Friday, April 21, 2006

Parshas Shemini

וידם אהרן (10:3)

There is a very difficult to understand Medrash Pliah on our verse. As the Torah relates that Aharon remained silent, the Medrash understands that there was something which he would otherwise have wished to say but from which he refrained. The Medrash questions what complaint he was holding inside, and answers cryptically that he would have argued (12:3) וביום השמיני ימול בשר ערלתו – when a woman gives birth to a male child, the baby should be circumcised on the eighth day, something which ostensibly has no connection to the events of our parsha.

Several commentators (Yalkut Ha’urim, Ya’alas Chein, Shemen Ha’kik) note that the Gemora in Niddah (31b) questions why the circumcision is performed on the eighth day (and not on the seventh – Rashi). The Gemora answers that when a woman has a male child, she becomes impure and forbidden to her husband for seven days. Therefore, if the bris mila were performed on the seventh day, all of the attendees would be merrily rejoicing while the father and mother, the central figures at the occasion, would still be sad, whereas on the eighth day the woman has already had the opportunity to immerse in a mikveh and become once-again permitted to her husband so that they too may enjoy the occasion.

Based on the Gemora’s explanation, we may now explain that Aharon was similarly the primary participant in the joy of the inauguration of the Mishkan, in which he was to serve as Kohen Gadol. After seeing the lengths to which the Torah goes to insure that the parents are able to enjoy the bris mila, he was bothered by the fact that he lost two of his own children on the day which was supposed to be so happy and dear to him, especially in light of Rashi’s comment (Shemos 24:10) that Nadiv, Avihu, and the Jewish elders should have been killed at Mount Sinai for irrelevantly indulging in food and drink while gazing at a prophetic revelation of Hashem, but He spared their lives temporarily so as not to mar the joy of the giving of the Torah. Aharon could easily have questioned why he wasn’t entitled to enjoy his day as the “baal simcha” like Moshe at Mount Sinai and the parents at a circumcision, but he nevertheless remained silent and was reward for his acceptance of Hashem’s just ways!

ויקצף על אלעזר ועל איתמר בני אהרן הנותרם לאמר

מדוע לא אכלתם את החטאת במקום הקדש (10:16-17)

The Rambam rules (Hilchos Deios 6:7) that one who sees his friend transgressing or engaged in inappropriate behavior is required to rebuke him and explain to him the error of his ways. He adds that this must be done in a soft voice and gentle manner, making it clear that the criticism emanates solely from a pure desire to assist and benefit his friend. In fact, Rav Chaim Volozhiner is quoted as maintaining that a person who is only able to deliver rebuke in an angry, rude manner is exempt from the mitzvah based on the requirement of the Rambam.

I once saw a beautiful hint to this concept from our verses. The Torah tells us explicitly that Moshe was angry at what he perceived as an incorrect judgment on the part of Aharon and his sons. Nevertheless, the first letter of the words of his actual criticism spell out מלא אהבה – full of love – hinting to us that even as he carried out what he perceived to be his Divine obligation to protest their actions, he did so in a way which demonstrated his love for them and his pure motivations in doing so!

את זה תאכלו מכל אשר במים כל אשר לו סנפיר וקשקשת במים בימים ובנחלים אתם תאכלו (11:9)

In order for a fish to be kosher, the Torah requires that it have both fins and scales. The Mishnah in Niddah (6:9) states that every single fish which has scales also has fins, although there are some which possess fins but not scales. Based on this fact, the Gemora in Chullin (66b) questions why the Torah needed to give two requirements to determine the kashrus of a fish, when seemingly it would have sufficed to make it solely dependent on the presence of scales, which are automatically accompanied by fins as well. The Gemora cryptically answers that the Torah did so להגדיל תורה ולהאדירה – to make the Torah great and mighty – an answer which a number of commentators struggle to understand.

The Zayis R’anan, the commentary of the Magen Avrohom on the Yalkut Shimoni, explains the Gemora’s answer in a most brilliant fashion. In his notes on the Rosh’s commentary in Chullin, the Ma’adanei Yom Tov relates (3:67 s.k. 5) a fascinating episode. During the time that he served as head of the Beis Din in Vienna, an individual known as Rav Aharon HaRofeh brought before him a marine animal, known in Latin as stinkus marinus, native to Spanish seas, which clearly possessed scales, but had four small legs in lieu of any fins, seemingly in contradiction to the Mishnah’s claim. He also notes that this animal was poisonous and had to be treated after its death in order to extract anything usable.

The Zayis R’anan suggests that Chazal were certainly aware of the existence of this so-called contradiction. However, they also recognized that independent of the laws of kashrus, people would instinctively avoid eating this animal due to its poisonous nature, and they therefore weren’t concerned that their categorical statement, which seems to permit its consumption, would lead to any real issues.

The Gemora at the end of Makkos (23b) quotes a famous statement of Rav Chananyah ben Akashya, who said that because Hashem wanted to give us merits, He increased the number of mitzvos for us to perform, as the verse saysד' חפץ למען צדקו יגדיל תורה ויאדיר . Rashi there explains that there are a number of mitzvos, such as the prohibition against eating bugs, which a person would naturally observe independent of the prohibition involved. Because Hashem wanted us to accrue additional merits, He nevertheless forbade them so that we would receive reward for actions which we would anyway be taking, but which now have the status of mitzvos.

We may now offer a new understanding of the Gemora with which we began. The Gemora was bothered why the Torah mentioned that fish need fins to be kosher when it would have apparently sufficed to mention only scales. However, had it done so, the stinkus marinus would technically be kosher, as it does indeed possess scales. We may therefore suggest that the additional requirement of fins comes to render this creature non-kosher. This is nevertheless difficult to understand, as we already mentioned that this animal is poisonous and people would anyway avoid it, so why was it necessary to add the requirement of fins to exclude it? However, based on Rashi’s explanation in Makkos, which taught us that Hashem made the Torah great with extra mitzvos in order to give us reward for what we would have done regardless, we may now conclude that this is the intent of the Gemora in Chullin in cryptically quoting the same verse – Hashem made the Torah great by adding the requirement of fins in order to render the stinkus marinus non-kosher and give us reward for following our instincts to avoid it!

כל הולך על גחון (11:42)

כל דמהלך על מעוי (רש"י)

The Torah forbids the consumption of all creeping creatures which slither on their bellies. Interestingly, Rashi renders the word “belly” as “innards,” which would seem to be anatomically imprecise, as בטן would seem to be a more accurate translation. Further, the word גחון appears much earlier in the Torah (Bereishis 3:14), in reference to the punishment of the serpent which tempted Chava, yet Rashi felt no need to explain the meaning of the word until its appearance in our parsha.

The Vilna Gaon beautifully explains that the Gemora in Kiddushin (30a) states the letter “ו” in the word גחון is the middle letter in the entire Torah. Rashi begins his commentary on the Torah with the letter “א” (אמר רבי יצחק) and ends with the letter “ת” (יישר כחך אשר שברת). Rashi didn’t feel the need to explain the word גחון, or else he would have done so where it initially appeared. However, because this is the middle of the Torah, and therefore of his commentary, he wished to render it as a word beginning with the letter “מ” in order to hint that the entire Torah, along with his Divinely-inspired commentary, is אמת – true – from the start to the middle to the very end!

Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):

1) Rashi writes (9:23) that for seven consecutive days, Moshe assembled the Mishkan only to subsequently take it apart, but on the 8th day, he built it and left it standing. How was he permitted to do so for 8 consecutive days, which necessarily includes Shabbos, when the halacha is (Rashi Shemos 35:2) that the building of the Mishkan may not be done on Shabbos? (Panim Yafos)

2) Rashi writes (Shemos 24:10) that Nadiv, Avihu, and the Jewish elders should have been killed at Mount Sinai for irrelevantly indulging in food and drink while gazing at a prophetic revelation of Hashem, but He spared their lives temporarily so as not to mar the joy of the giving of the Torah. If so, why did He kill Nadav and Avihu on the day of the inauguration of the Mishkan, thereby dampening its happiness, especially according to the Mishnah at the end of Taanis (4:8) which seems to imply that the joy at the consecration of the Mishkan was actually greater than that at receiving the Torah? (Kli Yakar, Even Meira, Rav Yitzchok Feigelstock quoted in Peninim)

3) When a person dies, the ritual impurity from his dead body is transferred to everything under the same roof which is susceptible to acquiring impurity (Bamidbar 19:14). According to the opinion of Rav Akiva, who maintains, in distinction to Rav Eliezer (see Toras Kohanim), that Nadav and Avihu died inside the Mishkan, why is no mention made of the entire Mishkan and its vessels becoming impure and requiring a 7-day cessation of the Divine Service until they could be properly purified with the ashes of the red heifer? (Daas Z’keinim, Har Tzvi Acharei Mos)

4) One of the explanations given by Rashi (10:2) for the sin of Nadav and Avihu is that they rendered a halachic ruling in front of their teacher, Moshe. The Gemora in Megilla (14b) states that the prophetess Chulda wasn’t punished for prophesying in the times of Yirmiyahu because they were related and he wasn’t strict with her. If so, it would seem that Moshe Rabbeinu, the most humble of all men (Bamidbar 12:3), certainly wasn’t strict with his nephews Nadav and Avihu, so why were they punished? (Taam V’Daas)

5) After the deaths of Nadav and Avihu, Moshe immediately began to attempt to console their mourning father Aharon. How was he permitted to do so, when the Shulchan Aruch rules (Yoreh Deah 376:1) that those who come to comfort a mourner shouldn’t begin speaking until the mourner initiates the conversation? (M’rafsin Igri)

6) Rashi writes (10:3) that in reward for his silent acceptance of the loss of two of his sons, Hashem addressed the following mitzvah (10:8-11) directly to him and not to Moshe. The Mishnah in Berachos (54a) rules that one is required to bless Hashem for bad news just as he does for positive events. If so, why was Aharon rewarded for merely remaining silent without complaining about Hashem’s ways when he was required to do much more, by actively blessing Hashem’s righteous judgment? (Taam V’Daas, Mishmeres Ariel, Parparos L’chochma)

7) The Torah permits (11:3) the consumption of any land animal which chews its cud and has split hooves. Where do we find a species of animal which meets both of these criteria and yet the Torah explicitly states is non-kosher? (Targum Yonason ben Uziel Devorim 14:7, Nidda 24a)

8) The Medrash in Tehillim (146) relates that a pig is called a “chazir” because in the Messianic period, it will return (“chozeir”) to being permitted in consumption! How can this be reconciled with one of the basic tenets of our belief, that not a single letter in the Torah will ever be negated, and an explicit verse rules that pigs are forbidden (11:7)? Further, even if pigs will change their natures and begin to chew their cud, why won’t they be forbidden based on the fact that at the time birth, they were born from forbidden animals, regarding which the Mishnah rules (Bechoros 1:2) היוצא מהטמא טמא – even an animal which has all of the signs of a kosher animal but which is born from a non-kosher animal has the status of its mother and is forbidden? (Ohr HaChayim HaKadosh, Chasam Sofer, Ritva Kiddushin 49b, Rabbeinu Bechaye, Reikanti, Malbim, Yalkut HaGershuni, Pardes Yosef, S’dei Chemed, Taam V’Daas, Torah L’Daas Vol. 8, M’rafsin Igri)

9) The Torah permits the consumption of any fish which has both fins and scales. Do all fish which have scales also have fins? (Chullin 66b, Kreisi U’pleisi 83:3, Pri Megadim 83:2 and Aruch HaShulchan there, Minchas Chinuch 156, Ma’adanei Yom Tov Chullin 3:67 s.k. 5)

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