Parshas Shemini – The condolence to Aharon and his sons

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By Rabbi Shlomo Rosenfeld


The משכן is sanctified, Aharon brings the קרבנות on the מזבח and we hear the beautiful words ותצא אש מלפני י-ה-ו-ה ותאכל על המזבח … וירא כל העם וירנו ויפלו על פניהם. A fire came out from before God and ate on the מזבח, the people saw, and they praised, and fell on their faces. If you could imagine the emotions here, they must have been spectacular! The people have given their money, the skilled people have given their time and energy, and now they have a home for Hashem in their camp! Also, if you look at the language used, when Moshe says וירא אליכם כבוד י-ה-ו-ה, and the concept of fire coming down to this world, seeing the presence of Hashem, this are הר סיני language, and we know the רמב”ן says that the Mishkan was the perpetuation of the הר סיני experience. The nation must have been elated!

Sadly, 2 פסוקים later we hear identical words but this time they are echoed with sadness and tragedy. אהרן’s two sons נדב and אביהוא bring a voluntary fire that they were not commanded to bring and again we hear, ותצא אש מלפני י-ה-ו-ה. But this time it does not consume on the מזבח, rather, ותאכל אתם, the fire consumes them, and they die.

If you could imagine what Aharon and his 2 surviving sons were thinking, on the one hand they had been separated to be holier than the rest of the nation, they were chosen to be closer to Hashem and to represent the entire nation, but on the other hand, נדב and אביהוא had just died as a result of trying to get too close to Hashem. These kohanim realized that they would need to walk a very thin line in order to stay alive. They were too holy to leave the משכן, and they needed to serve God on a daily basis. But they were not holy enough to serve Him as freely as they wanted to. Not only is that absolutely terrifying, they were also the only 3 people out of a nation of 3 million that were in this position. What a lonely existence that must have felt like.

I think the פסוקים that immediately follow the death of נדב and אביהוא hold a covert message to the kohanim that was meant to comfort them and give a new depth to their new role. Let me show you what I mean.

The first command that they get is to completely abstain from mourning. They needed to cut their hair, keep their clothes clean and fresh, and they couldn’t even cry. But listen to the words that follow, ואחיכם כל בית ישראל יבכו את השרפה אשר שרף י-ה-ו-ה. You may feel lonely in your new role as kohanim but know that just outside these curtains you have 3 million brothers and sisters, כל בית ישראל, and they are crying for you. You maintain the holiness needed to serve God so that simple people don’t need to maintain that level, and they are there mourning for your loss as if it is their own since you cannot mourn as a result of that holiness. You each compliment each other and take care of what the other can’t. This was meant to detract from the loneliness.

The next thing they are told is not to drink wine when they serve in the משכן. And this has two purposes. 1- להבדיל 2- להורת, so that you always know you are 1- להבדיל, to separate. To make known that they are separate from the nation, but not in a lonely way, rather 2- להורות, literally means to teach, but the word להורות shares a root with the word הורים, which means parents. The kohanim were being placed in a parental position over the nation. Hashem was telling the kohanim that the same way parents are categorically different from their children and that they are separate, they are also inextricably attached since the parent’s job is to protect and nurture the child. The kohanim were being established as “spiritual parents” to the people, to allow us to cultivate our relationship with our Father in heaven.

The third instruction they are given is the most fascinating, and it ties everything together. There are so many linguistic nuances sprinkled in these פסוקים which clarify and define exactly what the kohanim’s roles are in the Jewish people, especially in light of the death of נדב and אביהוא.

Moshe tells Aharon and his sons that they have two types of קרבנות still left in front of them, notice the similarities and subtle differences. Each example has 4 elements, 1- the type of קרבן it is, 2- the level of קדושה it carries, 3- the holiness of where it must be eaten, and 4- who’s “domain” it is in, and each of the 4 are in perfect contrast in the two sets of instructions that they receive from Moshe:

1- the קרבן מנחה which is קודש קדשים and must be eaten במקום קדוש since it is מאשי י-ה-ו-ה and

2- the חזה התנופה and שוק התרומה which is קדשים קלים and must be eaten במקום טהור and it isמזבחי שלמי בני ישראל.

When Moshe tells them about the first קרבן, the פסוק says, וידבר משה אל אהרן ואל … בניו הנותרים קחו את המנחה הנותרת מאשי יקוק. Is it a coincidence that the “leftover” sons of Aharon are told to eat the “leftover” מנחה?  I think they are being compared to the קרבן מנחה which is קודש קדשים, almost as though Hashem is saying, from among the Jewish people you are My קודש קדשים. And that concept that people can be קודש קדשים is both foreign and scary, because into which room did their brothers just go in and die? That’s right, the קודש קדשים.

But Hashem explains that they don’t need to be scared. He says to eat the קרבן מנחה in a holy place, במקום קודש כי חקך וחק בניך היא מאשי י-ה-ו-ה כי כן צויתי, the kohanim are compared to the קרבן that is קודש קדשים and therefore they must also be in a mind frame of a מקום קדוש. However, this is their חוק, the type of law that we humans can’t understand, but that Hashem nevertheless commands that they maintain that mind frame, and that is why it says, כי כן צויתי, for so I have commanded. But צויתי comes from the word צו, which not only means commandment, it also means connection. Hashem is saying that you are going to be able to survive a life of קודש קדשים – provided that you follow the rules I gave you, don’t drink wine or mourn the way regular people would – since I have made that special connection with you. It is a חוק which you may not understand but understand that I have established a special connection with you, and won’t harm you provided you follow these חוקים.

Let’s compare the two types of קרבנות that the kohanim were commanded to eat. The קרבן מנחה that is קודש קדשים (which represents them) is to be eaten במקום קדוש and the קדשים קלים is to be eaten במקום טהור. The מפרשים explain that טהור is a state of purity that is not as intense as קודש which is an extreme purity which is achieved when something is completely separated.

If the קודש קדשים represents them, then might the קדשים קלים represent the rest of the בני ישראל?  It would seem so since regular people can achieve a state of טהור, but not necessarily קודש. And that would explain why by the קדשים קלים the פסוק says it is מזבחי שלמי בני ישראל. Additionally, halacha also states that a regular ישראל can partake in the eating of קדשים קלים but not of קודש קדשים. It certainly seems like the general population has the relationship to קדשים קלים that the kohanim have to קודש קדשים.

Now let’s circle back to the Pasuk we quoted before that was meant to console the kohanim, and we’ll now see that it completely defined what their new roles were. The kohanim were told not to drink wine in order: ולהבדיל בין הקודש ובין החול ובין הטמא ובין הטמא. The standard reading of this פסוק is that there are two different separations being made, 1- between קודש and חול, and 2- between טהור and טמא. But the truth is, those things are opposites and they wouldn’t necessarily need a special set of people to differentiate between them, the distinction between opposites should be obvious. Maybe there is only one distinction and the פסוק is meant to be read like this, don’t drink wine, in order to be able to fulfill your mission of being able to differentiate between קודש/חול and טהור /טמא (each set of opposites is considered one group).

You kohanim are representative of the higher level of קודש and the rest of the nation is representative of the more neutral level of טהור. And your job is to make sure that there is that distinction and that you as a group are always available to be the holy group within the nation. To take the true קודש קדשים – Hashem Himself – and make that accessible to those that are טהור and not necessarily קודש. Live in that space between God and the people and bridge that gap so that the nation of brothers which consider themselves your family can have a relationship with their Father in heaven.

And the second purpose of not drinking wine is ולהורת את בני ישראל את כל החקים אשר דבר י-ה-ו-ה אליהם ביד משה , and now we can understand what they are meant to be teaching to the nation on a deeper level. They are meant to teach the people about the “חוק” which we referenced before. The non-understandable law that Hashem requires the kohanim to maintain the level of holiness that they had to maintain. It isn’t understandable but it is כי כן צויתי, it is reliant upon the special connection that Hashem made with this nation. and this is what the kohanim are supposed to teach the people.Attachments area

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