In This Issue:
Mr. Moshe Glasser
Rabbi Chaim Jachter
In Parashat Acharei Mot, God links the laws of the Yom Kippur service to the deaths of Aharon's two sons, Nadav and Avihu. While their deaths undoubtedly hurt Aharon greatly (and temporarily crippled him, as seen in Parashat Shemini), there was still work to be done, and after they were laid to rest, Aharon needed to get on with learning the complexities of the Mishkan's operation. But why link their deaths to Yom Kippur? I believe these two questions to be fundamentally connected.
Before we can understand that connection, however, we must answer a basic question. Why did Nadav and Avihu die? Weren't they trying to do something noble? Weren't they trying to bring an additional Korban during the celebration of the Chanukat HaMishkan? While that may have been the case, they made a serious error: they were in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Do not mistake this for mere coincidence; being in the wrong place at the wrong time does not necessarily mean they were unlucky. Running across the street during a red light puts you in the wrong place at the wrong time, and is entirely your fault. People were told explicitly to stay out of the Heichal during this part of the service. Why? Because the holy fire that was coming to ignite the Mizbeiach for the first time was headed through that very spot. While their aim was pure, Nadav and Avihu's choice of timing was not. Had they listened to instruction and not attempted to make an extra offering, bringing an alien fire, they would not have been in the path of traffic, so to speak.
The Eigel HaZahav falls under the same category. While the intention of the people was pure, the execution was tainted by the assumption that they could simply decide what would represent them to God. Instead, God provided very specific instructions as to what could serve that purpose. The Eigel was a noble idea, but it was more than what was ordered. Aharon understood this lesson better than his sons; after all, he was the one who built the Eigel in the first place. Surely the point was not lost on him.
I remember my old NCSY advisor telling me not to be "frummer than God." While the line sounds like a joke, his point was serious: God has provided us with a roadmap. Even Chumrot, in the proper context, are a part of the Halachic system. But when we start deciding that we know how to worship God better than generations of carefully laid out guidelines, we open ourselves to the risk of Nadav and Avihu. With holy purpose, with noble goals, with righteous intent, they walked into the path of the fire.
The Yom Kippur service in the Chumash is incredibly detailed, and the process enumerated in Masechet Yoma is even more so. The Kohen Gadol is even forced to swear that he will not alter the service in any way. Why is this so important? Because the Yom Kippur service is too precise to be played with by humans who are incapable of truly understanding God's intentions. Nadav and Avihu made this mistake, as did Kohanim Gedolim of the Tzeduki sect who, believing their interpretation of the Torah to be more correct, died as they violated this oath.
Passion in religion is vital. Without it, our religious practice becomes stilted and uninspired, turning into rote repetition of unreal actions with no more intellectual or spiritual stimulation than staring at a wall. But we must also be careful not to overindulge that sense of passion for these laws and practices. While we can take their performance to greater and greater heights within the four Amot of Halacha, we cannot decide to run off in a new direction, disregarding the intent that binds our faith.
Parashat Kedoshim opens with the Mitzvah of "Kedoshim Tihyu." The Meforshim offer many interpretations of this enigmatic phrase. Rashi explains this to mean that Bnei Yisrael should separate themselves from Gilui Arayot, immorality, and through this be sanctified. Ramban proposes that this injunction may refer just to a general sense of self-restraint. One might think it sufficient to observe the letter of the law and permit himself to indulge in all kinds of technically permitted behaviors, therefore this Pasuk teaches, in Ramban's view, that it is prohibited to be a "Naval Birshut HaTorah," "Despicable person with the Torah's permission." Enjoying life is acceptable, but Hashem does not want us to overindulge, lest it lead to other inappropriate activities.
Rav Moshe Feinstein offers a different approach. He writes that the reason for the commandment to be Kadosh is in the nature in which all Mitzvot were designed. While general society tries to dissuade people from doing evil by meting out punishments, the Torah has a different system. Rav Moshe says that Hashem gave us the Mitzvot so that our society could improve itself, not just to protect the victimization of its citizens. The commandment to be Kadosh means that we should improve ourselves so that we want to perform Hashem's Mitzvot so as to improve ourselves.
Parashat Acharei Mot describes a very strange sacrificial ceremony performed by the Kohen Gadol on Yom Kippur to atone for the sins of Bnei Yisrael. The Kohen Gadol takes two identical goats and places Goralot, lots, on each of them, one lot for Hashem and one lot for Azazeil. He takes the goat that has been selected for Hashem and slaughters it on the Mizbeiach as a Korban Chatat. He then takes the goat selected for Azazeil and sends it into the wilderness, to be thrown off a high and austere cliff. Why do two goats, which are almost identical, meet such different ends? Why do two equals meet such different deaths?
Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch explains that the goats represent the choices that life poses. Everyone is given similar beginnings and is placed into similar situations. What differentiates us is what we do with the alternatives we have. Do we take the easier, less spiritually beneficial option, or do we take the option more conducive to our growth as Torah-observant Jews? The goat sacrificed to Hashem represents the latter, harder decision, which enables us to come close to Hashem. The goat has a long, complicated sacrificial process, culminating in a bond forged with Hashem during its sacrifice. The Azazeil goat, on the other hand, is sent into the wilderness. This goat, laden with sin, exits God's dwelling, where we are most likely to become pure. It represents the alternative, which involves distancing oneself from God. Therefore, the Azazeil ceremony represents our daily struggle to act as best we can while not widening the gap between
ourselves and Hashem.
Rav Kook uses this to explain a Pasuk in the section following that of the two Yom Kippur goats. The Torah states, "VeLo Yizbechu Od Et Zivcheihem LaSe'erim Asher Heim Zonim Achareihem," "Bnei Yisrael will stop sacrificing to the demons which tempt them" (VaYikra 17:7). Rav Kook explains this Pasuk based on the internal conflict that exists within life. The demonic worship is the appreciation of the unrestrained barbarity in human nature. There is a philosophic belief that unless one knows evil he cannot achieve truth. Theoretically, the purpose of evil in this world is to help people find truth; however, evil has no place in practice. Therefore, once all sins and evil are transferred to the Azazeil goat, it is sent away from humanity to show that evil must also be sent away. Sending the Azazeil goat reinforces the idea that barbarity, while it must be acknowledged as a part of human nature, is not to be channeled, but rather is to be excised
as much as possible. Humanity must be based on good and motivated self-improvement rather than pleasure for pleasure's sake and the evil that comes with it.
After a short break from the discussion of Korbanot found thus far in Sefer VaYikra, the Torah states, "UShmartem Et Chukotai VeEt Mishpatai Asher Yaaseh Otam HaAdam VaChai Bahem," "And you should follow My rules and My mandates that man shall do and live through them" (VaYikra 18:5). To what does the phrase "And live through them" refer? It can't refer to life in this world, because there is a rule that a person is not generally rewarded for his Mitzvot in this world.
Rashi and the Noeim Migadim explain that this phrase refers to different types of reward reaped as a result of doing Hashem's Mitzvot. Rashi maintains that it refers to reward in Olam HaBa. Similarly, the Gemara (Chulin 142a) states that one merits Olam HaBa for the act of Shiluach HaKein, sending away the mother bird, about which the Pasuk states, "LeMaan Yitav Lach VeHaarachta Yamim," "So that it shall be good for you and your days will be lengthened" (Devarim 22:7). The Noeim Migadim, cited by the Maayanah Shel Torah, interprets the Pasuk in a different, more homiletical manner. He cites various Sefarim to the effect that although there is a rule that one generally does not receive reward for doing a Mitzvah, this rule does not apply to the protective laws which are legislated by the Rabbis of every generation. When Bnei Yisrael observe these manmade Mitzvot ("Kaasher Yaaseh Otam HaAdam"), they do indeed receive reward in this world
Other Meforshim explain "VaChai Bahem" to apply not to a reward for doing Mitzvot, but rather to a continuation and elaboration upon how to carry out Hashem's Mitzvot. The Maayanah Shel Torah quotes several Sefarim to the effect that Mitzvot should not be done in a lifeless and perfunctory manner. Rather, they should be carried out with passion, with a Chiyut (liveliness, from the same root as the word VaChai). The Chiddushei HaRim, also cited by the Maayanah Shel Torah, writes that "VaChai Bahem" refers to the fact that when a Jew does a Mitzvah, he should be completely involved in its fulfillment. Thus, Jews have the Halacha of "Oseik BeMitzvah Patur Min HaMitzvah," one who is involved in a Mitzvah is exempt from doing another Mitzvah (with a few exceptions) because he is so absorbed in doing the first Mitzvah that he shouldn't be interrupted, even in order to fulfill another Mitzvah. "VaChai Bahem" could also be understood in a similar but
slightly different manner. Throughout a Jew's day-to-day life, he is constantly involved in doing Mitzvot. Mitzvot are not simply acts which, at the time of their fulfillment, bring a Jew closer to Hashem. They are the guidelines by which a Jew should lead his life and cleave to Hashem.
Hashem picked us as His nation and gave us the Torah so that we would do His will and follow His Mitzvot and Halachot. Therefore, He mandated that we mend all of our actions to conform to His will. This should be viewed not as a burden, but rather as a great reward; Hashem is giving us the key to enjoying and getting the best out of this and the next world. May it be Hashem's will that we passionately and thoroughly involve ourselves throughout our lives in His Mitzvot, whether protective fences created by the Rabbis or concrete Mitzvot Deoraita, and reap the benefits both in Olam HaZeh and Olam HaBa, in accordance with all the explanations of "VaChai Bahem."
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