Parshat Shemini Vol. 9 No. 25

Date of issue: 25 Adar II 5760 -- April 1, 2000

This week's issue has been sponsored in memory of Reverend Menachem Moshe Klien, beloved father of Yocheved Liss and beloved grandfather of Yoni, Yaakov, and Hillel Liss.

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This week's featured writers:

Rabbi Ezra Weiner
Hillel Liss
Yair Manas
Yoni Shenkman
Rabbi Howard Jachter
-*Shiurim - How Much Matza, Maror, and Wine Must We Consume?*
Halacha of the Week
Food For Thought
-by *David Gertler*

Is it the Gold or the Calf?
by Rabbi Ezra Weiner

"Take for yourself a young bull for a sin offering." 

Virtually all commentaries maintain that Hashem's commandment to Aharon that he offer a calf as a sin offering is to demonstrate that Aharon required atonement for his affiliation with and facilitation of the Chet Haegel.

The Mizrachi (Rav Eliyahu ben Avraham Mizrachi) raises the following question: there is a well-known principle: the accuser cannot become the defendant. This is the source for the requirement of only using white material for the Kohen Gadol's garments on Yom Kippur. The additional four golden garments are reminiscent of the Chet Haegel, so on the Day of Atonement we do not wish to assist the prosecution. Since we accept the principle of "the accuser cannot become the defendant," why is Aharon commanded to bring a calf? Will this reminder of the ChetHaegel serve to hinder his atonement?

Rav Shlomo Garzfried answers that the concern of the calf is not provoking the accuser by reminding him of the Chet Haegel. However, when the reminder itself is performing the actions to gain atonement, it is actually preferable. Therefore, a calf is a most appropriate choice for the Korban.

Another answer involves labeling the Chet Haegel as a serious transgression because it was made of gold, not because it happened to be calf. The fact that it was made of molten gold consituted the sin as idol worship. It is for this reason that "the accuser cannot become the defendant" would not apply to a regular calf brought as a Korban. This also explains why the Mitzva of red heifer does not pose a contradiction of this principle. Because it is the reminder of the gold in the golden calf that is the problem.

Too Close for Comfort
by Hillel Liss

"And Moshe said to Aharon, 'Of this did Hashem speak, saying, "I will be sanctified through those who are near me and I will be honored before the entire nation,"' and Aharon was silent" (10:3).

This Pasuk is very strange and difficult. First, what is "of this" referring to? What did Hashem say before that is reminiscent of the phrase "I will be sanctified through those who are near me and I will be honored before the entire nation?" The Chizkuni says that this is referring to Shemot 29:43, "I will set my meeting there with Bnai Yisrael, and it will be sanctified with My glory." However, what does this Pasuk have to do with the phrase "I will be sanctified through those who are near me and I will be honored before the entire nation?" Second, Moshe is trying to explain why Hashem killed Nadav and Avihu. How does "I will be sanctified through those who are near me and I will be honored before the entire nation" explain this? Third, after Moshe says this, Aharon is quiet. Why does this Pasuk record Aharon passivity? What is the Torah coming to show us?

There is an answer to all of these questions. Hashem said "I will set my meeting there with Bnai Yisrael, and it will be sanctified with My glory," referring to the Ohel Moed. Hashem is informing Bnai Yisrael that the Ohel Moed will become holy through His glory. When Nadav and Avihu offer their own incense in the Ohel Moed, they seem to have forgotten this lesson. The Pasuk says "And they brought a strange fire that was not commanded [for them] to bring." They were punished because they were never commanded to do it. They missed the whole point of the Ohel Moed, which was for Hashem to be made holy before all of Bnai Yisrael. They thought they could be in charge of the Ohel Moed. This is why Moshe says "Thus says Hashem." The connection between the phrase in Shemot and the phrase here can now be understood. By using Hashem's Krovim, Nadav and Avihu as a Korban, Hashem teaches Bnai Yisrael that He is distinct. Hashem must kill Nadav and Avihu to teach Bnai Yisrael the lesson that they essentially got too close to Him and assumed they could control the Mishkan without instruction. Through Nadav and Avihu's ultimate sacrifice, Hashem teaches all the people about His Kedusha and glory. This is why it says "and it will be sanctified with My glory." Now we can see why the Torah must comment on the fact that Aharon is silent. Aharon has learned the lessons which Hashem had just taught and accepted Hashem's will. The Torah develops this idea of maintaining a distance from Hashem in the rest of Parshat Shemini by contrasting purity and impurity in the later Pesukim. This is also why Hashem says "And separate between Kodesh and Chol, and between impure and pure."

You Are What You Eat
by Yair Manas

Parshat Shemini lists the laws of Kashrut, which dictate which foods Jews may and may not eat and how they must be prepared. No explanation is given for these laws; thus, some argue that the laws of Kashrut were only a temporary health measure. For instance, pork was prohibited so the Jews would not get the disease of trichinosis and the laws of salting meat were a way of preserving the meat before refrigeration was invented. Hence, they claim that the laws of Kashrut no longer apply.

However, this approach is incorrect. While it is true that the Torah is concerned for people's health and sanitation, this is not the rationale for Kashrut. The Torah is concerned with our spiritual well-being and inner purity. The Ramban explains that the Torah tells us to avoidance of certain foods do encourages spiritual cleanliness. Foods that are unclean and disgusting, such as the meat of an animal that died of disease, are not Kosher. Those who eat them have little regard for their own inner purity. We are influenced by what we eat, so we must follow the laws of Kashrut and eat only peaceful animals (and not vicious and predatory animals which are not Kosher).

In addition we must ensure that the food we buy does not contain any non-Kosher ingredients. We must ensure make sure that the meat we purchase is prepared under the supervision of an acknowledged Rabbinical authority. We cannot take anything for granted in this respect, and we should not rely on our own judgment. We should be as careful to abstain from eating non-kosher foods as we are about eating poison.

A story will help illustrate how careful we must be when eating food. A great rabbi was once in a distant land where people did not recognize him. Upon seeing the rabbi, a simple Jew thought the rabbi was a Shochet (ritual slaughterer) and asked him to slaughter a chicken for him. The rabbi replied by asking the simple Jew if he could borrow $1,000. The simple Jew answered that since he does not know the rabbi, he does not know if the rabbi would be able to pay back the loan. The rabbi responded that if the simple Jew did not know the rabbi, then how could he rely on the rabbi to slaughter the chicken according to Halacha?

This story teaches us that you should be very cautious in every aspect of Kashrut and be very careful in choosing what you eat.

Respectful Conduct
by Yoni Shenkman

One of the incidents in this week's Parsha helps us understand the importance of observing Mitzvot properly, and not to just learning and understanding the strict rules of a Mitzva. This important lesson can be learned from one of the more difficult and troubling stories in the entire Torah: the death of Aharon's two sons, Nadav and Avihu.

The story of Nadav and Avihu takes place while the Korbanot brought as part of the dedication of the Mishkan were offered. A fire descended from heaven and burned on the Mizbeach in the outer courtyard of the Mishkan.

The Ketoret, incense, was generally offered on the golden Mizbeach inside the Mishkan. This was done using coals from the Mizbeach that was in the Chatzer, outside the Mishkan. Nadav and Avihu took their fire pans and put their own fire in them instead of the burning coals from the heavenly fire. They then placed incense on the pans and brought them to the Mizbeach.

The Torah describes their offering as "an alien fire that He had not commanded them." The !: Aish Zarah was their own fire, made in front of Moshe and Aharon, that they put on the Mizbeach rather than letting the fire come from heaven. The result of their actions was that Hashem sent forth a fire which consumed and killed them. Was their deed so terrible that they deserved such a distinct death?

Through their actions, Nadav and Avihu were making a Halachic ruling in front of their Rebbe, Moshe. What were they ruling? Several chapters earlier, in Vayikra 1:7, the Torah writes: "The sons of Aharon the Kohen shall place fire on the altar." Rashi comments that although a Heavenly fire was always on the Mizbeach, the Kohanim are specifically commanded to add a fire which was man made, so, by bringing a foreign fire Nadav and Avihu, were acting correctly. Why then were they punished? 

The Gemara in Eruvin (63a) states that it is clearly wrong for students to make a Halachic ruling in front of their Rebbe. "Rabbi Eliezer said that the sons of Aharon did not die until they gave a Halachic decision in the presence of Moshe, their teacher."

In the same Gemara, it is stated in the name of Rava that if you make a legal decision in front of your Rebbe you would deserve to die. If the act is done anywhere outside the presence of your Rebbe, it is still improper, but a lesser punishment would apply. This is simply because it is more of an insult to your Rebbe when you make a legal decision in front of him. If he is not present, your action is still wrong, but it is less of an insult.
Some opinions say that you are not considered to be in your Rebbe's presence if you are more than three Parsah (about eight miles) away. This is a distance far beyond listening range. If your Rebbe can't hear your comments, why would you not be allowed to say them? Why is there still a punishment?

These rules are intended to teach a student to behave in a respectful manner. The focus is on the student learning to behave respectfully, not on avoiding directly insulting the Rebbe. It is possible for a student to act disrespectfully to his Rebbe even if the Rebbe is not there. A student's respect for his Rebbe should not depend on whether the Rebbe is present or not. Thus, the crime of Nadav and Avihu was not the improper interpretation of the law. Rather, their crime was in the manner in which they acted. By making a Halachic ruling in front of their Rebbe Moshe Rabbeinu, they acted disrespectfully toward him. 

From this interpretation of the death of Nadav and Avihu a very important lesson is learned. It is not enough to learn and understand Halacha as Nadav and Avihu did. It is not enough to merely conduct yourself and live your life according to the strict form of what Halacha requires. As is learned from this episode of Nadav and Avihu, acting in accordance with Halacha must also be accompanied by showing proper respect and acting like a Mensch. The proper way to behave and act is with respect and consideration of another person's feelings. We should all learn how to behave in front of others, especially in front of our Rebbiem from the tragedy of Nadav and Avihu.

Halacha of the Week

One should refrain from engaging in conversation from the time that one has recited the Brachot on the Matza until he has completed eating Korech (Shulchan Aruch 475:1). See Biur Halachah (s.v. Veomer) regarding when one should recite "Zecher L'mikdash K'Hillel," "A rememberance to the Mikdash like Hillel"; Rav Menachem Genack reports that Rav Soloveitchik recited it after he completed eating Korech.

Food for Thought
by David Gertler

1) In 11:21 the Torah writes "Ach Et Zeh Tochailu Mikol Sheretz Haoaf Haholech El Arbah Asher Lo Kra'im Mima'al L'raglav L'noter Bahen Al Ha'aretz." The word Lo, although written with an Aleph, meaning no, is read as if it is written with a Vav, meaning it has. What might the implications of the written word vs. the read word be?

If you have a response to this question, please contact us at Responses may be published upon agreement of the provider.

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