Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Parshas Shemini

ויאמר משה אל אהרן הוא אשר דבר ד' לאמר בקרבי אקדש ועל פני כל העם אכבד וידם אהרן (10:3)

היכן דבר ונועדתי שמה לבני ישראל ונקדש בכבודי אל תקרי בכבודי אלא במכובדי אמר לי' משה לאהרן אהרן אחי יודע הייתי שיתקדש הבית במיודעיו של מקום והייתי סבור או בי או בך עכשיו רואה אני שהם גדולים ממני וממך (רש"י)

Parshas Tzav concluded by describing the service that Moshe performed for 7 days to inaugurate the Mishkan. Parshas Shemini begins with the climax of this period, which was reached on the 8th day, at which time Aharon and his sons were consecrated to serve as Kohanim in the Mishkan. Tragically, just at the peak of the joy of the inauguration ritual, Aharon’s two oldest sons, Nadav and Avihu, performed a service in the Mishkan which they weren’t commanded to do, and they paid for it with their lives.

Reacting to this terrible loss, Rashi writes that Moshe told Aharon that he knew that the Mishkan would be sanctified through the death of somebody close to Hashem, but he assumed that it would be either himself or Aharon. In light of what transpired, Moshe said that he now recognized that Nadav and Avihu were even greater than them. This comment is difficult to understand. How could Moshe, whom the Torah testifies (Bamidbar 12:3) was the most humble man to ever walk the earth, be so presumptuous as to assume that he was the most beloved by Hashem in his entire generation?

Rav Leib Chasman explains that this question is rooted in a fundamental misunderstanding about the nature of humility. People are accustomed to thinking of a humble person as one who views himself as low and unworthy. The Torah, however, doesn’t equate humility with low self-esteem!

On the contrary, a humble person may be well aware of his talents and skills. Nevertheless, he doesn’t view himself as worthy of praise and respect for them. In his humility, he attributes his talents to Divine gifts. Moshe was well aware of his lofty spiritual status and naturally assumed that Hashem would choose to take him to consecrate the Mishkan, yet this in no way detracted from his humility.

This understanding of genuine humility can be contrasted with the misguided demonstration of modesty in the following amusing story. There was once a yeshiva in Europe which emphasized to its students the importance of acquiring the trait of humility and minimizing one’s view of his worth and value. To that end, there were students who would repeat to themselves over and over the Yiddish expression, “Ich bin a gornisht” – I am a nothing – in an attempt to internalize this understanding.

One day a new student arrived in the yeshiva. Upon entering the Beis Medrash, he encountered a number of students sitting and repeating to themselves this phrase. Assuming that this was the practice of the yeshiva and wanting to fit in, the new student sat down and joined them, repeating loudly and with great fervor this expression. One of the older students approached him and rebuked him, “You just arrived here. Who are you to be a gornisht!?” Suffice it to say that although we have learned that a person should strive toward a humble and modest view of himself, this isn’t the “humility” that the Torah had in mind!


וידם אהרן (10:3)

The tremendous joy of the inauguration of the Mishkan was marred by the tragic deaths of Aharon’s two oldest sons, Nadav and Avihu. The Torah relates that upon learning of their deaths, Aharon remained silent. On this verse, there is a perplexing Medrash Pliah. From the Torah’s emphasis on Aharon’s silence, the Medrash understands that there was something which he wished to say but didn’t. What complaint was he holding inside? The Medrash answers cryptically that Aharon 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. What possible connection could this have to the events of our parsha?

Several commentators explain by noting that the Gemora in Niddah (31b) questions why circumcision is performed on the 8th day and not on the 7th day. The Gemora answers that when a woman has a male child, she becomes impure and forbidden to her husband for seven days. If the circumcision was performed on the 7th day, the guests would be rejoicing while the father and mother, the central figures at the celebration, would still be sad. On the 8th day, the mother has had the opportunity to immerse in a mikvah and become permitted to her husband, allowing them to also enjoy the occasion.

Based on the Gemora’s reasoning, we may explain that Aharon was the primary participant in the joy of the inauguration of the Mishkan, in which he served as Kohen Gadol. After seeing the lengths to which the Torah goes to ensure that the parents are able to be happy at their son’s circumcision, Aharon was bothered that he lost two of his children on the day which was supposed to be so dear to him.

Aharon’s argument would have been bolstered by Rashi’s comment (Shemos 24:10) that Nadav and Avihu should have been killed at Mount Sinai for irreverently 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 have easily 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 remained silent and was rewarded for his unquestioning acceptance of Hashem’s just ways!


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

For a fish to be kosher, the Torah requires that it have fins and scales. The Mishnah (Niddah 6:9) teaches that every fish with scales has fins, but some possess fins without scales. In light of this, the Gemora (Chullin 66b) questions why the Torah gives two requirements to determine a fish’s kashrus. Wouldn’t it have sufficed to make it solely dependent on scales, which are always accompanied by fins? The Gemora cryptically answers that the Torah did so להגדיל תורה ולהאדירה – to make the Torah great and mighty. How is this perplexing statement to be understood?

The Zayis Re’anan brilliantly elucidates the Gemora’s answer. In his notes on the Rosh’s commentary in Chullin, the Ma’adanei Yom Tov (3:67 s.k. 5) relates a fascinating episode. Rav Aharon HaRofeh brought before him a poisonous marine animal, known in Latin as stinkus marinus, which clearly possessed scales. In contradiction to the Mishnah’s claim, it had four small legs in lieu of fins.

The Zayis Re’anan suggests that Chazal were aware of this creature’s existence. They also recognized that independent of the laws of kashrus, people would instinctively avoid eating this poisonous animal. They therefore weren’t concerned that their categorical statement, which seems to permit its consumption, would lead to any practical problems.

The Gemora in Makkos (23b) teaches 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 , the same expression used by the Gemora in Chullin. Rashi explains that there are many mitzvos, such as the prohibition against eating bugs, which a person would observe independent of the commandment involved. Because Hashem wanted us to accrue additional merits, He forbade them so that we would receive reward for actions which we would perform regardless, but which now have the status of mitzvos.

With this introduction, we can understand the Gemora with which we began. The Gemora questioned why the Torah mentions fins as a requirement for kosher fish when it would have sufficed to mention only scales. However, had the Torah done so, the stinkus marinus would technically be kosher, as it possesses scales. The additional requirement of fins comes to render this animal forbidden.

This is difficult to understand, as this creature is poisonous and people would anyway avoid it. Why was it necessary to add the requirement of fins to exclude it? Based on Rashi’s explanation that Hashem made the Torah great with extra mitzvos to give us reward for what we would have done regardless, we may suggest that this is the intention of the Gemora in Chullin in quoting the same verse. Hashem made the Torah great by adding the requirement of fins to render the stinkus marinus non-kosher and give us reward for following our natural instincts to avoid it!


Answers to the weekly Points to Ponder are now available!

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

1) The Zohar HaKadosh teaches that Nadav and Avihu were under the age of 20 when they died. How can this be reconciled with Rashi’s statement (Bereishis 23:1) that the Heavenly Court only punishes a person after he turns 20? (Tzelach Berachos 31b and Binyan Ariel Parshas Vayeishev)

2) One of the explanations given by Rashi (10:2) for the sin of Nadav and Avihu is that they rendered a legal ruling in front of their teacher, Moshe. The Gemora in Megillah (14b) relates 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. Why was Moshe, the humblest of all men, strict with his nephews Nadav and Avihu, and if he wasn’t, why were they punished? (Taam V’Daas)

3) One of the species of birds ruled non-kosher by the Torah is the “Chasidah” (11:19). Rashi explains that its name is derived from the fact that it displays kindness (“chesed”) by sharing its food with others. If it is so merciful and compassionate, why does the Torah forbid its consumption? (Chiddushei HaRim, Taam V’Daas, Even Meira, Matamei Yaakov)

4) The Gemora in Berachos (53b) derives from 11:44 the requirement to wash one’s hands at the end of a meal (mayim acharonim). After doing so, may one speak prior to Birkas HaMazon? (Kesef Mishneh Hilchos Berachos 6:20, Magen Avrohom 179:1, Eliyah Rabbah 181:9, Shulchan Aruch HaRav 181:6, Aruch HaShulchan 181:1, Mishnah Berurah 179:1 and 181:24)


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