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Parsha Page by Fred Toczek

A survey of parsha thoughts from Gedolei Yisroel compiled by Fred Toczek. Perfect for printing and use at your Shabbos tisch.


Shemini 5757

I. Summary

A. The Kohanim Assume Their Duties.
After seven days of initiation, the Kohanim assumed their duties. At this time, the entire congregation stood before the Altar on which Aharon offered sacrifices for himself and them. Following Aharon blessing the people, he joined Moshe inside the Mishkon and, upon their return, portions of the sacrifice still on the Altar were consumed by Divine fire, whereupon the people fell in worship before Hashem.

B. Nadav and Avihu Are Killed. Aharon's sons, Nadav and Avihu, offered incense on unconsecrated fire not taken from the Altar and were punished by being consumed by a "fire which came from before the L-rd". Aharon was grief-stricken, but Moshe explained to him that the Kohanim had a special responsibility to maintain the high standard of sanctity demanded of them by Hashem. Aharon and his two remaining sons were instructed not to exhibit any mourning, thereby demonstrating their submission to Hashem's will. The Kohanim were also warned not to drink any strong liquor (as Nadav and Avihu had) before discharging their duties in the Mishkan or instructing the people.

C. The Sin-Offering. Aharon and his sons neglected to eat their share of the sin-offering brought on the people's behalf, and the sacrifice became completely burned. This was contrary to the command that a certain portion of the offering was to be eaten by them in the Mishkon. In reply to Moshe's rebuke, Aharon explained that since the Kohanim became unclean and there was no specific command dealing with this, it was forbidden to be eaten.

D. Kashrus. Purity and holiness were to be the principles underlying everyday life among the Jews. Although man is permitted to eat the meat of animals, he is restricted in his choice of food by being told to abstain from impure, non-kosher items. Only those quadrupeds which have completely split hooves and chew their cud can be eaten. (This means that species like the camel, hare, and pig are prohibited.) Only fish with fins and scales are permitted. (This excludes shell fish, seals and other species.) As for birds, all birds of prey were declared prohibited. Some insects and creepy creatures were classified as unclean. Thus, the distinction was made "between the unclean and the clean, and between the living things that could be eaten and the living thing that could not be eaten".

II.  Divrei Torah

A. Lil'Mode U'Lilamed (Rabbi Mordechai Katz)

1. In pursuit of peace. Aharon's name has been accorded a special place of affection in Jewish history. When he was alive, he was exceedingly popular, and when he passed from the earth, he was deeply mourned. Why was Aharon so well-loved? Because Aharon was renowned as an "Ohev Sholom V'Rodeph Sholom," one who loved and pursued peace. He deeply desired the well-being of his fellow humans, and tried to improve their ways, not through harshness but through friendship. When Aharon became aware that two people were quarreling, he felt personally bereaved. Settling the argument became his first priority. He would go to one of the parties and say, "Your rival told me that he feels sorry about the fight you both had. In fact, he'd like to apologize, but he feels too embarrassed to do so. Maybe you can help matters by going over and forgiving him." Then he would tell the other party the exact same thing. As a result, when the two individuals meet each other, they would express their sorrow over the argument, and peace would be achieved. Peace is a very fragile treasure, but Aharon knew how to secure it. In fact, he would go to the extent of suffering personal abuse to encourage tranquility. He is certainly an excellent role model for us in this regard.

2. Kashrus. The Parsha lists the variety of foods which Jews may and may not eat. Throughout the years, there have been many rationales offered for the laws of Kashrus. Some have asserted that they were only a temporarily health measure (for instance, pork was prohibited so that Jews would not be stricken with the disease of trichinosis; and the laws of salt in meat were a way of preserving the meat before refrigeration was discovered.) Thus, they claim, the laws of Kashrus are no longer applicable in our modern age. However, while it is certainly true that the Torah is concerned for people's health and sanitation, this is not the only rationale for Kashrus. The Torah is also concerned with our spiritual well-being, and with our inner purity. Therefore, when the Torah tells us to avoid certain foods, it thereby provides for our spiritual cleanliness. Foods which are inherently unclean and disgusting, such as the meat of animals that died of disease, or the products of insects and the unsanitary pig, are not kosher. Similarly, foods of naturally vicious animals, birds of prey and beasts of the forest are prohibited, whereas products of domesticated animals like the chicken and cow are allowed. We are, in a way, influenced by what we eat. Therefore, we must base our character on the peaceful ways of the animals that are permitted. Because of the spiritual basis for the laws of Kashrus, in addition to the health basis, the laws of Kashrus are not limited to any specific era. They are timeless.

B. Growth through Torah (Rabbi Zelig Pliskin)

1. Don't allow humility to prevent you from accomplishing. "And Moshe said to Aharon: go close to the altar." Rashi cites Toras Kohanim that Aharon was afraid to go close to the altar out of embarrassment. Moshe then said to him, "Why are you embarrassed? For this reason you were chosen." Rabbi Yitzchok of Volozhin explained: Aharon in his humility felt that he was unworthy to be High Priest. This is exactly what makes you worthy of being the High Priest, replied Moshe. The attribute of humility is so precious that because you have it you were chosen to be the High Priest. When you try to accomplish in the spiritual matters as a leader or teacher, you might say to yourself, "I realize how little I know. I'm aware of my faults. How can I possibly serve in this position?" But as long as your are sincere in your efforts and aware of your deficiencies, your humility is exactly the trait that makes you fit for the job. A person with true humility will learn from others, he will ask questions when he doubts and will be open to criticism. Never allow humility to stop you from worthy accomplishments.

2. Learn to accept Hashem's will. When Aharon's two sons died, his reaction was: "And Aharon was silent." Aharon was greatly praised for remaining silent. What was the greatness of Aharon for not complaining against Hashem? Chazal require us to bless Hashem for the bad just as we bless Him for the good. What, then, was this special praise of Aharon, the first High Priest, for his silence? When a person says, "All that the Almighty does for me is for the good" about something that originally disturbed or frustrated him, it implies that at first he was bothered by what happened. But as soon as he realizes the matter bothers him, he uses intellect to overcome his negative reaction. Intellectually, he knows that all that the Almighty causes to occur is ultimately for the good and this knowledge enables him to accept the situation. But an even higher level is to internalize the concept that whatever the Almighty does is positive and good. When this is a person's automatic evaluation of every occurrence, he does not have to keep convincing himself that a specific event is good. Such a person accepts with joy everything that occurs in his life. That was Aharon's greatness. He remained silent because he knew clearly that everything Hashem does is purposeful. Accepting Hashem's will is the most crucial attitude to integrate for living a happy life. This supreme level is illustrated by the following story: In 1949 when Rabbi Moshe Yechiel Epstein was visiting Israel, his only son died in New York at the age of 21. The family did not want him to hear the news until he came back home. When he arrived at the airport, the Rebbes of Boyan and Kopishnitz, his very close colleagues, carefully told him about his son. His only response to this bitter news was, "We're obligated to love Hashem with all of our soul, even when He takes away our soul. My son was part of my soul."

3. When you love wisdom, you will have joy for the wisdom of others. "And Moshe heard and it was good in his eyes." Sforno comments on this verse: Moshe felt joy upon hearing Aharon's reasoning. He was pleased that Aharon was correct in his decision. People who have wisdom will derive pleasure when they come up with an original idea or when they find that they are correct in some intellectual matter. But, it is a rare quality to have such a love of wisdom that one derives pleasure when another person comes up with a good idea. What was special about Moshe's joy was that he himself made an error and Aharon was right. Many people would be upset that they had made a mistake. But not Moshe. He was joyful that his brother had an awareness of truth, even though this meant that he was wrong. Moshe's love of wisdom should serve as a model to strive for.

C. Kol Dodi on the Torah (Rabbi David Feinstein)

The Eighth Day. Why does the Torah stress that it was the eighth day of the setting up of the Mishkan? True, it was a culmination of the preceding seven days, which Moshe spent in preparation for the official inauguration. Yet, it would seem more appropriate to emphasize that it was the first day of the functioning of the Mishkan. In this light, it seems that the first seven days were merely "practice" sessions, as it were, which became insignificant once the Mishkan and the Kohanim assumed their full sanctity. If so, why is the eighthness of the day given such prominence, to the extent that even the name of the Parsha stresses it? The Torah wants to teach us that the preparations one makes for doing a mitzvah have nearly as much importance as the mitzvah, that they are really part of the mitzvah itself. For example, even though the Seder lasts only a few hours, it can require weeks of preparation, including learning many laws and customs. One might think it is a waste to spend all that time preparing for such a short affair. In reality, however, the preparations are part of the mitzvah because without them it would be impossible to do the mitzvah properly. Similarly, one is to pronounce the Shehecheyanu (Who has kept us alive) blessing as soon as one completes building a Succah, even though one cannot perform the mitzvah or dwelling in Succah until the first night of the Festival. Thus, the reference to the "eighth" symbolizes that the seven days which preceded the consecration, even though they were not the ultimate raison d'etre of the Mishkan, had an importance nearly equal to that of the days that followed.

D. Wellsprings of Torah (Rabbi Alexander Zusia Freidman)

1. Because Hashem commanded you. "And Moshe said: 'This is the thing which the L-rd commanded that you should do; that the glory of the L-rd may appear to you.'" Every commandment has countless deeper implications and meanings, and even those who are incapable of discerning some of them must realize that whatever they know is still only a drop in the bucket as compared to the wealth of meaning inherent in any one of G-d's commands. This, too, is the message of Moshe to the children of Israel: "This is the thing which the Lord commanded. Do it because it is what the Lord commanded you. Do not find other reasons, for you will never understand all of its deep implications. But, if you will do it simply because it is the will of G-d, the Glory of G-d will appear to you." (Tifereth Shmuel)

2. The Lesson of the Stork. "In these you shall have in detestation among the fouls . . . and the stork . . ." Why is the stork called "hassidah" (kindly one)? Because it deals kindly with its fellow-creatures with regard to food (Rashi). According to Ramban, birds labeled as unclean have been so classified because of their cruelty. But why should the stork, which deals kindly with its fellow-creatures, be classified as unclean? Rabbi Isaac Meir Alter said: "It is because it is kind only to others of its species but will never give food to a creature not of its own kind." This teaches us that when giving to the needy, we must make no distinction between friend and stranger.

E. Majesty of Man (Rabbi A. Henach Leibowitz)

Asking advice. The Torah tells us that Nadav and Avihu brought a "strange fire" on the altar, an offering that Hashem had not commanded them to bring. They were immediately punished with death. The Yalkut Shimoni points out they made this mistake because they did not consult Moshe. Furthermore, says the Yalkut, they were also blamed because they did not consult each other about the Korbon. The first criticism seems logical: Nadav and Avihu should have consulted Moshe, who was their spiritual leader and the only person who heard the Torah directly from Hashem. The Yalkut's second criticism, however, seems a bit strange. Why were they blamed for not consulting each other? If both Nadav and Avihu, the greatest men in Israel after Moshe and Aharon, both independently came to the same conclusion that this Korbon should be brought, why would asking each other make any difference? Chazal are showing us the power of asking advice. Even if two equals, such as Nadav and Avihu, both felt the same way about the a certain topic, talking it over may have caused them to change their minds. By discussing a matter, the concepts involved become clarified, and the issues more precisely defined. We should never hesitate to ask advise and opinions of others. This can help us examine our actions with a critical eye, to sift through our hidden motivations and anticipate negative repercussions that were not previously evident. As Pirke Avos teaches: "Who is a wise man? One who learns from all people."


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