Parshat Shemini Vol.10 No.28

Date of issue: 28 Nissan 5761 -- April 21, 2001

This week's issue of Kol Torah has
been sponsored in loving memory of Aaron S. Turk of blessed memory, 
cherished father and grandfather, 
by Judy and Gary Rosenblatt,
Dov, Tali and Avi.

How to sponsor

This week's featured writers:

Rabbi Zvi Grumet
Yair Manas
Shuky Gross
Yoni Shenkman
Rabbi Howard Jachter
-*The Halacha of Rodef and the Rabin Shooting*
Halacha of the Week
Food For Thought
-by *David Gertler*

Shall the Twain Ever Meet?

by Rabbi Zvi Grumet

If one were to ask what the opposite of Kedusha (sanctity) was, the response would have to be Chulin (mundane). The absence of Kedusha does not have negative implications, just the lack of positive. While this in itself can be viewed as negative, as every missed opportunity for positive can be seen as negative, nonetheless if one were to construct a scale with Kedusha being on the positive side then the absence of Kedusha would be at point zero rather than be represented by negative numbers.

A similar argument (albeit in the reverse) could be made regarding Tumah (spiritual impurity). The absence of Tumah is not Kedusha, but Tahara (purity). In the Torah, Tumah is clearly presented as negative, and the absence of impurity is not inherently positive, but neutral. Again, if one were to construct a scale with Tumah being on the negative side, the absence of Tumah would be at point zero rather than in the positive numbers.
Conceptually, then, Kedusha and Tumah are not on opposite sides of the same scale but exist in two different spheres. They describe profoundly different aspects of religious life that should not interact or overlap. Yet it appears that they do.

The second half of this week's Parsha describes the various animals we are permitted or forbidden to consume. The most frequent word used to describe the forbidden animals is Tamei, the implication being that consuming them would somehow defile us. It is then surprising that in the summary statement at the close of the section the Torah provides us with a rationale for this particular set of instructions, and the overriding reason provided for avoiding Tuma is that we are obliged to become Kadosh, just as Hashem is Himself Kadosh. Five times in two Pesukim (11:44-45) the Torah invokes the word Kadosh in a context in which the operative word was Tamei. How are we to explain this apparent anomaly?

I would like to suggest that the answer lay in briefly defining both Tuma and Kedusha. Let us begin with Tuma. In its broadest sense, Tuma is invoked when we are forced to confront our own mortality. Whether we experience unnatural emissions from our own bodies (which can be a rather frightening experience), come in contact with death (both human and animal, with differences between them), or even experience childbirth (the very need to procreate is a stark reminder of the reality that we are not eternal), we are forced to encounter the reality of the fragility of our lives. And that experience can be rather frightening.

(As an aside, in the Torah, water represents the source and sustenance of life. It is for that reason that the primary vehicle for purification from Tuma is the complete immersion in the life affirming water.) On the other hand, Kedusha involves a search for the sublime, for a higher purpose in the every aspect of the mundane world and our lives in it. To be Kadosh means to separate from the mundane and to seek to elevate oneself, and the surrounding world, through dedication of the mundane to a loftier purpose. This is true when dedicating an animal to the bait Hamikdash, dedicating time for Torah study or Chesed, dedicating resources to help the less fortunate, and so on.

While Kedusha and Tuma are conceptually independent, it appears that the absence of Tuma is a pre-requisite for Kedusha. When one is obsessed with one's own mortality one cannot be searching for the sublime world of Kedusha. There are too many obstacles, too many intruding thoughts to be able to focus properly on loftier purposes or goals Tuma has no place in the Mikdash and Kedusha has no place where the reality of mortality reigns. (It is a twist of irony that the preparation of a corpse, the ultimate source of Tuma), is called a Tahara).

It is only when our mortality becomes irrelevant that we can truly dream of the greater good. It is only when we are untainted by secondary motivations and hidden agendas, some so hidden that even we are not aware of them, that we can truly strive for sanctity.

Honesty and Fire
by Yair Manas

After Aharon and his sons completed the seven days of required sacrifices and the dedication of the Mishkan, Hashem did not bestow His Presence upon the Mishkan. Aharon was worried that his involvement with the sin of the Golden Calf deemed his service unworthy of Hashem's Presence to descend upon the Mishkan. Aharon relayed his concerns to his brother Moshe. Moshe immediately entered the Mishkan with Aharon and prayed to Hashem for mercy. A fire from heaven then descended and consumed the offerings on the Altar. From this episode we catch a glimpse of Aharon's untarnished character. Aharon did not point, accuse, or blame anyone else but himself for the absence of Hashem's presence. Aharon did not take the easy way out by faulting others. Rather, he recognized that it was due to his own shortcomings and not anyone else's that prevented what the entire nation was eagerly waiting for, the arrival of Hashem's Holy Presence.

The Torah then tells us that after the Heavenly fire finally descended from the sky on the eighth day of the inauguration of the Mishkan, the entire nation erupted in song. At this point, the Jews had already been in the desert for almost a year. They were exposed to miracles on a daily basis. There was a spiritual cloud that directed them during the day, and a pillar of fire that replaced it at night. Wasn't that a display of God's Presence? Yet we find that the Jews yearned for Hashem's Presence to descend upon the Mishkan. Why weren't they content with the miracles that they were constantly exposed to? Rabbi Zalman Sorotzkin explains that as they saw the Cloud of Glory each day, they became accustomed to it and yearned for more. Therefore, at the site of this new display of Hashem's Presence, the Jews deeply appreciated and rejoiced, since it showed that Hashem wanted to be close to them.

We learn two valuable lessons from this Parsha. One should never take the easy way out and blame others. Rather, one should recognize one's own shortcomings and attempt to correct them. Each day we are exposed to Hashem's wonderful blessings and miracles. Our challenge is to pay attention to them and express our thanks and feelings of gratitude to Hashem, as learnt from the song that the Jews sang after Hashem's Holy Presence arrived in the Mishkan.

Kiss of Death
by Shuky Gross

In this week's Parsha, Parshat Shemini, the Torah states Vateitzei Aish Milifnei Hashem Vatochal Otam Vayamutu Lifnei Hashem, "And a fire came forth from before Hashem and consumed them, and they died before Hashem" (10:2). In the Pasuk, "them" is referring to Aharon's sons - Nadav and Avihu who were consumed by fire and killed. But why were Nadav and Avihu killed?

Rashi quotes Rabbi Eliezer who says that Nadav and Avihu were killed was because they rendered a Halachic decision in the presence of Moshe, their teacher. Rashi also quotes Rabbi Yishmael who gives a different answer. He says that Nadav and Avihu died because they entered the Azara while intoxicated. The Torah hints at this by Hashem's warning the rest of the Kohanim not to enter the Azara while intoxicated, later on in the Perek (10:9).

The Ramban, contrary to Rashi's opinion, says that the mere fact that Nadav and Avihu did not have the proper Kavana when they brought the Ketoret was enough to cause Hashem to kill them. Ramban cites the story of Korach as a proof to his opinion. When Korach and his gathering challenged Moshe, they were instructed to bring the Ketoret (the same Korban that Nadav and Avihu brought) along with Moshe to see whose Korban Hashem would accept. As we know, Moshe's Korban was accepted and Korach's was rejected, due to Korach's lack of proper Kavana.

The Gemara (Bava Metzia 59b) presents the following story, which illustrates Ramban's concept of proper Kavana:

Rabban Gamliel, who was the head of the Bait Din at that time, excommunicated Rabbi Eliezer, who just so happened to be his brother-in-law. Since Rabbi Eliezer was put in Cherem (excommunication), and was therefore forced to Daven alone at home, until the ban was lifted. When Rabbi Eliezer's wife found out about this, she tried to stop her husband from reciting Tachanun every morning, since she knew that with the proper Kavana a request made during Tachanun by her husband would be fulfilled by Hashem. She feared that while reciting Tachanun, her husband would become upset at Rabban Gamliel and wish that he would die. Consequently, Rabbi Eliezer's wife found a daily excuse to disrupt him while he was reciting Tachanun, thus not allowing him to have proper Kavana. This went on for a while until one day when Rabbi Eliezer's wife thought it was Rosh Chodesh, a day when we do not say Tachanun, and did not come in to disrupt her husband's Kavana. However, she erred in her calculations and it was in fact not Rosh Chodesh, and so Rabbi Eliezer davened Tachanun with full Kavana. Because of Rabbi Eliezer's wife miscalculation, her brother, Rabban Gamliel passed away the next day.

We see from this story of Rabbi Eliezer and the story of Nadav and Avihu in this week's Parsha how important it is to have proper Kavana when serving Hashem. The one day that Rabbi Eliezer was able to have his desired Kavana he used it in the wrong way, resulting in the death of Rabban Gamliel. Similarly Nadav and Avihu's misplaced Kavana while bringing the Ketoret resulted in their own deaths. We should learn to properly control our Kavana to have our Tefilot granted by Hashem.

Hashem's Fire
by Yoni Shenkman

Parshat Shemini relates to the joyous time when the Jews finally started the long-awaited service in the Mishkan, but it is interrupted with the disturbing death of Aharon's two oldest sons, Nadav and Avihu. Their sin was that they wanted to show their love for Hashem so much that they took it upon themselves to take incense, Ketoret, and burn it on their own. The Torah then says that a fire "came out from before Hashem and consumed them." It seems strange that the same fire that two Pesukim earlier came down to burn the offerings was the same fire that came down to kill Aharon's sons! Why did they specifically die with fire, which is what they tried to use to serve Hashem? The Rashbam helps us understand the reason why Aharon's sons were wrong by explaining that they were not authorized to bring the offering, and that their bringing it minimized the miracle of the fire coming down from the sky. However, although they died, the Pasuk says they died "before Hashem," which some commentaries explain to mean that they at least tried to do a good thing, and were worthy of dying before Hashem. The lesson from all of this is that although we as Jews could have been instructed to burn all the offerings ourselves, there were some that were left for Hashem to burn Himself. Doing, or "burning" things ourselves minimizes the very essence of those commandments. We have the guidelines of the Torah, not because they make sense to us and would do them anyway, but because Hashem wants us to do things a certain way. The point of the fire was to show us that Hashem would use fire for us, unless we make Him use that very fire on us by altering the "plan." The important lesson for us is that we all need to observe the commandments correctly so that they strengthen the fires within us, and not let the fire of Torah burn without us!

Halacha of the Week

One must express our gratitude to Hashem for the kindness that He does for both individuals and the Jewish People (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 218-219). This includes reciting a Beracha at the place where a miracle took place for either all of Bnai Yisrael or if the miracle affected one personally, or a well-known person, or a Tzaddik. Also included is a situation where one was saved from a dangerous situation. Yom Haatzmaut is one such opportunity for us to thank Hashem for the countless miracles He performs on behalf of Medinat Yisrael and the Jewish people.

Food for Thought
by David Gertler

1) The Torah (10:12-20) tells us that Aharon and his sons refused to eat from the Korban which was an atonement for the sins of the people that caused Hashem to delay in coming. When Moshe realizes this, he yelled at them saying that they should have eaten it until Aharon explains that he didn't think it was proper, as his two eldest sons just died. How does Moshe feel about family life in lieu of Avodat Hashem? How does Aharon's? Who is more correct? [See the Sefer Hachinuch]

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Staff at time of publication:
Editors-in-Chief: Josh Dubin, David Gertler 
Managing Editor: Yair Manas, Uriel Schechter
Publication Editor: Zev Feigenbaum
Business Manager: Yehuda Goldin, Sam Wiseman
Staff: Noam Block, Ami Friedman, Shuky Gross, Simcha Haber, Oren Levi, Ari Michael, Effie Richmond, Dani Shaffren, Ilan Tokayer
Faculty Advisor: Rabbi Howard Jachter

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