Immediate Action – Dvar Torah Parshat Shemini 5776 2016

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Aharon had certain responsibilities as the Kohen Gadol. In the opening verses of the Portion Shemini we read of some of the functions given to Aharon. Then the Torah tells us that Moshe said to Aharon: וַיֹּאמֶר מֹשֶׁה אֶל אַהֲרֹן קְרַב אֶל הַמִּזְבֵּחַ וַעֲשֵׂה אֶת חַטָּאתְךָ וְאֶת עֹלָתֶךָ, “Moshe said to Aharon: Come near to the Altar and perform the service…” (Lev. 9,7) Rashi states: Aharon was ashamed and feared to go there.

There is a very significant lesson to be learned here. Aharon was given instructions and he hesitated to perform his duties for fear of approaching the Altar. Rabbi  Moshe Tzvi Neria, one of the founders of the Bnei Akiva youth movement, in his volume on the Torah writes in connection with a different verse a very cogent argument for following instructions.

He points out that when a commander in a war gives a charge to his soldiers to perform a certain operation, they must obey without hesitation.  If they feel they must understand every comment and worry about every act if it is safe, then that army would certainly lose the war.

This can be applied to Aharon. He was given instructions by the Almighty and he had to obey them.

This reasoning can also be applied to Mitzvot that we cannot understand. As believers in our Torah we must be willing and ready to perform all commandments even though we do not understand their rational.


Dvar Torah Parshat Shemini 2015 5775

Chazal tell us a very strange story based on the last verse in this week’s Portion. The Torah relates all the laws concerning which animals are Kosher to eat and which are considered contaminated and may not be eaten. It ends by saying: לְהַבְדִּיל בֵּין הַטָּמֵא וּבֵין הַטָּהֹר, “…to distinguish between the contaminated and the pure…”.(Lev. 11,47) This implies that the animals permitted are ‘pure’ and the ones forbidden are ‘contaminated’.

Chazal tells us the following story. Two students were sitting before the great sage Hillel. One asked, “Why must we harvest grapes while we are spiritually pure (טהור), yet need not gather olives while spiritually pure?” The other asked, “Why must we gather grapes while spiritually pure (טהור) yet we may gather olives while we are spiritually defiled (טמא)?” Hillel then remarked, “I am certain that this one (the first one) will be a great teacher in Israel.” (He was Rabbi Yochanan, who ended up as a great scholar among the Talmudic Rabbis.) What impressed Hillel was that the first one used positive language while the second one used negative language.

The Gemorrah is trying to impress upon us to always have a positive outlook and use positive language when we speak. This advice is not only for our speech but also in our general outlook. Speech is only a clue to our overall attitude.

Dvar Torah Parshat Shemini 5774 2014

Towards the end of the Portion Shemini we read the laws that describe which animals are considered Kosher and eatable and which are not and hence disqualified. Two of the requirements for an animal to be Kosher are that it must chew its cud and have a split hoof. Then the Torah mentions three animals that chew the cud but do not have a split hoof.

These animals are the animals that chew their cud but do not have a split hoof: the camel, hyrax (an animal which resembles a rabbit), and the hare. Interesting, however, is that when the Torah mentions each of these animals it uses a different form of the word for each to tell us that it does not have a split hoof.

The camel chews its cud, וּפַרְסָה אֵינֶנּוּ מַפְרִיס, “but its hoof is not split”. The hyrax, וּפַרְסָה לֹא יַפְרִיס, “but its hoof is not split”. The hare, וּפַרְסָה לֹא הִפְרִיסָה, “but its hoof is not split”. (Lev. 11,4-6) The English translation is the same in all three instances – “but its hoof is not split”. If you look carefully you will find that the Torah uses a different tense for each case. For the camel it says: אֵינֶנּוּ מַפְרִיס, in the present tense. For the hyrax it says: לֹא יַפְרִיס, in the future tense. For the hare it says: הִפְרִיסָה, in the past tense.

There is a very subtle but vital lesson implied here. If you want to disqualify someone due to a specific failing you must look at his past, present and future possibilities. Because of one act you cannot reject a person.

Dvar Torah Parshat Shemini 5773 2013

Towards the end of this week’s Portion we read the distinguishing features of the kosher animals. They must have split hoofs and must bring up their cud. Certain animals are mentioned that have one of these features but lack the other one. These animals are not kosher.

The Torah names three animals that bring up their cud but do not have a split hoof and one that has a split hoof but does not bring up its cud. These four animals are not kosher. Theגָּמָל, the camel, the שָּׁפָן, the hyrax (an animal found in the Middle-East), and the אַרְנֶבֶת, the hare or rabbit bring up their cud but do not have a split hoof. The חֲזִיר, the pig has a split hoof but does not bring up its cud. (Lev. 11,4-7)

It is amazing that in all of nature no other animal has ever been found that has only one of these features. The Rabbis of the Talmud tell us that only the Ruler of the Universe knows that there is no other animal with only one of these characteristics. Moshe himself could not have known this information on his own. It had to have been transmitted to him only through the Almighty.
This is one of the proofs that the Torah is a Divine revelation.

Dvar Torah Parshat Shemini 5772 2012

Nadav and Avihu, two sons of Aaron, were consumed by fire on the day of the inauguration of the Mishkan. Why did this happen? There are various reasons given. Rabbi Soloveitchik gives a very unique answer. He does not quote all the Midrashic explanations but refers directly to the reason the Torah mentions.

The Torah states they each took a fire pan and put fire and incense on them and brought before Hashem an alien fire: אשר לא צוה אתם, “…that He had not commanded them.” (Lev. 10,1) They were overcome with a high spiritual emotion and brought the identical incense their father Aharon had brought. What was there transgression?

Rabbi Soloveitchik suggests that what they did wrong was that in their ecstasy and religious fervor they brought incense that was not commanded by Hashem. Religious observances in Judaism are not the initiative of individuals. Our faith is ordained by Hashem. It is not created by the imagination of individuals.

The Torah commands us to perform certain Mitzvot. They constitute our religious observance. Anything not decreed in the Torah and that is not based on Torah values is not a legitimate expression of Jewish faith. This was the error of Nadav and Avihu. Their intentions were commendable but they created their own rules and did not act within accord with the commands of Hashem.

Dvar Torah Parshat Shemini 5771 2011

In the Talmud we find a statement that tells us that the letter Vav in the phrase HOLECH AL GACHON, “…creeps on its belly…” (Lev. 11,42) marks half of the letters of the Torah and the words DAROSH DARASH, “…inquired insistently…” (Lev. 10,16) mark the midpoint of the words in the Torah. (Ked. 30a) These words appear in this week’s Sidra.

If one counts the letters and counts the words he will find that they are off by approximately 5000 letters and 1000 words. The Talmud later says that we are not thoroughly versed in the exact letters. Hence we can assume that these discrepancies are due to the fact that we do not have the exact text. This is a very difficult statement to accept.

There is another explanation given to this dilemma. In the Torah there are 17 letters that are written either larger or smaller than the other letters, or defective (cut in half). The letter Vav mentioned above is number 9 among these letters; hence it is the middle letter.

There are also 77 double words in the Torah (such as Avraham, Avraham). The words DAROSH DARASH mentioned above are the 39th set, which makes them the middle ones.

When we find a difficulty in the Talmud we should not assume immediately it is a mistake. We should assume that there is an explanation and should seek one.

Dvar Torah Parshat Shemini 5770 2010

Whenever Hashem wanted to convey a law to the Jewish people He relayed it to Moshe and he in turn taught it to others. At times we read in the Torah that Hashem spoke both to Moshe and Aharon at the same time. This was true often concerning the laws for the priesthood. The one exception to this rule we find in today’s Sidra.

We read today: VAYEDABER HASHEM EL AHARON LEMOR. YAYIN VESHECHAR AL TESHT, “And Hashem spoke to Aharon saying, “Drink no wine or strong drinks…” (Lev.10,8-9) This is the only time that Hashem spoke to Aharon without also addressing Moshe. Rashi in a previous verse explains why.

Two of Aharon’s sons brought an uncalled for fire on the altar and a fire came out and consumed them both. This was indeed a major tragedy for Aharon. Yet we are told: VAYIDOM AHARON. “…and Aharon was silent.” (Lev. 10, 3) Rashi brings a Midrash that informs us that because he did not complain he was rewarded and the reward was that Hashem spoke to him alone.

There is a moral truth that is expressed in this Midrash. There are times when one must speak up and dare not be silent. There are also times when one must be silent and not speak up. A wise person can recognize the different times.