Torah thought forFriday 23 Nissan 5783 April 14 2023

Parashat Shemini

(From the teachings of Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef ztvk”l [5765])
(translated by our dear friend Rav Daniel Levy Shlit”a, Leeds UK)

Explaining Why Hashem Immediately Punished Nadav and Avihu and Didn’t Wait Until the Festivities of the Inauguration of the Mishkan Were Over

This Shabbat we shall read, “It was on the eighth day” (Vayikra9:1). Rashi explains quoting the chachamim from the Gemara (Megillah 10a), on that day of the inauguration of the Mishkan (the first day that sacrifices were offered in the Mishkan) there was joy before Hashem akin to the joy on the day Heavens and Earth were created. As it states, “‘It was’ on the eighth day’ and it states, “‘It was’ evening and it was morning, one day” (Bereishit 1:5). Hashem as it were, was sitting and anticipating, when will my children build the Mishkan? When will I rest My Shechinah amongst them? That day, the eighth day of the inauguration was the first of Nissan. That day was especially prestigious for amongst the other things that occurred on that date, on that day the Mishkan was inaugurated. The first prince that offered a sacrifice in the Mishkan was Nachson ben Aminadav. He invited all the tribes to come and rejoice with him in the inauguration of the Mishkan. They offered sacrifices and ate from the peace offerings. They were eating, drinking, and rejoicing immensely in the inauguration of the Mishkan.

But to our pain this joy was marred, the joy was abruptly silenced. For suddenly two of Aron’s sons came, Nadav and Avihu, who were two great talmidei chachamim, they were righteous and upright and suitable to lead Am Yisrael. They came with the best of intentions to offer incense before Hashem but they failed for Hashem hadn’t commanded that they do this. As it states, “Aron’s sons, Nadav and Avihu, each took his fire pan, placed fire on it, and then incense on it. They offered it before Hashem, [but it was] unauthorised fire, which [Hashem] had not instructed them to offer” (Vayikra 10:1). They were immediately punished with the full force of the law, “Fire came forth from before Hashem, and it consumed them, so that they died before Hashem­­” (ibid.). Our chachamim explained that two strands of fire entered their nostrils and they died. But just a few moments earlier they were alive and were standing in a state of joy. Then suddenly they died in this horrific way. The joy was marred, the joy abruptly ceased, “Let the entire family of Yisrael mourn for the ones whom Hashem burned” (Vayikra 10:6).

We must ask, why did Hashem do this? Aron’s sons were righteous and upright, and they made a mistake, but why be punished in such a way? It is further difficult to understand why did Hashem disrupt Am Yisrael’s joy during the inauguration of the Mishkan? Could He not have waited a little, a day or two before He killed Aron’s sons. Why was He so pressured to kill Aron’s sons specifically then and to abruptly silence the joy? Hashem is “slow to anger” (Shemot 34:6), and He even waits for the most wicked people in the world and doesn’t hurry to punish them, if so, why specifically here did Hashem Yitbarach rush kill Aron’s sons?

The response to this is that it states in the Torah, “It is there that I will commune with Bnei Yisrael, and [the Mishkan] will thus be sanctified with My glory” (Shemot 29:43). Or chachamim said don’t read the Hebrew “bichvodi - with My glory” but rather “bimchubadi - those that honour Me”, with people who are the most precious and respected and close to Me, through them I will be sanctified. Specifically through them, Hashem will be sanctified, that all of Am Yisrael shall see that even complete tzadikim like Aron’s sons, if they sinned, are punished. From them every person should take note to be careful not to sin so as not to be punished. Each person shall say in his heart, “if a flame falls on the cedars, what will the wall mosses do” [Moed Katan 25b], everyone shall be careful not to stumble in any sin.

Rav Yaakov of Dubno z”l (Dubno Maggid 1741-1804) gave the following analogy:

A king wanted an additional city to be built close to the border so as to interpose it between his border and the adjacent border. It was announced and an important minister came and accepted the challenge of building this new city and he was given the budget.

The minister went and hired contractors and labourers, and after a long period of time, working day and night, they built an amazing city. Fantastic buildings and beautiful parks and many wished to relocate to the new city which had excellent amenities.

During the building of the city the minister had established a committee made up of distinguished people and experts in order to decide together how the city should be constructed. During their discussions they identified a shortcoming that there was no hospital in the city. So anyone in the city feeling unwell won’t be treated properly. They decided together that there is an obligation to build a hospital in the city. They actioned their words and built a splendid hospital. The minister then began with all his efforts to bring to the hospital expert doctors in all areas of medicine. To head them he invited a world-renowned doctor to run the hospital.

The distinguished doctor accepted the proposal and arrived at the new city to run the hospital. On his arrival they arrange in his honour a lavish reception and there they spoke highly of the distinguished doctor until one of the ministers arose and said, “Behold we have the opportunity that such an important and precious and distinguished doctor has come to us, therefore I suggest that someone from the community who is ill should approach the doctor and for sure the doctor will heal him. This will be amazing for all the people in the city that they will realise that a great doctor resides amongst us!”

One of those joining in the celebrations said to the doctor, “Sir, Dr, I have been suffering direly for six months, I cannot sleep at night, as I place my head on the pillow I suffer intolerably from extreme migraines, and I cannot fall asleep. And so the situation continues, and I continue to weaken due to insomnia and I cannot work in any area of employment.” The doctor replied, “Good, come to me tomorrow to the clinic and I will take care of you.”

The next day the sick person came to the doctor and the doctor hospitalised him and began caring for him for three days. At the end of the three days the sick person died. All the city’s inhabitants heard and became hitting their heads, woe to us! We cannot rely on doctors! The greatest doctor didn’t manage to heal the first patient that came to him! Until three years ago this patient was still walking around and now is dead! In short there was a great commotion.

The minister summoned the doctor and asked him, “Tell me, why did you do this? If you saw that the patient had no cure, why did you accept him? You’ve ruined my reputation! I said that I had brought the best doctor and now you have embarrassed me!”

The doctor responded, “Minister! I will tell you the truth. The truth is that I immediately saw that this patient had no chance of living, it was impossible to care for him. But I intentionally accepted him as my patient for I knew he would die, and I wanted people to realise that they must look after their own health! The majority of the time a person is responsible for his illnesses. People aren’t careful with the food and drink that they consume, they aren’t careful to ensure their exercise and these things cause them illnesses. Now the inhabitants of the city will say, we have a great doctor, a world-renowned doctor! And now they won’t care for themselves because they will rely on the doctor. Therefore I wanted to be clear to them that they mustn’t rely on the doctors but first they must care for themselves. Each person shall be his own doctor, he should eat properly, drink properly and sleep sufficiently, he will rely on his own efforts and not the doctors! If I had rejected this patient from me and accepted another patient that I could have healed, then all of the city’s population would have said ‘we have a patriarch’ and would have neglected their health and eventually died [prematurely]!”

The analogy is that until that day the Bnei Yisrael had no Mishkan, they had no sacrifices. And now Hashem had a Mishkan and there were sacrifices and the sacrifices atone for the sins. Our chachamim said in Shir HaShirim [Midrash Zuta, Shir HaShirim, 4:8] a person never slept the night in Yerushalayim whilst not having atoned for his sin because the morning sacrifice would atone for the sins of the night and the evening sacrifice would atone for the sins of the day [see also Bamidbar Rabba 21:21 and Tanchuma Buber, Pinchas 12]. If so Am Yisrael could err and say, why should we be so careful not to stumble in sins? We have sacrifices which atone! A person stumbles and after receives absolution through the sacrifice!

Therefore Hashem came on the day of the inauguration of the Mishkan, on the first day, and informed them, be careful, the sacrifice doesn’t atone! The incense doesn’t atone! Anyone who sins might be punished on the spot! Therefore people will be vigilant.

Also in our times when we don’t have sacrifices, we still know that [we may have an efficacy] through prayer or similar ways of causing spiritual effect, as it states, “and let our lips substitute for bulls” (Hoshea 14:3), nevertheless, despite this, we must remember to behave in every way according to the Torah, according to the Shulchan Aruch. There are halachot for everything, our heal against our big toe [measured, careful steps], every step has an halachah. One must study the halachot “since it is only by keeping them that a person can [truly] live” [see Vayikra 18:5] One must know halachot! To know what Maran says and what the Rema says! Through the study of halachah we may know how to be careful and how to guard ourselves from sins, and may we merit to a complete redemption and see the building of the Bet HaMikdash speedily in our days, Amen.