Parshat Shemini 5775: Arrogance and Subjective Arbitrariness –Then and Now

Shalom Friends;

This week, our Parshat HaShevua, Parshat Shemini is sponsored by Donny and Elisheva Fein in honor of the 25th anniversary of Donny’s Bar Mitzvah: Parshat Shemini. To the Fein family, many thanks for your sponsorship and for your continued kindnesses.

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Moshe Burt
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Parshat Shemini 5775: Arrogance and Subjective Arbitrariness –Then and Now

by Moshe Burt

After learning in Parsha Tzav that for seven days, Moshe taught Aaron HaKohen and his sons the laws of their Avodah (the Kohanic Service, i.e. in the Tabernacle and later in the Beit HaMikdash — ” The Temple”) in the Mishkan, our Parsha Shemini begins by relating that on the eighth day, Aaron and his sons commenced their Avodah HaKodosh (Holy Service). It is interesting and ironic that our parsha is the other side of the term; “Tzav-Shemonah” which is the document or order issued by the Israel Defense Forces calling reservists to active duty in event of war. But the alignment of these two Parshiyot, one-after-the-other, seems to this author, to have deeper meaning, above and beyond mobilization and deployment in time of war. This deeper meaning seems to denote a constancy of service, of humility, modesty and selflessness, of guard over Am Yisrael and their connection to Hashem, to Torah and to their sanctity (consecration, purity, holiness). And with this constancy of vigilance of Am Yisrael’s sanctity, our Parsha also teaches us about Kashrut, and “abstain[ing] from impure, non-Kosher item[s].” (L’ilmode U’Lamed, by Rabbi Mordechai Katz, Parshat Shemini, page 108)

Our Parsha also relates the tragedy of the deaths of Aaron’s two oldest sons, Nadav and Avihu who died while performing an unauthorized Service, offering a “strange fire …, which he did not command them…” (Artscroll Chumash, Vayikra, Perek 10, posuk 1)

Our Parsha relates that:

“Hashem spoke to Aaron saying: Do not drink intoxicating wine, you and your sons…, when you come to the Ohel Mo’ed (the Tent of Meeting), that you not die — this is an eternal decree for your generations. In order to distinguish between the sacred and the profane …” (Artscroll Chumash, Vayikra, Perek 10, p’sukim 8-10).

In previous years, this author discussed the several aveirot (wrong-doings) of Aaron’s sons Nadav and Avihu, including their performance of the unauthorized Service, the offering of a “strange fire …”, uncommanded by Hashem. Also discussed in previous years’ Parshat Shemini, was how Nadav and Avihu sought to perform a unique service, apparently thought by each of them to be pleasing to Hashem, and how many others through our history have sought to alter, to change the traditional modes of service, more often than not, in ways and for reasons not L’Shem Shemayim (not honoring Hashem’s name) and perhaps, eventually rendering whatever service they attempted as unrecognizable in Shemayim, and actually an aveirah (a sin). Discussed as well, was the exchange between Aaron and Moshe regarding the status of Aaron and his remaining sons, Elazar and Ithamar, as mourners and as to whether or not Hashem would approve of their partaking of meal-offering. Moshe subsequently expressed approval of their decision to refrain from eating the offering.

In this Parshat HaShevua, this author discusses a specific aspect of Nadav’s and Avihu’s aveirah which appears to have a profound message in our time. R’ Shimson Rafael Hirsch z”l, in the new Hirsch Chumash (Sefer Vayikra, pages 291-294), relates back to Sefer Breish’t (Perek 4, posukim 3-6) regarding Hashem’s acceptance of Hevel’s offering while rejecting Kayin’s offering, and the warnings given to Shlomo HaMelech regarding the construction of and service in the Beit HaMikdash in discussing the unauthorized offerings of Nadav and Avihu:. R’ Hirsch writes:

These cases declare unequivocably that the value of the Sanctuary and its offerings depends on how dutiful we are to Hashem. …Aaron’s sons who died because of the sin of their offering: Hashem’s fire consumed them, at the same time that this very fire accepted the offering of the people, thereby expressing Hashem’s approval and demonstrating Hashem’s presencein the midst of the people. The death of Aaron’s sons is… a clear protest against all subjective arbitrariness in the sphere of our ritual worship of Hashem.

From the very wording of scripture, we learn that Aaron’s sons behaved arrogantly…. The text… [“The sons of Aaron, 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.” (Sefer Vayikra, Perek 10, posuk 10)] is indicative of arrogance…

The Mincha of Nadav and Avihu… was each used in his fire pan. They did not bring their offering in the vessels of the Mishkan, but in their own vessels — without self-renunciation.

This next point of R’Hirsch seems particularly poignant for our time:

In the service of the offerings, there is no place for subjective arbitrariness. Even the free-will offerings must comply with prescribed forms. One who brings an offering seeks closeness to Hashem, but this can be attained only through the obedience to Hashem and acceptance of the yoke of His commandments.

Rabbi Moshe Weissman cites a medrash in “The Midrash Says” (Sefer Vayikra, pages 78-79):

All their actions were motivated by their overwhelming love for the Almighty. When they witnessed the Heavenly fire descend, they felt the urge to contribute a fire of their own to express their love for Hashem. Despite their pure motivation, the full force of the Attribute of Justice struck them.

Nadav and Avihu were punished by Heaven midda-keneged-midda. They had kindled a fire in a manner which was not permitted, and therefore they were burned. Hashem said, “We will see which [fire] will prevail, Mine or yours.”

What is meant here by subjective arbitrariness? This author sees, as an example of subjective arbitrariness, one of the aveirot of Nadav and Avihu, as cited from Rabbi Moshe Weissman’s “The Midrash Says” (Sefer Vayikra, page 78):

Both Nadav and Avihu were unmarried.

They enjoyed a rank and lineage which was rare. They were the sons of the Kohen Godol, the nephews of the nation’s leader and, to top it all, unequaled in their spiritual achievements. They therefore believed that it was appropriate for them to wait for the birth of girls from the family of their brothers Elazar and Ithamar whom they would marry. Offspring produced by illustrious parents, they believed, would be superior. However, Hashem blamed them for their attitude.

Can it be that segments of Observant Jews today have missed this correlation? The subjective arbitrariness and arrogance, such as shown by Nadav and Avihu, seems to this author to have a correlation manifested in our time as the demeaning and degrading, by words and actions, of others of our brethren not perceived to be on the hashkafic level of those acting or speaking derogatorily regarding their brethren. Ergo, for example, the refusal of Rabbanim of divergent sectors to sit together L’Shem Shemayim to thrash out and resolve their differences, whether halachic, political, etc. Ergo, even chachamim vying for the top position of their group demeaning, degrading or committing physical violence against their perceived “rival”, or demeaning verbal expressions or physical acts committed against their fellow based on the type of kippa one wears, the extent of the modest clothing worn, where he learns, whether he carries the flag or joins the army, etc. While those who demean and degrade their fellow may perceive themselves as motivated by an overwhelming love for Hashem, these manifestations seem anything but reflection of a closeness to the Almighty.

In our perilous time, the resultant price of such subjective arbitrariness and arrogance seems to be that it blinds us to our overriding national necessity for unity.

May we, the B’nai Yisrael be zocha that our brethren — the refugee families from Gush Katif be permanently settled and be made totally whole — be totally restituted for all that was stolen from them at leftist-agendized, supreme court legalized gunpoint, that our dear brethren Jonathan Pollard and Sholom Rubashkin, as well as the MIAs be liberated alive and returned to us in ways befitting Al Kiddush Hashem. May we have the courage and strength to stand up and physically prevent the possibility of Chas V’Challila any future eviction of Jews from their homes and the handing of Jewish land over to anyone, let alone to enemies sworn to Israel’s and Judaism’s destruction and eradication. May we fulfill Hashem’s blueprint of B’nai Yisrael as a Unique people — an Am Segula, not to be reckoned with as with “the nations” and may we be zocha to see the Moshiach, the Ge’ula Shlaima, as Dov Shurin sings; “Ki Karov Yom Hashem V’Kol HaGoyim”, the Ultimate Redemption, bimhayrah b’yamainu — speedily, in our time”, — Achshav, Chik Chuk, Miyad, Etmol!!!

Good Shabbos!

Moshe Burt, an Oleh, is a commentator on news and events in Israel and Founder and Director of The Sefer Torah Recycling Network. He lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh.

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