:: Rav Eyal Raymond's Weekly Commentary ::
“And to the elders of the Jewish people.” (9:1)
“Rabbi Akiva said, ‘The Jewish nation is compared to a bird. Just as a bird can not fly without wings, similarly, the Jewish people can not do anything without [the council of] their elders.’”
(Vayikra Rabbah 11:8)
In his book “Sichot Mussar,” Rabbi Chaim Shumelevitz pointed out something amazing from these words of this Midrash.
Specifically, the Jewish nation is compared to a bird, which conveys that the essence of the other nations of the world is different than that of the Jewish people. Unlike the Jewish nation, they can do and act upon their desires without their “elders” and there is nothing wrong with that.
Domestic and wild animals fulfill their missions without wings, which are limbs that are not vital for them at all. Similarly, the nations of the world can fulfill their missions without “elders.” On the other hand, the Jewish nation is compared to a “bird.” If it would lose its wings, it then loses the essence of its being. Not only this, but, then, it becomes worse than an animal, since it can not even move.
This is the nature and essence of the Jewish people. If they are not connected to their “elders,” they lose the principle of their existence and they are then unable to do or act upon anything. Not only this, but without the “elders,” they becomes even worse than the nations of the world.
“And he said to Aaron, ‘Take for yourself a calf the son of a bull as a chatat offering.” (9:2)
“This was to let him know that with this calf Hashem will forgive him for what he did during the episode of the golden calf.”
This is a little bit hard to understand because in the Torah portion of Tetzaveh (29:1) it says that they used one bull to atone for the sin of the golden calf (See Rashi there). If so, why did Aaron need an additional atonement if he was already forgiven with that bull?
The Mahari”l Diskin explained that the bull mentioned in the Torah portion of Tetzaveh was a communal bull sacrifice and was a communal atonement for the entire Jewish nation that had sinned with the golden calf, including Aaron the priest. However, in this Torah portion, it is talking about a personal and special atonement for Aaron. This is what Rashi pointed out when he said, “For what he did during the episode of the golden calf,” referring [specifically] to Aaron.
“And Aaron lifted his hands towards the nation and he blessed them.” (9:22)
Rabbeinu Bechayei asked the following. Why did the Torah write the word “his hands” even though it does not have the letter yud [which makes the word plural] and it is read as “his hands” instead of “his hand?”
He explained this based on the teachings of Kabbalah. Even though Aaron raised both of his hands, he lifted his right hand above his left hand. Through this, he strengthened the characteristic of [Hashem’s] kindness over the characteristic of [Hashem’s] judgment, which resulted in a double blessing.
We see something similar to this with Moses during the war with Amalek (Shemot 17:11-12). At first, it says, “And it was when Moses would raise his hand and the Jewish nation would overcome.” This was only one hand. However, later, it says, “And the hands of Moses were heavy … and Aaron and Chur supported his hands, one on this side and one on that side. And it was that he remained with his hands in faithful prayer until the sun set.”
Why, then, didn’t the Torah also write “hands” at first with the letter yud [that would make the word plural]?
The answer is like what was mentioned above. Moses raised his right hand over his left hand so that the characteristic of [Hashem’s] kindness will be empowered for the Jewish people.
“And Moses and Aaron came to the Tent of Meeting.” (9:23)
“Since Aaron saw that all of the sacrifices were brought and all of the deeds were done and the Divine presence did not descend upon the Jewish people, he was pained and said, ‘I know that Hashem was angry with me and because of me the Divine presence did not descend upon the Jewish nation.’ He said to Moses, ‘Moses, my brother, this is what I did. I went in [to the Tent of Meeting] and I was shamed.’ Immediately, Moses entered with him and they asked [Hashem] for mercy and the Divine presence descended upon the Jewish nation.”
Aaron’s shame and words oppose the nature of man, says Rabbi Y. Levovitz in his book “Daat Torah.”
Usually, when a tribulation comes upon a person, instead of tracing it to his sins, he blames it on others.
If this is how it is with personal tribulation, how much more so with public tribulations, G-d forbid. In these cases, there are many collaborators involved in the tribulation and there is nothing easier than to hang the collar [of blame] on someone else. This is also due to the reluctance of people to accept personal blame for causing strife to the entire public.
In the Talmud (Taanit 15A) we learn that during a time of tribulations when a communal fast is declared, the Holy Ark is taken out into the streets of the city for people to be ashamed of their sins.
These words of the sages prove all of those who are accustomed to placing blame on their friends to be wrong. If everyone will act this way, then what effect will the communal fast and bringing out the Holy Ark have? Who will become ashamed and repent for his sins?
One must learn from this that in order for the purpose of bad decrees upon the public to be actualized, every person must put the responsibility upon himself. He must also contemplate and reflect upon his deeds and seek out his sins which had meted out strife upon the public!
When Aaron saw that the Divine presence did not descend for the Jewish people, he was pained and did not place the blame on anyone. This is even though there were others present who were much greater sinners than himself, such as those who sinned with the golden calf and Aaron only blamed himself!
From here we must learn, be aware and worry about every trouble that, perhaps, “our hands have spilled this blood” and suspect that, if not for our sins, a tribulation would not come upon the public. Even if we see with our own eyes that others sinned, we should not hurry to place the collar [of blame] on them, since, perhaps, “mine [guilt] is greater than theirs” and “this great storm is because of me.”
Great encouragement can be derived from this for a person as he stands before a test. He should think that if he sins in private in a room within a room, he will cause a great spiritual and material damage to all of the Jewish people, especially to those of his locality.
How can this happen spiritually? Through him, divine assistance that protects against sinning and transgressions will depart.
How can this happen materialistically? His deeds will bring about tribulations and troubles for the public. Then the collar [of blame] will be hanging from his neck!
“And a fire came out from before Hashem and it consumed them.” (10:2)
“Rabbi Eliezer said, ‘The sons of Aaron did not die until they ruled about a law in front of Moses their teacher.’ Rabbi Eliezer had one student who ruled about a law in front of him. Rabbi Eliezer said to his wife, ‘I will be surprised if he will outlive this year.’ He did not outlive that year. She said to him, ‘Are you a prophet?’ He said to her, ‘I am not a prophet and I am not even training to be a prophet. Rather, I have a tradition that “Whoever rules about a law in front of his teacher is deserving of death.”’ Rabbi Chiya bar Abba said in the name of Rabbi Yochanan, ‘Whoever rules about a law in front of his teacher is worthy of having a snake bite him.’”
We find something amazing about ruling about a law in front of one’s teacher in the Talmud (Brachot 31B), “‘I have prayed for this lad.’ Rabbi Elazar said, ‘Samuel would make rulings about laws in front of his teachers, as it says, “And they slaughtered the bull and they brought the lad before Eli.” Can it be they brought the lad before Eli because they slaughtered the bull? Rather, Eli told them, “Call a priest to slaughter it.” Samuel saw that they were looking around for a priest for slaughtering and he said to them, “Why are you looking around for a priest to do the slaughtering? Slaughtering by a non-priest is acceptable.” (Samuel the lad saw that they were specifically looking for a priest to slaughter the sacrifice and he asked them, “Why? After all, slaughtering done by a person who is not a priest is acceptable.”) They brought him to Eli. He said to him, “From where do you know this?” He said to him, “Does it say, ‘And the priest shall slaughter?’ [No.] Rather, it says, ‘And the priests should bring close.’ The priest is only required for receiving the blood and the subsequent procedures. From here we see that it is acceptable for a non-priest to slaughter.” He [Eli] said to him, “What you said is correct, however, you are making a ruling about a law in front of your teacher and whoever rules about a law in front of his teacher is deserving of death.” Hannah [Samuel’s mother] came and cried to him, “I am that woman who was standing in front of you with this [and you blessed me for me to have children].” He said to her, “Let me punish him and I will give you another son who will be greater than him.” She said to him, “I have prayed for this lad.”’”
These words are apparently surprising. Can it be that Eli and, similarly, all of the other priests in the Holy Temple did not know this law until a two year old lad came and taught it to them? If, in any case, this law was forgotten, at what point was it forgotten?
Another thing that is perplexing is how Samuel was charged with death carried out by Heaven. First, can a child who is two years old be deserving of death carried out by Heaven? Also, it is written that when Hannah heard this, she immediately cried out to Eli and said, “I am that woman who was standing in front of you with this.” How can Hannah argue with Eli if the death is carried out by Heaven and not through Eli’s doing?
Also, Eli’s answer to Hannah of “Let me punish him and I will give you another son who will be greater than him” is not understood. This is because the punishment is given over to Heaven, so how can Eli get involved with this issue?
An answer from the Noda B’Yehudah in his book “Chidushei HaTzla’ch” on the tractate of Brachot is brought down in “Etz Yosef” (a commentary on “Ein Yaakov”). It is true that also Eli knew that slaughtering done by a non-priest is acceptable. However, priests used to put in an extra flourish and slaughter it themselves in order to merit fulfilling a commandment.
Indeed, this all applies when there is no delay in fulfilling the commandment. For example, if there is a priest and a non-priest there, then the priest takes precedence. However, if it is necessary to search around and this will foster a delay in the fulfillment of the commandment, even if the slaughtering of the priest is better, there should not be a delay in the fulfillment of the commandment for this reason. We also find this in the words of the Ram”a (Orach Chaim 25:1), “If ‘tfilin’ are available to him and he does not have ‘tzitzit,’ there is no need to wait for the ‘tzitzit.’ Rather, he should don the ‘tfilin’ and when a prayer shawl is brought then he should wear it.” The Magen Avraham wrote (Orach Chaim 25:102), “It says in Yevamot, page 39, that if one has the opportunity to fulfill a commandment, he should not delay even if he may say that he will do the commandment afterwards in a better manner. It says in Yalkut Vayikra that a commandment is dearer in its time.”
According to this, the Noda B’Yehudah explained what happened there in the Holy Temple in an amazing way. Eli asked that a priest be brought in order to fulfill the commandment in a better way so that the sacrifice would be done by a priest, even though a non-priest was also present. Young Samuel saw that the slaughtering was being delayed as a result of their searching for a priest. He said that it is important to fulfill a commandment in a better fashion. However, if this creates a delay, then a non-priest should be brought to do the slaughtering. This is because preventing the delay of the fulfillment of a commandment is preferred over fulfilling the commandment in a better manner.
Now it is well understood why Eli asked Samuel form where he knew this law. After all, everyone knew that a non-priest could slaughter also. Rather, Eli wanted to test Samuel’s knowledge in order to see if he could punish him in accordance with his intelligence, even though he was just a minor and not one who is eligible for receiving punishment. When he saw that he was quoting verses and not just repeating common laws that he may have heard at home, it was obvious that, indeed, he was intelligent enough to be eligible for receiving punishments that are carried out by Heaven.
However, the discussion between Eli and Hannah is still not resolved with this. After all, the punishment here was going to be carried out by Heaven.
We see that punishments from Heaven can take effect on a small child if he is wise and sharp minded. In any case, there was a possibility of concern that this sentence would not materialize if Eli would forgive this slight to his honor, since “A teacher who forgives slights to his honor, his honor is forgiven.” Therefore, Hannah said to Eli, “‘I am that woman who was standing in front of you with this.’ For nineteen and a half years I was childless and this is my only son. You must remember when I prayed and you thought that I was drunk [and then blessed me with a son when you realized that you were wrong]. Therefore, I am asking of you to forgive him.”
Eli said to her that he is willing to pray that she should have a better son. Regarding this, Hannah answered him, “I have prayed for this lad.” The Maharsh”a explained that “This son who was born to me as a result of my prayers is dearer than a son who would be born as a result of your prayers.” This is similar to the incident that happened with a woman who came to the Maggid of Mezrich, the student of the Baal Shem Tov. She said to him, “I heard that the honorable rabbi does miracles. I request that he bless me with a son.”
The rabbi said to her, “I will make a business transaction with you. I agree to bless you on condition that you will give me two hundred and fifty thousand zehuvim (which was a large sum in those days).” The woman agreed.
After some time, the woman returned and brought most of the large sum of money. The rabbi said to her, “We agreed on two hundred and fifty thousand and not even one agura less!”
The woman became frustrated and said, “Do you think that I need you? I will pray to Hashem on my own and He will give to me!” She went away.
The rabbi said, “Now she will merit having a son! I knew that I did not have the power to save her. Therefore, I brought her to a situation that would require her to pray from the depths of her heart and with the power of such prayers it is possible to merit whatever one wants.” (We must learn a lesson from here. Before one goes to a rabbi to request a blessing, he should not forget to pray for that matter himself).
However, this still seems to be hard to understand. Can it be that Eli had a heart of stone? How can it be possible that he wanted to kill a two year old boy by not overlooking the slight to his honor? What is the explanation of this matter?
Rather, as it is known, Korach was the ancestor of Samuel. Why did Korach cause an argument with Moses? It was because he saw by divine inspiration that Samuel would come out of him. He said to himself that, if so, I will already take over the leadership of the tribe now.
When Eli saw that this two year old was starting to rule laws in front of his teacher, he thought to himself that he must have inherited this behavior from his ancestor. Who knows what will come out of him at a later age? Therefore, it is worth it to be rid of him already before he will cause greater troubles.
However, Hannah did not agree and she claimed, “I have prayed for this lad,” meaning, the reason that this lad is so strong is not because of his ancestor. Rather, it comes from my prayers that “a razor [can also mean fear] shall not pass over his head.” He will not be afraid of anyone so that he would be able to lead the Jewish people without any bribery.
“And a fire came out from before Hashem and it consumed them.” (10:2)
In the Midrash (Vayikra Rabbah 20:5) it is explained that Job said the verse “For this my heart shall tremble and shall jump from its place” (Job 37:1).
Why, specifically, here does Job say that his heart trembled?
In his book “Petach Eynayim,” the Chid”a wrote a wonderful explanation about this.
In the Talmud (Sanhedrin 52A) it says, “Moses and Aaron were walking on the path and Nadav and Avihu were walking behind them and all of the Jewish people after them. Nadav said to Avihu, ‘When will these two elders die? Then you and I will lead the nation.’ Hashem said to them, ‘Let us see who will bury whom.’”
Both Nadav and Avihu were punished for this deed, even though only one of them spoke. However, since the other listened and was quiet, he was also punished!
When Job saw that there is also punishment for being quiet, he became frightened and afraid. After all, the sages said (Sotah 11A) that Job was one of the advisors of Pharaoh. When Pharaoh decreed that “Every male that is born should be thrown into the Nile River,” he was quiet and did not speak. (This was unlike Balaam who encouraged this and not like Jethro who opposed it). Therefore, his heart trembled and he feared that he would be punished for this. Indeed, we see that, ultimately, Job was punished for his silence, as it is explained in the Midrash.
We see from these deeds of his that if a person hears things are not good, he must protest them. If not, he will be punished, G-d forbid!
There is an amazing and well known story that is brought down in the Talmud (Bava Metzia 84B) about Rabbi Elazar ben Rabbi Shimon. When he died, his wife placed him in the attic and he remained there for eighteen years. During all of those years, his skin was like that of a live person. When a hair would fall out of his head, blood would come out as if he was alive. Once his wife saw that a worm was coming out of his ear and she thought that this was the beginning of deterioration. She came to the house of study in order to tell the sages there to come and bury him. Rabbi Elazar came to her in a dream and said, “Don’t think that this is deterioration. Rather, once I heard a disgrace about a Torah sage and I did not protest against it as it was fitting.”
We see that even though he did protest for the honor of the Torah sage, he was still punished, since it was not fitting enough for his level!
“And Moses said to Aaron, ‘This is what Hashem spoke, “I will be sanctified through those who are close to Me.”’” (10:3)
“Where did He say this? ‘I shall meet there with the Jewish people and it shall be sanctified through My honor’ (Exodus 29:43). Do not read it as ‘through My honor,’ rather, ‘through My honored ones.’ Moses said to Aaron, ‘My brother Aaron, I knew that the tabernacle would be sanctified with those who are intimate with Hashem. I thought it would be through me or you. Now I see that they [Aaron’s sons] are greater than you and me.’”
It seems as if these words of comfort that Moses said to Aaron are puzzling.
A) What is the necessity for the death of a great person on the day of the dedication of the tabernacle that would also damage the joy of having the tabernacle for the Jewish people and for Hashem?
B) How is it possible to say that Nadav and Avihu were greater than Moses and Aaron even though they were not yet twenty years old, were not married and had a few sins in their hands (since they brought up a foreign fire and they entered the tabernacle after having drunken wine)? Can this be possible?
This matter can be understood by way of a parable.
Once there was a king who wanted to build a city in which all of its residents would be content. He planned and built a wonderful city. He populated it with residents and all of the matters of the city were dealt with in the best way.
After some time, the king came to see how the people of the city were doing. He turned to one of the residents who said, “Everything is good and nice, but we do not have a doctor in this city.”
The king promised that he would send an expert doctor to the city and, indeed, he fulfilled his promise. On the day that the doctor arrived in the city, they arranged a welcoming ceremony for him with splendor and with the king’s participation. It was to the extent that the doctor was taken aback and he thought to himself that it seemed as if these people did not know what a doctor’s job was and they thought that he was a magical fountain or an almighty man…
In the middle of the banquet, one of the guests fell and lost his consciousness. Immediately, the doctor was summoned to care for him. However, after a few minutes, the man passed away.
The joy of all those present turned into sorrow. Can he really be a doctor? This is the expert?
The king asked the doctor, “How were you unable to cure him?”
The doctor said, “On the contrary! I killed him!”
The king was taken stunned and doctor explained, “I did this so that the residents will know exactly what a doctor is. Ultimately, he is a human being and he does not have the power to heal every ailment. Then the residents will perceive that they must be careful and guard themselves from eating harmful foods and, in general, from doing things that are dangerous to one’s health. However, if I would not have done this and simply healed him, they would think from today and on that it is permitted for them to eat everything and do whatever they would like, since there is an expert doctor who will cure them from any ailment that might come…”
The comparison is as follows. Before there was a tabernacle, the Jewish people were careful not to sin, since there was nothing to atone for them and every person would die with his sins. However, after the tabernacle was set up, they might have thought that they could do whatever their heart desired and they would bring a sacrifice for every sin. There was, then, a great need, specifically on this day, for something shocking to take place in order to remove this erroneous thought from the hearts of the Jewish people.
Therefore, even though Nadav and Avihu did a small sin that at another time would not have been considered a sin for them at all, even so, they were immediately burned. Then, fear for the tabernacle fell upon the Jewish people and they said, “If a flame and a fire fell upon the cedar trees [meaning, great people], then what can be said about us, the hyssops?” This entire matter can be ascribed to the merit of Nadav and Avihu. Therefore, Moses said justifiably that they are greater than himself and Aaron the priest.
“I will be sanctified through those who are close to Me and I will be honored before all of the nation.” (10:3)
The author of “Shoel U’Meishiv” explained this verse in a hinting manner.
People who have the characteristics of belief and fear in Hashem and who are close to Hashem and to His Torah know how to accept and make peace with a harsh decree that was placed upon them from Heaven. Not only this, but they believe that everything comes from Hashem and whatever Hashem does is for the good. As a result, such a thing brings about a strengthening of belief in Hashem and through this the name of Heaven becomes great and sanctified.
On the other hand, people who have little belief in Hashem and who are not full of faith and fear of Hashem and of His Torah will be hard stricken and burdened by the decree from Heaven. It will be hard for them to make peace with it and it might even undermine their belief, which already was weak despite this.
This is what the verse is referring to when it says, “I will be sanctified through those who are close to Me.” This means to say that the decree that is brought upon “those who are close to Me,” those who are close to Hashem, will bring about that “I will be sanctified,” the sanctification of Hashem’s name and a strengthening of faith in Him. However, “before all of the nation,” the common people, who are not on a high level of faith and fear of Heaven, cause the decree to be “burdened” [this word is made up of the same letters as “I will be honored”]. This will bring about a burden and hardship in the faith of Hashem.
“I will be honored before all of the nation.” (10:3)
“When Hashem does justice through righteous people, He becomes feared, revered and praised.”
In the book “Minchat Cohen,” a question of Rabbi Rachamim Cohen is brought. This seems to be hard to understand. Why would Hashem’s anger burn with the righteous, which would then cause him to be removed from the world as a result of the sins of the people of the generation?
This is similar to the following parable about a king who sent his faithful friend to be the ruler of a far away province whose people were brazen and harsh. The residents embittered the life of the ruler and they rebelled against the king’s decrees. The king became angry and he sent army troops to lock up the faithful ruler and to keep him under surveillance. How can this be understood?
He answered this with another parable.
There was a king who had an only son. Out of his great love, he instructed that a colorful coat be sewn for him from an expensive fabric. It was to be embroidered wonderfully with gold and inlaid with precious stones and pearls from the treasure of the king. The king’s son grew up and deviated from his ways. He became friendly with corrupted company and he behaved wildly to the extent that he would lose his temper. The king’s heart was wounded and his pain was great. He sent high and honorable officers to beseech him and to warn him, “Cease from going on this path so that it should not bring shame and disgrace upon you!”
However, the king’s son did not listen to them and he continued following his crooked friends.
The king became angry, but he refrained from acting upon his emotions. He did not want to punish his son and he did not want to throw him in jail. What could he do besides for this?
He instructed that the colorful coat be removed from his son. Before his eyes, he burned it until it became ashes!
The son was flabbergasted and he understood how great is the anger and fury [of his father]. He made a personal accounting of his deeds and he understood how much he had rebelled and sinned. He asked for his father’s forgiveness and he returned to his straight ways.
The son returned to his room and the father called upon his faithful servants. They cleared away the ashes of the fabric. They gathered the gold that had remained and the precious stones and pearls that were not damaged in the fire and returned them to the king’s treasury as they were previously.
Similarly, in the fire that Hashem causes to burn with the death of a righteous person, the only thing that is burned is the “fabric,” which is the body of the righteous. However, the gold and pearls, which are his soul and his good deeds, are eternal and they stand forever. Therefore, they return to the treasury of the king to light up forever with the light of life!
“And your brothers, all of the House of Israel, will cry about the fire that Hashem caused to burn.” (10:6)
After the Jewish people sinned with the golden calf, the cloud of glory was removed and all of their advantage was null. Only after Moses’ prayer and the rectification of the tabernacle, the Divine presence retuned to the Jewish nation. From that point on, the Jewish people may have mistakenly thought that Hashem overlooks transgressions, since He overlooked their great sin. Doesn’t it say, “Anyone who says that Hashem is one who overlooks transgressions, his life will be overlooked” (Bava Kama 50A)?
Therefore, Hashem had to show them and prove to them that their thoughts are not like the thoughts of Hashem and, G-d forbid, should they say that Hashem is one who overlooks transgressions. When did the Jewish people see this clearly? It was during the incident involving the sons of Aaron.
Nadav and Avihu acted improperly and they did something “that He did not command them.” This was even on His “wedding day,” the day of the dedication of the tabernacle and of the resting of the Divine presence upon it. Immediately, “A fire came out from before Hashem and it consumed them and they died before Hashem.” This is to inform us and to teach us how great the power of a transgression is. If a person sinned, in the future, he will have to carry the judgment and be punished with the appropriate severity.
The Jewish people realized that the sin of the golden calf was embedded in the root of Hashem’s behavior with the sons of Aaron in order to remove their notion that Hashem’s forgiveness of the nation could be translated into overlooking transgressions, G-d forbid. We find, then, that all of the Jewish people had a part Hashem’s strict judgment that struck the sons of Aaron. Therefore, “All of the House of Israel, will cry about the fire that Hashem caused to burn.”
We find that the death of the sons of Aaron was like a completion of the forgiveness of the Jewish nation for the sin of the golden calf. Through the death of the righteous, the Jewish nation merited having atonement.
“Moses inquired insistently for, behold, it had been burned.” (10:16)
The Chid”a wrote that we have a tradition to write [“inquired insistently,” which is made up of the two Hebrew words “darosh darash”] with the word “darosh” at the end of the line in the Torah scroll and the word “darash” at the beginning of the next line. He brings down a reason for this in the name of an ancient book. It is to teach us that the Torah is greater in distance than the land and wider than the seas. Anyone who thinks that he has already inquired everything about the Torah until he reached “the end of the line” in matters of its explanation, needs to know that he has not even inquired into its beginning and now he is only at the beginning of the line…
This is the intent of “and it had been burned.” The word “burned” is an acronym for “There are six hundred thousand facets” to the Torah. Who can ever achieve this goal?
“And the sons of Aaron, Nadav and Avihu, each took his fire pan … and they brought an alien fire before Hashem that He did not command. A fire came out from before Hashem and it consumed them and they died before Hashem.” (10:1-2)
“Aaron’s sons died for four reasons: For coming close, for the offering, for the foreign fire and because they did not take each other’s advice. Rabbi Meni of Sheav, Rabbi Yehoshua of Sechnin and Rabbi Yochanan said in the name of Rabbi Levi, ‘For four reasons the sons of Aaron died and the punishment of death is written about all of them: They had drunken wine, etc., they were lacking some clothing, etc., they entered [the tabernacle] with out washing their hands and feet, etc., and they did not have children, etc.’ Abba Chanin said, ‘It was because they did not have wives, as it says, “And he will atone for himself and for his household.” “His household” is referring to his wife.’”
(Vayikra Rabbah 20:8-9)
From all that was said above, we see that there were a few defects in Nadav and Avihu and they were punished as a result of their greatness and sanctity. It is not nice or fitting for great people like them to have such defects.
We must understand how these matters are consistent with the testimony that the Torah brings (Deuteronomy 10:3), “I will be sanctified through My holy ones.” The sages said (Sifra Shemini 1), “Moses said to Aaron, ‘My brother, I was told at Mount Sinai [by Hashem], “In the future I will sanctify this tabernacle through a great person.” I thought that the tabernacle would be sanctified through me or you. Now, your sons were found to be greater than me and you, since the tabernacle was sanctified through them.’” Similarly, it is written (Deuteronomy 10:6), “And your brothers, all of the House of Israel, will cry about the fire that Hashem caused to burn.” If so, how can it be said that such holy people had defects?
Rather, it is certain that Nadav and Avihu were holy people of Hashem, as their end testified about their great sanctity in their life as well. All of their deeds were for the sake of Heaven. Even when they entered the tabernacle after having drunken wine or when they brought a foreign fire or when they said something about Moses and Aaron, they only did this to make a demonstration for the Jewish people. They wanted to show that if they would like to become close to Hashem and reach the level of loving Hashem with their whole heart, soul and possessions they must be careful with fulfilling both the easy and difficult commandments, to the extent of giving up one’s life. The way to achieve this is only through toiling in Torah study. In truth, there is no person who can testify about himself during his life time that he is, indeed, close and desirable to Hashem, unless he is certain that he is toiling in the study of Torah by day and by night. Due to our great amount of sins, one defect in the service of Hashem is enough to cause damage to everything in the service of Hashem. This is even more so if one may have a few defects.
This can be taken even further that if a person has defects that relate to matters between man and his fellow, Yom Kippur can not atone for them, unless he appeases his friends (Yuma 85B). We find that such a person is really far from Hashem, even if he does possess Torah knowledge and good deeds. Indeed, how many of us do not have any defects in our service of Hashem? We must pay attention at every moment in order to rectify our deficiencies so that we can become closer to the Creator. However, the question is blatant. Isn’t this the hardest thing?
For this reason, Nadav and Avihu came to show the way for the Jewish people. They saw that even though the Jewish people sinned with the golden calf, when they repented, their repentance was accepted and Hashem gave them the second set of tablets, the tabernacle was set up and they knew that on the eighth day Hashem would dwell among them, as it says (Exodus 25:8), “And you shall make for Me a sanctuary and I will dwell among them.” This means to say among each and every person. In reality, how can the Divine presence dwell inside of each and every person? This can come about through the Torah and the commandments.
It occurred to them that there was a need to inform the Jewish people of the following. When there would be a revelation of the Divine presence in the tabernacle and from the tabernacle it would reveal itself to them, then, if they would like to really be close to Hashem in the aspect of “Hashem, the Torah and the Jewish people are one” (Zohar HaKadosh 3:73), then they must try to be very perfect in the toil of Torah without any blemishes that may distance the Divine presence from them.
Not only this, but according to their greatness, their deficiencies can bring harm upon people unless they fix them quickly. Sometimes, the Divine presence does not want to dwell in the heart of Jew who is full of deficiencies, if he is a great person. Since, then, instead of safeguarding him, the Divine presence may punish him, G-d forbid. This is because he does not toil in Torah study. The Jewish people learned from Nadav and Avihu that one who is searching for the closeness of Hashem and for His love must be careful to love Hashem with all of his heart, soul and possessions by toiling in Torah study and the fulfillment of the commandments without showing any sign of weakness. If he will have any deficiencies or lacking, especially if he is a Torah scholar, then his gain will be outweighed by his loss and he might become guilty and deserving of punishment, G-d forbid.
However, ultimately, even when a person toils in Torah study, he may feel some kind of weakness from time to time in his studies. This is because every person can and might reach a situation in which he says, “I have studied more then enough and now I will go and rest a little bit and go out a little bit to look around in the streets of the city. I will also go out to take care of materialistic matters.” Such thoughts will ultimately bring about deeds and might really take him away from the path of the Torah and the commandments. What is the repair for such a person?
It is the renewal of his Torah study!
The sages said, “Every day it should be as if it was new in your eyes, as if it was given today.” A person must instill this into himself deeply. The Torah is not something old; rather, the Torah renews itself every day. When a person thinks this way, renewed energies are poured into him that will allow him to become elevated again in the toil of Torah study and in the fulfillment of the commandments.
(Based on the book “Pachad David)
“And every creeping creature that creeps on the earth is an abomination and you shall not eat it.” (11:41)
“This is to exclude the insects that are in the ponds and in beans and the mites that are in lentils. This is because they did not creep on the earth, rather, they are inside the food. However, once they have emerged into the air and have crept, then they become forbidden.”
Rabbi Yosef Chaim, the author of “Ben Ish Chai,” told the following. There was an incident that one of the well known princes came before Rabbi Yehonatan Eibeshetz and asked him, “Why do you, the Jews, have laws that are not understood according to one’s mind and logic?
Rabbi Yehonatan asked him, “Which one?”
The prince said, “Here. A worm that emerged from the fruit is treated like a creeping creature that creeps on the earth and the punishment for eating it is to receive lashes. However, if it did not emerge from the fruit, it is considered as part of the fruit and it is not forbidden. What is the difference between these two things? Physically, the worm has not changed at all at the moment that it emerges from the fruit.”
Rabbi Yehonatan took an empty spoon and commanded the prince to spit on it. The prince did as he requested, but then Rabbi Yehonatan asked him to return it to his mouth. The prince refused to do this and claimed that this was something disgusting and disgraceful to him.
Rabbi Yehonatan asked him, “What is the logic of that? After all, just a moment before, the saliva was in your mouth. What has changed now that it is on the spoon?”
The prince answered, “When it was in my mouth it was not disgusting. Since it has emerged, it is disgusting to me.”
Then Rabbi Yehonatan said, “Indeed, the matter of the worms is just like this. While it is since in the fruit and has not yet emerged, a person swallows it and is not disgusted by it. However, once it emerged, in just a moment, the fruit becomes disgusting to the person. Therefore, it is forbidden.”
“And you shall not become impure with them, lest you will be impure through them.” (11:43)
The sages explained this verse as follows (Yuma 39A), “Do not read it as ‘Lest you will be impure through them.’ Rather, ‘Lest you will be stopped up by them.” This means to say that forbidden foods stop up the heart of a person.
The Chafetz Chaim compared forbidden foods to a merchant who had a store of perfumes. Once, he entered a tannery where animal skins are processed, which has a bad smell as a result. He was unable to stand there even for a moment because of the stench of the animal skins. After a few days he lost his business of perfumes and he was forced to switch professions. He himself became a tanner. Even though at first he was unable to tolerate the smell of the skins, he became accustomed to this smell and soon he did not even sense the smell of the stench, to the extent that it seemed as if he was a tanner since he was born.
The concept of those who eat nonkosher meat and become accustomed to it is similar. The heart becomes stopped up and, in the end, he does not feel the stench of the nonkosher meat at all.
It is told that in the time of Maimonides, there were Jews from one country that were confused in their ideas and they turned to Maimonides with a question about the revival of the dead [in the times of the Messiah]. How do we know that it will happen?
Maimonides refused to answer them himself. However, he appointed his student Rabbi Shmuel Ibn Tavon to write to them, since it was understood that they had eaten forbidden foods and from the power of this sin, improper thoughts were born into their minds. This is because the blood in one’s body is created from his food and the blood nourishes the components of the brain. Whoever eats kosher foods has clear blood and his thoughts are pure. However, the heart of a person who eats forbidden foods begins to turn towards heresy…
It was said that after a few days went by, a great king with a large army came and killed all of them and plundered all that they had…
“And you shall not become impure with them, lest you will be impure through them.” (11:43)
If “you do not become impure with them” consciously, then you will be safeguarded by Heaven that you will not reach a situation of “you will be impure through them,” forcefully or mistakenly.
An amazing story is brought about this matter in the book “Od Yosef Chai” in the name of Igeret HaYaave”tz.
There was an incident with Reuven and Shimon who were sailing on ship. Suddenly, a great storm took effect and the sailors rowed to the shore in order to escape from it. The shore was that of Spain and this took place after the Jews were expelled from there. Any Jew that would come into the land would be burned immediately as a result of his religion.
The two of them made their way hungry and thirsty until they reached a civilized area. Reuven asked to be sheltered in one home, while Shimon in another home. They ate, drank and rested and found out when another ship would depart to the land of their destination.
Understandably, they hid the fact that they were Jewish. However, before Reuven parted from his host amongst many thanks, his host told him, “The look on your face testifies that you are Jewish. You should know, my brother, that I am also a Jew and I am a Marrano [Secret Jew]. My whole household and I fulfill the commandments of Hashem in secret and all of the food here is strictly kosher!” Reuven was very happy to hear these words.
However, his friend Shimon was hosted in a gentile home and because of the life threatening situation he ate nonkosher meat. He was distressed about this and when he arrived to his town, he went to an elder and asked, “Why did Hashem do this to me and force me to eat nonkosher meat, while with my friend, He did a wondrous kindness and brought him to the home of the Marranos?”
The elder asked him, “Please tell me, did forbidden foods never come into your mouth until that moment?”
He said to him, “No. Once, I was in a foreign city and I was very hungry. I bought some food from a store without checking its origins. May Hashem forgive me for this sin of mine.”
The elder answered him and said, “Hashem is just in all of His ways! Your friend never had nonkosher meat in his mouth and, therefore, Hashem saved him from something forbidden also during a time of suffering and when he had no choices. However, you did not watch over yourself to the utmost of your capabilities. Therefore, Hashem did not watch over you at a time when you had no choice!”
Only when we do our best to keep the commandments of Hashem does Heaven help us not to stumble even unintentionally and when we have no choices.
“To separate between the impure and the pure and between the animals that are eaten and between the animals that you shall not eat.” (11:16)
In the Talmud (Yuma 82B) it is explained if a pregnant woman suddenly wants to eat on Yom Kippur, we whisper to her in her ear that it is Yom Kippur. If she settles down and agrees, then she continues to fast. If not, we feed her in order not to cause harm to the unborn baby.
The Talmud tells, “There was a pregnant woman who smelled something [and craved it]. She was brought before Rebbi. He said to them, ‘Whisper in her ear that it is Yom Kippur today’ (Rashi: Maybe she will be able to hold out). They whispered to her and the whisper was accepted by her (Rashi: The unborn baby’s craving went away). They said about her [baby] the verse, ‘I [Hashem] knew you [and was close with you] in the womb before you were created.’ Rabbi Yochanan came out of her. There was [another] pregnant woman who smelled something [and craved it] and they brought her before Rabbi Chanina. He said to them, ‘Whisper to her [that it is Yom Kippur].’ However, the whisper was not accepted. They said about her [baby] the verse, ‘The wicked have strayed since the womb.’ Out of her came a wicked man who took advantage of the poor.”
The Gr”a wrote that this matter is hinted to here in the verse, “To separate between the impure and the poor and between the animals that are eaten and the animals that you shall not eat.” The word for “animal” in Hebrew, “chaya,” is also used to mean a pregnant woman. There is a great difference between a pregnant woman who eats even when people whisper to her [that it is Yom Kippur], since the unborn baby is impure and between a pregnant woman who does not eat and whose unborn baby is pure. She then merits having a son like Rabbi Yochanan.