping as a sign of mourning, a component to the aveilus experience; and weeping throughout the generations, bechiah-l'doros, as an educational, inspirational experience for the "Sreifah asher soraf Hashem," conflagration that Hashem ignited. When Divine Justice is manifest, Hashem's Name is magnified and becomes more awe-inspiring. His Name becomes sanctified when people take to heart the punishment incurred by a tzaddik for his slightest infraction.

There is no time limit to Kiddush Hashem, sanctification of Hashem's Name. When Moshe passed away at the end of a long, fruitful life, it was a great loss. Klal Yisrael wept and mourned for thirty days, an appropriate time for feeling the loss of such a great leader. They were not commanded to cry. They cried because they felt the void; they sensed the loss. When Nadav and Avihu died tragically, it was like fire from Hashem; it was an expression of Divine justice which stimulates reflection and cogitation. Thus, Klal Yisrael could come to grips with the experience and the profound, enduring message it was conveying. This cogent experience should evoke an emotional awakening for all times.

Do not leave your heads unshaven and do not rend your garments that you not die…and your brethren the entire House of Yisrael shall bewail the conflagration that Hashem ignited. (10:6)

Aharon HaKohen's two eldest sons died in a terrible, tragic fire that consumed their souls, yet left their bodies intact. It was to be a day of heightened joy, the greatest simchah for Hashem, for Aharon and for all of Klal Yisrael. It was the day that the Mishkan was to be dedicated. The festivities were tragically marred. Yet, Aharon and his sons were commanded that, as Kohanim, they could not exhibit any outward signs of mourning. It was Hashem's day. Their personal grief was not to detract from Hashem's simchah. On the other hand, Klal Yisrael was adjured to mourn to the point that if they were to act as the Kohanim and not mourn, Hashem would be angry with them. Two distinguished tzaddikim, righteous scholars, had perished, and everyone was obligated to mourn their loss. Everyone, except the Kohanim.

There are a number of issues that should be addressed. First, we do not find elsewhere the expression, "the conflagration that Hashem ignited," in regard to the death of the righteous. Furthermore, in regard to other tzaddikim, there is a specific time frame for observing the mourning period for them: seven days, thirty days, one year. Regarding the sons of Aharon, it seems to be an ongoing period of mourning. In fact, Chazal teach us that if one weeps during Minchah on Yom Kippur, when the deaths of Aharon's sons is read, he will merit that his own sons will not, chas v'shalom, Heaven Forbid, be taken away during his lifetime. In other words, the obligation to mourn for Nadav and Avihu is unremitting. Why?

Horav Elchanan Sorotzkin, zl, explains that the grief and weeping we are to undergo is not for the deaths of Aharon's sons, per se, but rather, for the cause of their premature passing from this world. Chazal cite a number of reasons which, in accordance to their lofty, spiritual status, manifested a deficiency. Whether it is because they entered the Sanctuary after having imbibed; or they had not yet married; they were not wearing all the necessary vestments; they rendered a halachic decision in the presence of their rebbe, Moshe; they walked behind Moshe and Aharon saying, "When will those two old ones pass on and we will become the leaders of the nation?" These are some of the spiritual shortcomings attributed to Nadav and Avihu. It certainly does not mean that they actually erred in these areas. Chazal are telling us that Nadav and Avihu acted in such a manner that others following them a generation or two later might act inappropriately, based upon the way they acted now. Nadav and Avihu's minor indiscretions would be magnified by others, who would actually be guilty of these sins. This is something to cry about. This is truly a reason to mourn - all the time. In every generation, whenever a death like Aharon's sons' - a spiritual death in which the body remains intact, only the neshamah is lost - is experienced, we must mourn. It is our function and obligation throughout time to educate our youth, to imbue them with the necessary values and virtues, so they do not become guilty of the shortcomings manifest by Aharon's sons. When we notice a problem, it is a reason for weeping. Indeed, if we will take those problems to heart; if we will grieve when a Jewish neshamah is faltering; when we will conquer the indifference and apathy that reigns within us; when we will stop raising up our hands to Heaven in defeat when we confront children who are "at risk" and instead grieve and do something about it - we will merit that the deaths of Aharon's sons, the spiritual loss of our young people, will no longer occur.

And the pig…it is unclean to you. (11:7)

Professor Daniel Chavelson was a living tragedy. A brilliant scholar, who became an apostate and converted out of the faith in order to advance his secular status, he enjoyed the respect and friendship of a number of rabbinic leaders. He continued to study Torah on a consistent basis, maintaining an active correspondence of halachic responsa with these rabbis. When the Netziv, zl, was questioned about this enigma, an individual who, although a heretic, was still held in esteem by many observant Jews, he sighed, responding with the following story:

One day the wife of the town's wealthiest man became seriously ill. This woman was very special and G-d-fearing. They sent for the greatest physicians, the most erudite specialists to find some cure for her illness. The doctors all came to the decision that in order for her to live, she must eat meat from a pig. Understandably, both husband and wife vehemently refused to listen to such a cure. Unfortunately, the situation appeared to be very bleak, as her health slowly digressed. She was literally at death's door.

When the rav of the community heard this, he immediately went to the woman and insisted that she partake of the forbidden food. "Not only are you permitted - you are obligated to eat from the pig if it will cure you," exclaimed the rav. "Hashem wants us to live, not to die."

Reluctantly, the woman accepted the rav's ruling, and said that she would eat from the pig. As the rav was leaving, the woman asked, "I have one request. I would like, at least, to have the pig slaughtered by a shochet, ritual slaughterer." The rav held back a smile and agreed to permit the pig to be slaughtered. The shochet slaughtered the pig. The women now requested that the lungs be examined to make sure there were no adhesions that would "disqualify" the shechitah. Indeed, there was a questionable adhesion on the lobe of one the lungs. The shochet did not know what to do. He went to the rav, who carefully examined the lung. He said, "This is a difficult decision to make, for if this were the lung of a kosher animal, I would not hesitate to render a decision of kosher. This is the lung of a pig, however. How can I say kosher on a lung, if the rest of the animal is not kosher? When all is said and done, this is a pig! I cannot say kosher on a pig."

It was not necessary for the Netziv to explain the implication of this story regarding the "scholarly" apostate. A kosher lung does not render a pig kosher.

Vignettes on the Torah

It was on the eighth day. (9:1)

Chazal teach us that the word "vayehi," "it was," denotes that trouble or grief are associated with the subject at hand. We wonder what grief could be associated with such an auspicious occasion as Rosh Chodesh Nissan, coinciding with the inauguration of the Mishkan? Horav Yisrael, zl, of m'Rizin explains that a corporeal edifice was not what Hashem originally had desired. The optimum Sanctuary should be within each individual's heart. It is only as a result of the sin of the Golden Calf that it was necessary for Hashem to constrict His Presence in this world and repose within the constraints of a man-made edifice.


And Aharon was silent. (10:3)

Horav Meir Yechiel Halevi, zl, m'Ostrovse explains that the world is divided into four creations: domeim, inanimate; tzomeiach, growing things; chai, living creatures; medaber, speaking humans. Their natures are equally disparate. When a human is being afflicted, he tends to strike back. An animal, on the other hand, will scream in pain and run away. A plant can neither fight back or run. It will, however, change its physical appearance when it is "hurt." The domeim, inanimate stone, has no life to it. Even if it is cut, smashed, or bruised, it does not react - at all. Aharon became like a domeim. He did not exhibit any reaction - whatsoever.


Everything that has a split hoof… that one you may eat. (11:3)

The Noam Elimelech interprets this pasuk homiletically. One who is mindful of those mitzvos that people usually trample with their heels reflects a sign of purity. Vigilance in observing all mitzvos is what distinguishes an adam tahor, pure individual.


Anyone who touches them…shall be contaminated. (11:31)

One would think than rather that have that which is tamei, unclean, contaminate the tahor, clean it should be the converse, the tahor should overwhelm the tamei. Horav Mordechai HaKohen, zl, explains that the source of taharah, purity/ritual cleanliness, is within one's inner essence, his neshamah, soul, while the origin of tumah is the body. If a neshamah tehorah, pure soul, touches one that was tamei, it would, indeed, succeed in purifying it. The body which touches an unclean substance, however, does not have the power to prevail over it. Since it cannot make it tahor, it, in turn, becomes tamei.

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