This week’s Parsha discusses the dedication ceremony of the Mishkan. The Torah then relates that the ceremony was marred by the deaths of Aharon’s sons Nadav and Avihu. There are numerous explanations as to the exact sin they did, but one thing that is clear is that they were killed by Hashem.
Later, in the beginning of Parshat Acharei Mot, the Chumash once again refers to the deaths of Nadav and Avihu in conjunction with the Korbanot brought on Yom Kippur. This prompts an obvious question: what does the death of Aharon’s sons have to do with the Yom Kippur service? The Yerushalmi in Yuma explains that the untimely death of Tzadikim serves as a Kaparah, an atonement, for the nation. Since Nadav and Avihu were such great Tzadikim, their death served as such a great Kaparah that it is a Zechut for generations after their death.
The problem with this idea is that it seems to be contradicted by what occurred during the time of destruction of the Second Temple. There were many Tzadikim that died during this period, yet their deaths did not serve as a Kaparah and prevent the destruction of the Second Temple.
This question can be answered with a Mashal. If someone has pneumonia, it affects the whole body, but if the proper medication is taken, the entire body is cured. However, if there are two people with pneumonia, giving one of them medicine does not help the other person. Therein lies the difference between Nadav and Avihu and what occurred during the period of the destruction of Second Temple. The Jews had great Achdut and were like one body, so the Zechut of the deaths of Nadav and Avihu were able to provide Kaparah. However, during the period leading up to the destruction of the Second Temple there was a lack of Achdut, so the Jews were regarded as separate bodies, and the deaths of Tzadikim did not provide Kaparah. From this we can learn the power of Achdut. If the Jews come together like one body, we can achieve Kaparah for each others sins.
We Stand as One
by Avi Levinson
The Torah records that during the inauguration ceremony of the Mishkan, Bnei Yisrael brought a young goat as a Korban Chatat and a calf as a Korban Olah. In Torat Kohanim, Chazal ask why they brought these specific animals. They answer that each was brought to atone for a specific sin in the history of Bnei Yisrael. The goat was for the sin of Mechirat Yosef, in which the brothers slaughtered a goat and dipped Yosef’s garment in its blood to “prove” that Yosef had died, and the calf was for the sin of the Golden Calf.
Rav Yechezkel Libshitz of Kalisch wonders: why did we all of a sudden have to atone for Mechirat Yosef at this time, and why was the atonement for Mechirat Yosef specifically paired together with the atonement for the Golden Calf?
Rav Yechezkel answers by exploring the essence of the sin of Mechirat Yosef. Chazal (Bereshit Rabbah 4:13) state that the brothers sold Yosef because they foresaw that Yeravam ben Nevat, the king of the 10 tribes who rebelled against Shlomo’s son Rechavam, would descend from Yosef. Yeravam would cause his people to sin by setting up two golden calves and instructing his people to worship them. Yosef’s brothers tried to excuse their sin by claiming to want to prevent Yeravam from coming into existence by getting rid of Yosef. However, since their descendents had also worshipped a golden calf, this defense was rendered moot. Therefore, now that we were achieving forgiveness for the sin of the golden calf, we also had to be forgiven for the sin of Mechirat Yosef.
Rav Zalman Sorotzkin offers another reason why we waited so long to atone for the sin of Mechirat Yosef. The essence of the sin Mechirat Yosef was disunion between the sons of Yaakov. Therefore, the only way to atone for such a sin was to create total unity between them. This first happened at the inauguration of the Mishkan, when everyone was united around a central unit, the Mishkan.
This explanation fits very well with a lesson to be learned from last week’s holiday of Purim. Haman was able to target us because we were “Mefuzar Umeforad Bein Ha’amim” (Esther 3:8), scattered and divided amongst the nations. Only by joining together were we able to overcome him, only through total unity were we able to atone for Mechirat Yosef, and only by joining together can we hope to bring the Mashiach, may he come speedily in our days!
Two are Better than One
by Gavriel Metzger
In Parshat Shimini, Nadav and Avihu, the ill-fated sons of Aharon, bring unlicensed Ketoret to Hashem and are immediately consumed and killed by fire. The Midrash in Torat Kohanim comments that Nadav and Avihu’s actions disrespected their father, Aharon, and that they should have brought their plans to Moshe in the first place. Furthermore, says the Midrash, they acted independently of each other, as the Pasuk states, “Vayikchu Bnei Aharon Nadav Vaavihu Ish Machtato,” implying that they brought their Ketoret separately. For this, they certainly deserved to be punished.
The Brisker Rav zt”l finds this Midrash puzzling. Why would the brothers have been punished any more or less severely had they acted as a unit? He explains that the Midrash is actually trying to teach a lesson about human nature. Usually, when a group has in mind to perform a forbidden action, members of the group consult with each other first and hopefully decide collectively to not follow through with their plans. Unfortunately, Nadav and Avihu acted individually, and when one person alone decides to do an illegal act, his self-interest and Yetzer Hara blind his conscience from convincing him to do the right thing. Had they conferred with each other at the start, Nadav and Avihu might have dissuaded each other from bringing a Ketoret Zarah, which would have allowed them to serve as Kohanim for many years to come.
The story of Nadav and Avihu emphasizes the important fact that there are severe consequences for unwarranted actions. Even more so, it clearly demonstrates the need for collective decisions in all sorts of situations, which hopefully can avoid foolish actions. -Adapted from a Dvar Torah in Talelei Orot
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