שבת טעם החיים שמיני-פרה תשע”א
Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Shemini-Parah 5771
Holiness without Borders?
ויקחו בני אהרן נדב ואביהוא איש מחתּתוֹ ויתנו בהן אש וישימו עליה קטרת ויקריבו לפני ה’ אש זרה אשר לא צוה אתם. ותצא אש מלפני ה’ ותאכל אותם וימתו לפני ה’, the sons of Aharon, Nadav and Avihu, each took his fire pan, they put fire in them and placed incense upon it; and they brought before HaShem an alien fire that He had not commanded them. A fire came forth from before HaShem and consumed them, and they died before HaShem. (Vayikra 10:1-2)
In this week’s parasha we learn about the two sons of Aharon who offered a strange fire that they were not instructed in and this caused their deaths. The puzzling matter regarding this incident is that the Medrash (Yalkut Shimoni § 524; See Ibid for other reasons not mentioned by the Kli Yakar) enumerates various sins that they committed which do not seem to be associated with the sin of bringing a strange fire. The Kli Yakar in his classic commentary posits that all the sins mentioned are associated with fire but I would like to suggest an alternative approach. First I will enumerate the sins listed in the Medrash and then I will proceed to explain their association with offering strange fire. One sin was that they entered the Holy of Holies in a state of drunkenness. The second sin was that they were not married. The third sin was that they did not have children. The fourth sin was that they were not wearing all the Priestly Vestments. The fifth sin was that they were arrogant, declaring, “When will these two elders (Moshe and Aharon) die and we will lead the generation?” The sixth sin was that they entered the Holy of Holies without washing their hands and feet. The seventh sin was that they rendered a Halachic decision in front of their teacher Moshe. The eighth sin listed was that they were victims from the sin of their father Aharon who fashioned the Golden Calf. There are two questions regarding this list of sins that need to be addressed. The first question is, as the Kli Yakar asks, if these were their sins, why does the Torah only state that they entered with a strange fire? Second, and even more profound, one must understand how it is possible that the saintly sons of Aharon committed such grievous sins?
In order to understand the actions of such great people and how their mistake resulted in such a calamity, it is worthwhile to examine the function of the Mishkan and what the sons of Aharon were attempting to accomplish with their actions. The Mishkan was constructed with the purpose of allowing the Divine Presence a place to rest amongst the Jewish People. Prior to the sin of the Golden Calf there was no need for a Mishkan, as HaShem’s Presence was to rest in the heart of every single Jew. Thus, the Mishkan served to atone for the sin of the Golden Calf and simultaneously functioned as a resting place for the Divine Presence. Nadav and Avihu, according to Rav Dessler, were seeking to serve HaShem on a higher plane. Rav Dessler maintains that while the average person who enters the Holy of Holies is gripped with trepidation, Nadav and Avihu felt that they could serve HaShem with love alone. In a similar vein we can suggest that Nadav and Avihu desired that HaShem’s Presence should rest in the heart of every Jew, as was ordained prior to the sin of the Golden Calf. While the construction of the Mishkan was certainly a noble goal, they felt that the Nation could serve HaShem better without a Mishkan.
In order to accomplish this mission, Nadav and Avihu offered a strange fire that he had not commanded them. There are various interpretations for the words אשר לא צוה אותם, that He had not commanded them. In light of our theory that Nadav and Avihu were seeking to serve HaShem without the Mishkan as an intermediary, we can interpret these words to mean that He had not commanded them to serve Him without a Mishkan. The Torah emphasizes in this parasha and in the beginning of Parashas Acharei Mos (16:1) that Nadav and Avihu offered the fire before HaShem and that they died before HaShem. This teaches us that their motive was to serve HaShem directly without any intermediaries. They obviously were mistaken as HaShem put them to death with fire.
Their motive is reflected in the sins enumerated by the Medrash. By entering into the Holy of Holies in a state of drunkenness, Nadav and Avihu were demonstrating that they had reached a level where their intellect did not have to be confined, similar to the Mishkan which was a confinement of the Divine Presence. They did not marry because the Gemara (Sota 17a) states that when a man and a woman are meritorious, the Divine Presence rest between them. Here too Nadav and Avihu felt that they did not need an intermediary to allow the Divine Presence to rest amongst them. Regarding children it is said (Tehillim 127:3) הנה נחלת ה’ פרי בטן, the heritage of HaShem is children. Nadav and Avihu mistakenly thought that by having HaShem repose in their hearts they would not need children. Nadav and Vihu did not wear all the Priestly Vestments, because like the Mishkan, they felt the Divine Presence was not contingent on an edifice and on clothing. Similarly, they felt that HaShem’s Presence was manifest in every single Jew, and Moshe and Aharon were no different than the other Jews. They did not feel that the Holy of Holies was a more significant location than anywhere else in the world, so they did not wash their hands and feet before entering. They rendered a Halachic decision in front of Moshe their teacher because they felt that all Jews were on the same level.
One must wonder from where Nadav and Avihu obtained these apparently heretical thoughts? The answer is provided by the Medrash that states that their sin stemmed from the sin of the Golden Calf. Subsequent to the Giving of the Torah it is said (Shemos 24:11)ואל אצילי בני ישראל לא שלח ידו ויחזו את האלקים ויאכלו וישתו, against the great men of the children of Israel He did not stretch out His hand – they gazed at G-d, yet they ate and drank. Rashi (Ibid) writes that that Nadav and Avihu gazed at HaShem and they were liable the death penalty. However, HaShem did not wish to mire the joy of Receiving the Torah so He waited until the inauguration of the Mishkan to punish them. It would seem that Nadav and Avihu already entertained their inappropriate thoughts at Sinai, and these thoughts were the catalyst for their actions at the inauguration of the Mishkan.
While we cannot judge the intentions of great people like Nadav and Avihu, we can take a strong lesson from what transpired. How often do we think that we can make it in our own, without consulting a rabbi or prominent Torah figure? Do we ever entertain the thought that it is sufficient to have G-d in our heart and we are deficient in mitzvah performance? Questions like these should spur us to greater Torah study and mitzvah observance, with the knowledge that HaShem truly desires what is in our hearts, but He also desires that His Divine Presence rest in places of holiness and upon His chosen leaders. HaShem should bring us the Ultimate Redemption, with the arrival of Moshiach Tzidkeinu, speedily, in our days.
Shabbos in Action NEW!
We all need practical ways of enhancing our Shabbos observance. One thing I have always tried to do is study Sfas Emes or other Sefarim that discuss the beauty and holiness of Shabbos. I would like to give an opportunity to my dear readers to offer suggestions on what we as a nation can do to enhance our Shabbos. The ideas do not need to be original. Please submit your suggestions to email@example.com and I will print them in next week’s issue of Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim. I wish you a wonderful Shabbos. Good Shabbos.
The Morning News
This was the delicious part of the morning. The house was still quiet as Morris returned home from shul. The aroma of fresh-brewed coffee filled the air, and Morris’ daily newspaper waited, crisply folded inside the delivery bag.
He sat down with his coffee and slid the newspaper out of its plastic sleeve. As he opened it, though, he saw that something was wrong. It wasn’t tightly compressed, straight off the press, as it was every morning. It was creased in a few stray places, as if someone else had already opened it. Could it be? Morris felt outrage rising inside him at the thought of someone invading his private space in so blatant a way.
“But let’s not get carried away,” he warned himself. “Maybe it’s just some fluke.”
The next morning, however, the idea of a fluke was soundly defeated. The newspaper was not only refolded, but it also bore a coffee stain on the front page. Now Morris was ready to do battle.
The next morning, he arose at 5 a.m. and watched as the delivery boy flew by on his bike and tossed the newspaper onto his front porch. Peeking though a slat in the window shade, Morris maintained his vigil to see what would happen next. He watched in disbelief as David, his neighbor across the street, emerged from his house, gently lifted the paper off Morris’ porch and returned home, presumably to enjoy the Morris’ freshly folded paper with his coffee.
Morris imagined himself bursting through the front door and catching David red-handed. But in his visualization of sweet revenge, he could not see what would happen next. Would there be an argument? A fight? Would David be remorseful or defensive? Better to hold off on any action, Morris decided. First, he would discuss the situation with his rabbi and get an objective, informed opinion on how to handle it.
Morris went to his rabbi and told his tale of pilfering, creased newspapers, and coffee stains. The rabbi shook his head in amazement at the neighbor’s audacity.
“Morris, you have every right to confront your neighbor and ask him to stop doing this terrible act each morning,” the rabbi told him. “But I want you to know that if you do that, then you will be losing a friend and a neighbor forever.
“I would like to suggest another option. Forget about your neighbor’s actions. Instead of confronting him, buy him a one-year subscription to the newspaper as a gift from you to him. That way, instead of building up a fight, you will be paving a path way of peace. Choose peace, Morris. You deserve it.”
A small army of children clambered out the front door and climbed into the big family car. Rabbi Fischel Schachter prodded the dawdlers along.
“Let’s go everyone!” he called out enthusiastically. Getting the family out the door and on their way was no small feat… The last child was strapped into his booster seat and Rabbi Schachter set out on the road.
“Where are we going?” asked one child. It was a good question. Rabbi Schachter wasn’t exactly sure. All he knew was that for his large brood it had to be economical, interesting enough to hold their attention for awhile, and a proper atmosphere for the fine children he was privileged to raise.
He decided to poll the children and see if any of them had a good idea.
“Niagara Falls! Please can we go there? I’ve never been there,” one child pleaded.
“No, that’s too far!” advised an older child. “How about the aquarium? We could see the seals and the sharks.”
“That’s boring,” another child protested.
Suddenly, Rabbi Schachter was struck with the answer. The airport! New York had a train that traveled on elevated rails all around JFK International Airport. From that vantage point, the children could watch the passengers below as they scurried to their destinations. They could see the planes taking off, headed to exotic locations across the globe, and watch the impossibly large jumbo jets landing softly on solid ground. Maintaining his air of mystery, he headed down the highway toward Queens, where the airport was located.
Soon, signs for the airport started appearing along the road. “I know where we’re going!” one child exclaimed. “We’re going to the airport, right?”
“That’s right,” Rabbi Schachter replied, hoping the revelation would be met with approval.
“Where are we flying?” asked another child, barely able to contain her excitement.
“We’re not flying,” Rabbi Schachter informed her. “But we are going to have a lot of fun. You just wait and see…”
The train pulled up to the platform and they all quickly filed on and found seats. The train rolled gently forward and then, with a lurch, hit its full speed. The children, noses pressed to the windows, took in the hustle and bustle of the busy world beneath them. Rabbi Schachter pointed out interesting features ― the control towers, the runways, the insignias on the aircrafts’ tails that represented every major country in the world.
The Air Train completed its route around the airport in just 10 minutes, but the Schachters were in no hurry to disembark. They went around and around, seeing new sights each time.
Finally, after they had been riding the Air Train for about an hour, the door opened and a pilot boarded. The overall impression of the tall, slim man in his uniform and cap was that of a distinguished officer. But his face was worn. His little suitcase hung heavily from his hand as he looked around for a seat.
Rabbi Schachter gently touched his son’s shoulder. “Give the man your seat,” he instructed.
“No, no, it’s all right,” said the pilot. “I’ve been sitting in the pilot’s seat for the past 16 hours straight. I don’t mind standing at all.”
The pilot’s gaze moved from one seat to the next to the next.
“These are all your children?” he asked Rabbi Schachter.
“Well, actually, they’re not all here,” answered Rabbi Schachter. “Some of the older ones are home, and some are in Israel.”
“Wow, that’s really nice. So where exactly are you flying to? I can give you the quickest way to get to the gate. Believe me, I know this place inside out.”
“Um… you see… the truth is, we really aren’t flying anywhere. Today is a holiday and the kids have off from school. I decided to take them for a trip on the Air Train so that my wife would have a little break…”
“Okay, so how many times have you gone around the airport already?”
“I think this is about the 10th time around.”
“Amazing,” said the pilot. He spoke in a tone of awed disbelief, Is if he had discovered some lost ancient artifact. The two men fell silent for a few minutes. Then, as the train approached the pilot’s destination, he turned once more to Rabbi Schachter.
“I have been a pilot for the past twenty years,” he said. “My schedule is that I fly for three weeks straight and then I get a week off. But even when I’m off that one week, I don’t really get to go home and spend time there because my last flight ends in Australia and I live in Denver. By the time I get home and take care of a few things, it’s time to take off again. My wife left me years ago because I was never there for her and the kids, and I can’t blame her.
“When I fly, I know exactly where my point of departure is and where I am headed. I have the whole globe in my computer. But when I finish, I really have nowhere to go – no family, no children, just an empty hotel room. So in truth, although I’m always going somewhere, in reality I am going nowhere.
“I’m watching you and your family go around and around the airport, and you’re going nowhere, yet the truth is that you are really going somewhere very important. You are taking care of your children and your family and doing the right thing. I really, really envy you. Take care now, and enjoy your holiday.” (www.innernet.org.il)
Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Shemini-Parah 5771
Is sponsored in memory of a dear friend, Mr. Paul Kohn, ר’ משה אליהו הכהן בן ר’ אליקים ז”ל from Southfield, Michigan. May we only know good news.
Have a wonderful and delightful Shabbos
Prepared by Rabbi Binyomin Adler
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