Parshat Shemini 5772: Discerning Kosher from Treif, and the Sincerity of One’s Service

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.

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).

We see that Nadav and Avihu were so wrapped up in the joy and euphoria of the moment that they chose to serve Hashem in a unique way, untaught by Moshe during the previous training. And they chose to offer their fire without asking Moshe for his ruling. The Imrei Shefer quotes R’ Eliezer as saying:

“Aaron’s sons died because they gave rulings in the halacha in front of Moshe, their teacher” (rather than asking him for p’sak Halacha). (Torah Gems, Aharon Yaakov Greenberg, page 267)

Yehuda Nachshoni, in the Sefer Vayikra volume of “Studies in the Weekly Parsha” (pages 683-690) notes, citing numerous other commentators, that Nadav’s and Avihu’s uncommanded foreign fire service carried with it a multitude of other attendant possible wrongs:

Disrespect for the Mishkan, the korbonot (sacrifices), and the Divine Service: (a) They entered the Mishkan wearing the robes of a regular Kohen rather than those of the Kohn Gadol. (b) They had previously imbibd wine. (c) They brought in a foreign fire, which they took from a stove and not from the outer Altar. (d) They offered a sacrifice which they had not been commanded to bring.

Other commentators accuse the sons of improper behavior which discredited the Kehunah: (e) that they did not take wives because of their conceit, for they felt that no other family was as distinguished as theirs, and (f) they did not have children.

There are also commentators who find other halachic or moral blemishes… They were among those about whom it was said (Shemot Perek 24, posuk 11) “And they ate and drank, and they saw Hashem.” They awaited the death of Moshe and Aaron, so that they could take over the leadership of the nation. They were not friendly toward each other.

The possibility that Nadav and Avihu may not have been on friendly, brotherly terms with each other may also explain why, if they didn’t ask Moshe Rabbeinu about the fire service’s halachic permissibility, according to R’ Zelig Pliskin’s “Growth Through Torah” (Parsha Shemini, page 247 ) “They also erred by not asking each other for advice.” R’ Pliskin writes:

…If they would have discussed the matter between themselves they might have reached the conclusion that they should refrain… Neither one might come to this conclusion on their own. But together they might.

And while we note that Nadav and Avihu sought to perform a unique service, thought by them to be pleasing to Hashem, 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’Sheim Shemayim (not honoring Hashem’s name) and perhaps, eventually rendering whatever service they attempted as unrecognizable in Shemayim, and actually an aveirah (a sin).

The message of the tragedy of the deaths of Aaron’s sons, Nadav and Avihu, seems timely as well for the seventh day of Pesach — K’riyat Yom Suf — for it brings to mind what seems a similar chutzpah on the part of some amongst the B’nai Yisrael after crossing the Reed Sea. This author cited in this year’s “Dayenu” post, that Yosef Deutsch’s sefer “Let My Nation Go” notes:

After some 402 pages of describing the evolvement of the Jewish enslavement in Mitzrayim, Moshe’s birth and time in Pharaoh’s palace, Hashem’s placement of leadership upon Moshe, the Divine Makkot upon the Mitzriyim, Hashem’s release of B’nai Yisrael from enslavement and finally, the crossing of the Yom Suf (the sea) with Pharaoh and the Mitzriyim in full pursuit — on the sefer’s final couple of pages, Deutsch indicates that when the Jews saw the dead Mitzriyim float up to the surface with all of their riches and booty, there were some among them who had the unmitigated chutzpah to suggest that with all the booty in their possession, they should go back and take over Egypt.

Throughout our history, there have been, and continue to be in our days, those who sought/seek to “cut corners” in their Avodah in an effort to achieve a perception of being “like the nations.” In recent generations, many among our Jewish brethren evolved to deny Hashem’s control of the world in seeking to tailor Torah and their Jewishness to fit the ways of the nations thinking that this was the path to gaining their love, admiration or respect.

From the desecration of Shabbos, as a result of desperate want of parnossa, to moving away from Kashrut, to driving to shul (or later called synagogue or temple), to loss of family purity, to inter-marriage, etc., the Jews have evolved away from closeness to Hashem, their traditions, and many are now in denial of their heritage.

The perception that assimilation of the Jews would lead to acceptance by the nations grew in the minds of many to override accepting Hashem’s reishut (command) over the world. They perceive that if only they didn’t look and act sooo Jewish, that then they’ll be loved by the gentiles. And, if they are loved and held of by the gentiles, they reason that then they would be able to live forever in peace, never to be harrassed, belittled or persecuted for their Jewishness — what little, if any, would be left. If their eyes would only be wide open so as to see how abysmally wrong their theorim have been; again, again and in the US again — most recently having voted in droves for a President with an Islamic-sounding name who, it becomes more and more increasingly clear and obvious, is intent on Israel’s demise.

There are other dimensions to “unique service” and “cutting corners.” There are others among us who, while seeming to be and wearing the outward trappings of frumkeit, are wanting on the inside. And it seems that during Purim or Shushan Purim, the inner realities of some are laid bare for others to see.

Case in point; a Shushan Purim foray into Jerusalem afew years ago; the unlocked door of a private, moving mini-van flung open by a young enibriated bocher who, in his distorted, drunken state, thought that he was “having a good time”, obviously at the expense of the those in the vehicle who could have been endangered by the act. This and other similar type acts witnessed by this author, and not only on Shushan Purim, make travelling to Holy Yerushalayim on a chag (festival day like Shushan Purim) or on Chol Hamoed (intermediate holiday, i.e. Chol HaMoed Passover or Succot) a dreaded drudgery rather than the eagerly awaited and anticipated Shalosh Regalim (the three Halachically-mandated trips to Jerusalem for Passover, Shavuot, Succot).

There is one more point to be made here. Our parsha teaches us about Kosher and treif (non-Kosher) animals — that only meat from kosher animals with split hooves and who chew their cud are halachically (according to the laws of Torah) permitted to be eaten by the Jewish people. And this author vividly remembers Rabbanim who explain that when the chazeir (swine) would lay-down, its split hooves would face outwards, its as if it is saying to all, “see, I’m kosher!”

This author views this characteristic of the chazeir as relevant and reinforcement of a previous post for Parsha Tzav, which makes a point repeated numerous times on this blog, which could be referred to as “cutting corners,” on Hashem’s time — a mumble-jumbled repetition of Shemonah Esrei by a Sh’liach Tzibbur. In the Parsha HaShevua for Tzav, this author noted:

No less than Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah Reichman of Yeshiva University discussed the need for Teshuvah regarding tefillot in a video shiur just before Yom Kippur.

In that video, R’ Reichman spoke about his feelings regarding his own personal tefillot as well as indicating a necessity for Sh’lichim Tzibburim to do teshuva in perfecting their davening in Chazarat HaShatz (repetition of Shemonah Essrei). To this author’s recollection, R’ Reichman is THE FIRST prominent Rabbi to have addressed issues relating to the Shaliach Tzibbur “System.”

Presumably the same holds true for the 1 minute Aleinu. It seems apparent to this author that the litmus test of true sincerity of observance begins with the effort put into proper tefillah, not just by each individual of the minyan, but as at least of equal importance, by the Sh’liach Tzibbur — the one reciting the repetition of Shemonah Esrei.

There are those who learn that by time of the Moshiach, of the Ge’ula Shlaima (the Ultimate Redemption), there will be an era when the chazeir, too, will do Teshuva, and that the animal will evolve into chewing its cud as well as already having split hooves — thus becoming kosher. But meanwhile, this chutzpah of the chazeir; sitting or laying down with split hooves out for all to see as if proclaiming himself “kosher”, could be said to have its parallel lesson regarding the midos, derech and actions of some who wear the clothes and who talk the talk, but who seem not to walk the walk of true observance.

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 — restituted for all that was stolen from them at leftist-agendized, supreme court legalized gunpoint, that our dear brother Jonathan Pollard and the other MIAs be liberated alive returned to us in ways befitting Al Kiddush Hashem. May we have the courage, backbone and moral stength of conviction to prevent both the eviction of Jews from their homes in all of Eretz Yisrael and the handing of Jewish land over 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 — the Ultimate Redemption bim hay v’yameinu — speedily, in our time”, as Dov Shurin sings; “Ki Karov Yom Hashem V’Kol HaGoyim” — 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.