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Shemini - Parah

This Issue's Halacha Article

Shemini - Parah

22 Adar Bet 5768

March 29, 2008

Vol.17 No.28

In This Issue:


by Rabbi Scott Friedman

In the beginning of Parashat Shemini, Moshe instructs Aharon regarding his inaugural Korbanot, through which many lessons are revealed to us. First, Moshe tells Aharon to take for himself a calf for a Korban Chatat (VaYikra 9:2). Rashi explains that this calf was to tell Aharon that he would receive atonement for the sin of the Eigel HaZahav. The Chizkuni adds that this Korban Chatat is the only one in the entire Torah consisting of a calf; that of Bnei Yisrael is a male goat.

In Parashat Parah, the extra portion we read this week, Rashi (BeMidbar 19:22) explains that the Parah Adumah also is a form of atonement for the sin of the golden calf. Although we know that the Parah Adumah is a Chok, a law beyond human comprehension, perhaps we can learn something about it based on Rashi. The Parah Adumah, as the name indicates, must be red, just as sin is symbolized by the color red (Yeshayahu 1:18). Furthermore, the Imrei Shefer adds that a man sins through physicality, which stems from man's life force, blood, which is red as well.

Further into the inaugural process, Moshe tells Aharon "Kerav El HaMizbeiach," "Come close to the Mizbeiach" (VaYikra 9:9). These few words seem extraneous and imply that Aharon hesitated. Rashi comments that Aharon was embarrassed and afraid to approach. Ramban adds that when Aharon saw the calf he was to bring on the Mizbeiach, he was reminded of his sin with the golden calf; perhaps the Satan placed this image in his head. Therefore, Moshe says to him, "Why are you embarrassed? This is what you were selected for." The Degel Machaneih Ephraim says that it is precisely because Aharon was embarrassed that he was chosen for this position.

Very often, feelings of guilt and shame overwhelm us. We feel unworthy and incapable of approaching Hashem. From this week's Parashiyot, we see how to approach such situations. It is specifically in such times that we are told Kerav, come close. It is at the lowest points and the loneliest times that Hashem wants our closeness. Zev Kahane, an 11th grader at TABC, pointed out last week (in an article available at that the term Korban has the same root as the work Kerav. It is through the Korbanot that we become closer to Hashem. For example, when we bring a Korban, we are coming before Hashem and sacrificing something that is ours and begging for this to atone in our place. We not only sacrifice the animal; we sacrifice ourselves. In coming before Hashem, we are saying that we are not in charge; that we need His love, approval, guidance, and more; that we are coming to Him because we are insufficient without Him. With these thoughts in mind, we naturally come closer to Him. Our relationship is strengthened, and we are given the opportunity not only to repent and be forgiven, but also to elevate ourselves and come even closer.

In any relationship, both sides have different options as to how to respond after an argument. They could hold a grudge, ignore it, or hopefully use the argument as an opportunity to hear each other more clearly and work on the relationship as a whole. In fact, every argument is an opportunity to grow closer, to learn about each other better, to open up more, and to learn to resolve differences in a productive manner. So too, in every sin that a person does, he has the opportunity to sulk, beat himself up for his imperfection, or, hopefully, realize the problem and use the sin as an opportunity to do greater Teshuvah and move to a higher level. There is a common misperception that in following Torah or, LeHavdil, any other set of guidelines, it is all or nothing. I believe that this is largely due to the idea that many of us, out of embarrassment, drift further away from perfection in response to a setback as opposed to coming closer. We must remember that it is due to this feeling of embarrassment that we were chosen, as the Gemara (Yevamot 79a) tells us that Bnei Yisrael by nature are Bayshanim. Our feelings of shame should come from a place of real regret, not from arrogance related to not having been as perfect as we expect ourselves to be. The Sefat Emet, Rav Chaim Volozhiner, and others point out that the Mishnah, "Eizehu Ashir? HaSameiach BeChelko," "Who is rich? He who is happy with his portion" (Avot 4:1), applies to Ruchniyut as well as Gashmiyut. (For more on this, see an amazing article titled "The Pursuit of Perfection: Vice or Virtue in Judaism at Unfortunately, there is not enough of a premium placed on admitting our mistakes and trying to do Teshuvah. Too often, the focus is placed on the wrongdoing, not the great honesty and strength that it takes for one to admit his mistakes. Perhaps if we would place a greater emphasis on the relationship, the honesty, and the communication between ourselves and less on our shortcomings, we would all have an easier time accepting ourselves for what we are as well as others for what they are, consequentially making the growing, changing, and advancing process much more appreciated and possible. The Pasuk tells us "Ki Sheva Yipol Tzaddik VaKam," "A Tzaddik may falls seven times and [yet] get up" (Mishlei 24:16). The famous question goes that if this person is a Tzaddik, why does he fall seven times? Firstly, we know that seven is the number of nature, and we see from here that it is natural for someone to fall repeatedly. However, with the help of Hashem, we can rise to an eighth level, LeMaalah Min HaTeva (above nature). Only with Hashem's help can we overcome our own shortcomings and our own nature; a Tzaddik is not one who does not fall, but rather is one who repeatedly picks himself up and does Teshuvah.

There was once a Bachur who went to see the previous Gerrer Rebbe. The Bachur said that he was learning in a Yeshiva for Baalei Teshuvah but that he was not a Baal Teshuvah himself. The Gerrer Rebbe responded, "And why not?" Really, every day we should all be doing some kind of Teshuvah. This can happen only when we realize that when we have erred and feel distant or unwanted, whether it be from Hashem, a spouse, a child, or a friend, we must take the advice of Moshe: Kerav, come closer.

Kashrut Without Reason

by Philip Blass

"Jews don't eat ham."

Of the six hundred and thirteen Mitzvot in the Torah, this would probably be the first thing a Gentile would answer when asked to name one difference between Jews and non-Jews. At a recent interfaith breakfast sponsored by the Jewish Community Relations Council of the local UJA-Federation of Northern New Jersey, as the program began, the emcee invited everyone to enjoy the breakfast, but then joked, "While we are united, we are still divided somewhat. By that, I am referring to the Kosher food table in the back."

What is it about Kashrut that makes us so different?

Certainly, Chazal have pondered a possible rationale for why certain animals are permitted and other animals are forbidden. For example, the Sefer HaChinuch suggests that the prohibited animals have harmful aspects known to Hashem. We have come through time to understand that there are valid medical reasons for not eating meats, like pork, or certain insects. But there are limits even to this reasoning. We have learned over the past few years from Mad Cow Disease that even permitted animals are not always safe.

Another possibility is that the Torah is trying to distinguish between predatory animals, which are forbidden, and prey, which are permitted. But, again, that distinction does not seem to work as well when trying to understand which Chagavim, grasshoppers, are permitted and which are prohibited.

The easiest answer is simply that the classifications are a Chok, a Mitzvah whose reason is unknown to us. But it is the absence of reasoning that is itself the answer to what about Kashrut makes Jews so very different.

Joseph Telushkin and Dennis Prager, in their book, The Nine Questions People Ask About Judaism, offer a reason as to why not to reason with Kashrut. They explain that there is a common misconception regarding the ability to reason. People are quick to think that reasoning will lead to good; however, that is not the case. Reasoning is often a path to rationalizing, and by rationalizing we can end up doing something improper. Stealing from a hotel, for instance, which statistics report as an occurrence with one out of every three hotel customers, is a perfect example of how rationalizing can cause impropriety. "The hotel charges too much," or "Everybody's doing it," people rationalize, despite the fact that these excuses by no means sanction theft. Even regarding tax evasion, "I pay enough already," "Everybody's doing it," or even "I do enough for my country" are common rationalizations which people use in order to convince themselves to cheat.

If the Torah had, for example, listed non-Kosher food's unhealthiness for its reason of prohibiting certain foods, the following reasoning would occur: "Because of modern technology and science, non-Kosher meats are no longer as unhealthy as they were six thousand years ago and can hence be deemed worthy of consumption by Jews." People would rationalize that in a country where cows suffer from Mad Cow Disease, properly cooked pork is healthier than beef and it would therefore be religiously correct to eat pork. Since the health rationale is no longer valid, forbidden foods might have changed their status to permitted foods.

Rabbi Riskin points out that Adam and Eve used such reasoning to eat from the Eitz HaDaat despite God's commandment not to do so. The Torah tells us, "VaTeire HaIshah Ki Tov HaEitz LeMaachal VeChi Taavah Hu LaEinaim VeNechmad HaEitz LeHaskil," "The woman perceived that the tree was good for eating, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable as a means to wisdom" (Bereishit 3:6). As a result of this reasoning, Eve proceeded to eat from the Eitz HaDaat, which did not turn out well.

Torah laws come from an authority higher than man's reasoning capabilities. Everyone would agree that committing murder, for example, would seem to be morally wrong and it is against man-made law. But people routinely commit murder for entirely logical reasons, like killings for honor in certain countries in Asia and Africa, killings out of revenge, killings by gangs, or killings in the name of religion. But the Torah takes that reasoning out of our hands when it says, "Lo Tirzach," there is no acceptable rationale or reasoning to justify murder.

The purpose of the Kashrut laws is, as the Parasha tells us, to protect our bodies from impurity and to make ourselves holy, just as Hashem is holy. In the end, what makes us different from all other nations is that Jews hold themselves to God-given standards of behavior, even when it comes to the food we eat. This is what the Torah tells us at the end of the Parsha, that we must keep these laws in order to make ourselves holy and to make ourselves different. Being holy means adhering to a standard higher than one of our own making, even if we do not understand it.

To Lie or Not to Lie?

by Ilan Griboff

Subsequent to the death of Nadav and Avihu, Aharon's sons, Aharon approaches Moshe and asks him if he is able to bring the Korban offerings; since, as Kohen Gadol, he can perform the Avodah even during the highest level of Aveilut, mourning, as an Onein, someone who has lost a close relative and has yet to bury them. The Passuk states, "VaYiShma Moshe VaYiTav BeEinav." "And when Moshe heard that, it was agreeable to him" (VaYikra 10:20). Rashi explains that Moshe was admitting here that he had not heard this Halacha and that Aharon's ruling was correct.

The Gemara (Zevachim 101a) asks, why did Moshe tell the truth about his lack of knowledge of this Halacha? He could have easily lied and said that he knew the Halacha. Furthermore, the Midrash says Moshe went beyond admitting he didn't know this Halacha to Aharon, and told all of Bnei Yisrael that he had forgotten the Halacha. This seemingly reasonless and unnecessary admission creates a potential problem. Moshe announcing that his knowledge of Torah is not complete gave the Bnei Yisrael a reason to doubt whether or not he was really receiving the Halachot from Hashem. Additionally, even if he did receive the Halachot from Hashem, if he had forgotten one, how many more did he potentially forget?

We may answer that not only did Moshe make the right decision by announcing his mistake; he even strengthened Bnei Yisrael's belief in his transmissions from Hashem by showing that it really is the word of God and not his own, and therefore he is able to forget what was told to him. This is illustrated by the countless times that Moshe is referred to as an Eved Hashem in Neviim. Moshe is referred to in this manner because he acted like a slave to Hashem. Just as a slave owns nothing, as it is entirely his master's, so too Moshe did not take credit for anything that came from Hashem.

Pernicious Prying?

by Shlomo Klapper

This Shabbat's special Torah reading describes the mitzvah of the Parah Adumah, Red Heifer, as a "Chukat HaTorah," "A decree of the Torah." Rashi comments that this means Jews should not question the reasons given for Mitzvot. Why should we not ask questions which would allow us to better understand the Torah, reinforcing our commitment to the Torah?

An incident in the Talmud (Shabbat 12b) can help us understand Rashi. A Mishnah stated that reading from candlelight is forbidden on Shabbat, but does not explain why. A Beraita, quoted by the Gemara, explains that this law was enacted to prevent people from tampering with the candle's wick if the light flickers, which would transgress Shabbat by causing the candle to burn properly. Rabi Yishmael read by candlelight on Shabbat since he thought that he was not prone to transgressing Shabbat; nevertheless, he ultimately tampered with the wick. He then declared, "How great are the Sages' words!" What compelled Rabbi Yishmael to praise the Sages; was he merely impressed that their suspicions were indeed correct?

The Vilna Gaon explains that Rabbi Yishmael wondered why the Sages did not explain their law in the Mishnah, but upon reading the Beraita that explained the law, he rationalized that he was "above the law" and would not ultimately do an Aveira. When he did break the law, he realized that the Sages' lack of explanation was proper, and hence exclaimed his praise of the Sages. We follow the Torah since Hashem commanded us to; not because of reasoning.

This idea - following Hashem's words because He commanded us to - recurs many times in Judaism. Rambam (Hilchot Me'ilah 8:8) states that since the Torah dealt so severely with regard to meager wood, stones, dirt, and ashes sanctified by Hashem's name, punishing even accidental transgressors, if one treats Hashem's Mitzvot disapprovingly by rejecting those that he does not rationally understand, he certainly deserves harsh punishments and penalties.

Rav Yitzchak (Sanhedrin 21b) said that the reasons for Mitzvot were not given, as a great man sinned when the Torah explained its laws. The Torah explained that a king should not have too many wives, lest his heart turn astray, nor should he have too many horses, lest Jews move back to Egypt, where the best horses were bought. Shlomo HaMelech disregarded these restrictions, as he believed that he certainly could not sin. Unfortunately, Shlomo HaMelech was terribly mistaken, as his wives ultimately led him astray in his later years, and he indeed moved Jews back to Egypt to enlarge his stable. If knowing the reasons for Mitzvot can cause Shlomo HaMelech to sin, we, who are far inferior to him, must listen to the Mitzvot because Hashem commanded us to, even though they are not explained.

A story of the Vilna Gaon underlines this idea. The Vilna Gaon always recited Havdalah using wine, even though Halacha (Shulchan Aruch O.C. 296:2) permits doing so with Chamar Medinah, or the national drink. He made a special exception, however, on Motzaei Pesach, when he made Havdalah specifically with beer. He did so because he wanted to show that he abstained from Chameitz on Pesach because Hashem commanded him to, not because he did not like Chameitz. By drinking beer - a drink of Chameitz - after Pesach, the Gaon showed that he did not eat Chameitz previously only because Hashem commanded him to.

Rav Soleveichik interpreted the phrase in the Hoshanot that we recite on Sukkot, "Yoshevet UMamtenet Ad Sof HaShabbat," "We sit and wait until the end of Shabbat," in light of this idea. A Jew abstains from doing Melachah on Shabbat only because Hashem commanded him to, not because he is too lazy to work; therefore, he sits and waits until Shabbat's conclusion and immediately thereupon performs Melachah.

Since Hashem commanded us to observe His Mitzvot, we cannot treat them lightly, even if they are as seemingly paradoxical as the Parah Adumah, where the sprinkler is made impure even though he purified another. Many Jewish leaders, like Rambam, the Vilna Gaon and Rav Soloveitchik have taken this idea to heart, while others, like Shlomo HaMelech and Rabbi Yishmael, have disregarded this idea and consequently sinned. Understanding Mitzvot is a means to connect to the Torah, but should not impede one's observance of Mitzvot. Often, one finds himself facing a commandment which he does not rationally understand, or looking at a seemingly ancient, anachronistic statute. Why did the Sages make such a law; how could they not understand basic logic or people's feelings? In these situations, one must realize that although these Mitzvot do not seem logical, Hashem commanded us to follow the Torah, and, seen by the aforementioned cases, the worst belief is an arrogant, skeptic one.

The Significance of 8 - LeMa'alah Min HaTeva

by Nati Wind

Parashat Shemini opens with a discussion of the eighth day of the inauguration of the Mishkan, on which it was completed. Just from the name of this week's Parasha, "Shemini," we receive the impression that there is something special about the number 8. In order to understand its significance we have to be familiar with another and maybe even more common symbolic number: 7. These two numbers appear throughout Torah. The world was created in 7 days. As we read in our Parsha, the Mishkan was inaugurated after its completion on the 8th day. A child is circumcised on the 8th day of his life. An animal is acceptable as a sacrifice on the 8th day of its life. These two numbers are not only important by themselves but are also related to one another. Pesach and Succot are both 7 days long, and immediately following Succot we celebrate Shemini Atzeret on the 8th day. Following Pesach, we count 7 weeks of 7 days (The Omer) and then we celebrate Shavuot at the beginning of the 8th week.

The Maharal, in the first two chapters of his book "Tiferet Yisrael," goes into great detail explaining the philosophical and mystical meaning behind specific numbers found in the Torah. According to the Maharal, the number 7 represents the entirety of the natural world. All the directions in our three-dimensional world - north, south, east, west, up and down - add up to 6. Add to that the physical realm of this world and we have seven. This same explanation applies to the 7-day Chagim. On Pesach, Shavuot and Succot (the Shalosh Regalim), we thank and pray to Hashem for His involvement in nature - which explains the significance of 7 in each of those Chagim.

If 7 is natural, then 8 must be on a more spiritual and "super-natural" level. When a male is born, he is naturally uncircumcised but we create his connection with Hashem by presenting him with the circumcision on the 8th day of his life, demonstrating that the child is connected to Hashem on a higher and much more personal level. Not only is he a creation of Hashem but he also has his own private pact (Brit) with Hashem. He is part of the Jewish people and is obligated to maintain the standards of their relationship with Hashem. This includes observing Torah and Mitzvot, concepts that would have been unknown in our world if it were not for Hashem's super-natural and miraculous meeting with us at Har Sinai. This is also why we celebrate Shavuot after counting 7 weeks of 7 days after Pesach. It shows that we received the Torah on that same eighth, non-physical level of spirituality and was a direct involvement with HaKadosh Baruch Hu. Shemini Atzeret serves the same purpose to Succot as Shavuot does to Pesach, which is to show the deeper level of our connection with Hashem. The same idea applies to animals. They were created to roam the earth, living out their lives and dying naturally. Taking an animal and sacrificing it as a burnt offering to Hashem shows a connection on a personal level between Hashem and us. If you look at the word "Korban" you see that the Shoresh is "Karov"-meaning close. The Korban illustrates the spiritual correlation of Am Yisrael to Hashem. This is why the animal is acceptable for sacrifice only after the eighth day of its life.

Understanding the concept that 7 is within the natural order, and 8 is LeMa'alah Min HaTeva, we can understand the name of our Parasha in a new light. The Mishkan, the place of God's dwelling in our world, must be dedicated in a "LeMa'alah Min HaTeva" time. Its inauguration takes place on the 8th day, symbolizing its special existence and purpose.

The Gemara (Arachin 13b) says: "The harp of the temple had seven strings, but the harp of Mashiach shall have eight strings, as the pasuk says, 'LaMenatzeiach Al HaSheminit,' 'to the conductor, on the eight string harp' (Tehillim 12:1).". May we all live to see this prophecy come true.