This week the following dvar Torah was featured on the National Council of Young Israel‘s website, which features a different guest rabbi every week. I had the honour of being featured this week. Without further adieu, enjoy. The following can also be viewed here.
On the first of Nissan 2449 in the Sinai desert, tragedy struck. On what was supposed to be one of the happiest days in Jewish history with the residing of HaShem’s Shechina on earth, Nadav and Avihu were consumed by fire in the Mishkan. They decided to mark this momentous day by offering up their own pan of Ketores (frankincense). The Talmud in Eruvin 63a says they derived this from the verse in Vayikro (1 :7): “And the children of Aaron should place fire on the Mizbaiach.” Nevertheless, they incurred the death penalty for deciding a halachik point in front of their teachers, Moshe and Aaron.
It is interesting to note that the Midrash offers a slightly different explanation. The Midrash Tohras Cohanim says that the fire did not descend at first. Nadav and Avihu exclaimed, ‘‘How can one cook without a flame?” Then, they kindled the fire themselves. At that point, the heavenly fire descended and consumed the Mizbaiach together with Nadav and Avihu. Their souls burned, but their bodies remained whole.
There are several other reasons why Nadav and Avihu received the death penalty. These include:
1. Not honoring their father by consulting him before offering up the
2. Drinking wine which renders a priest unfit for duty,
3. Entering the Holy of Holies, which is only permitted by the Cohen Gadol,
and even then, only on Yom Kippur,
4. Failing to pour water over their hands and feet prior to entering the
5. Not wearing the special Priestley clothes.
Let’s not forget, however, that Nadav and Avihu were great tzadikim. The Talmud says they had it in themselves to become great leaders of the Jewish people. Their names depict this. Nadav comes from the word “nedivus,” which means nobility. Avihu can be read as ‘‘av-hu,’’ meaning he was a father and could have been a father to the whole nation. The passuk (10:3) later describes them as “bekroivay,” meaning friends of HaShem. This is fitting as they were the sons of Aaron HaCohen and nephews to Moshe, the leader of the Jewish people.
Therefore, how could such great tzadikim commit this sinful act and incur the death penalty?
They were holy men yearning for Kedusha at every moment, similar to metal drawn to a magnet. Once HaShem’s Shechina descended, they could not help themselves. Their souls were pulled towards the Shechina. They felt the need to offer Ketores as a way of serving HaShem, the life source of the world.
Nevertheless, this is not what HaShem desires from us. It is not fitting that everyone has access to serve a king. Only the select few have the privilege of serving him. This is especially true when serving HaShem, the King of Kings. Only those people appointed can enter into his Holy Service. Perhaps we can now offer a different understanding in the verse, “bekroivay ekodeish” (10:3). This is usually understood as a consolation to Aaron on the death of his beloved sons. Moshe tells him that HaShem had previously told him that His name would be sanctified through his close ones. Moshe always thought it would be himself or his brother Aaron. When he saw that Nadav and Avihu were sacrificed, he realized they were even closer to HaShem than himself and Aaron. Now we can say it means, ‘‘With my called ones.” Moshe explained to Aaron that only people that HaShem called to serve Him were permitted to do so, regardless of how great they were.
This is why when HaShem wanted to speak to Moshe at the burning bush, it first says, “Vayikra” (Shemos 3:4) “And he called to Moshe,” and afterwards He spoke to Moshe. One has to first be called by HaShem before He interacts with a person and appoints them as His messenger. The word ‘Vayikra’ is also repeated at the start of Sefer Vayikra. That is perhaps why people refer to the job of a rabbi as a “calling.” —they are called by HaShem to do his special work.
We find another similar circumstance at Matan Torah. HaShem told Moshe to warn the people not to ascend Mt. Sinai. He later told Moshe to surround the mountain with gates and barriers to stop the people from ascending the mountain. The passuk says, “Go warn the people, lest they surge forward past the barriers to see: many of them will fall” (Shemos 19:21). The usual way of understanding this passuk is that people might surge forward past the barriers to get a look and will ultimately be liable for death, because HaShem told them not to ascend.
Rabbi Ezriel Tauber, shlita, offers a different explanation. He says that HaShem told Moshe that the reason for the ban on ascending is to prevent others from spiritual demise. It is normal to expect that while seeing the divine revelation and yearning for that Kedusha, people may want to surge forward. The soul would then break past all bodily barriers that hold it down and try to connect itself to the Shechina. But, they will subsequently fall. People cannot sustain a heightened spiritual level for very long. Indeed, the Jewish people as a whole were unable to maintain it. Just a few short weeks later they erred by making the golden calf. It’s like the old cartoons where a character runs at hyper speed off a roof top. He keeps running on thin air for a few steps. Then, when he sees he is walking on air, he drops rapidly to the ground. What goes up must come down. Artificial highs never last, no matter what the high is, even a spiritual high.. The only way to properly rise to a higher spiritual level is on a solid foundation. Every sky scraper is built from the bottom up with a strong foundation. The crane is only jumped and moved on to the higher floor when the lower floor is completed, checked, double checked and inspected. The Mesillias Yeshorim quotes the Talmud (Avodoh Zoroh 20b) and lists 12 levels of spirituality to which a person needs to ascend. Each level has to be understood and mastered before the next level can be attempted.
Returning to Nadav and Avihu, they should have withheld their urges. In fact, the connection to Matan Torah goes a bit deeper. The Midrash says that, although Nadav and Avihu enjoyed the Shechinah at Matan Torah, they received the death penalty because they displayed levity. HaShem did not want to dampen the spirits of the Jewish people, so he waited untill a later time to exact punishment. The passuk in Devarim (4:24) says, “HaShem is a consuming fire.” Only those properly trained can deal with fire.
In conclusion, we see from this week’s sedra the importance of remaining calm and consistent on one’s spiritual journey. One must not get so despondent that he is growing too slowly. One must slowly master all levels before he can truly rise safely into the spiritual spheres. There are no quick fixes. It is a slow process that takes a lifetime. As long as steps are made towards reaching this goal ? even tiny steps ? and progress continues, then that is satisfactory enough.
What’s your idea of being holy and spiritual? Is it meditating? Praying? Any mitzvah (commandment) G-d gives us is meant to serve us as a direct pipeline to Him. That means that every mitzvah we do strengthens our relationship with the Almighty. Additionally, any preparation for a mitzvah is also considered part of the mitzvah. So while you may not feel spiritual while checking vegetables for bugs, you are still partaking in the mitzvah that commands us to strictly prohibit our intake of insects. These instructions not to eat bugs are G-d’s will (Leviticus 11:41, 43). What could be more holy than engaging in G-d’s will? This video addresses other concerns in finding the spiritual tasks in the mundane details of life.
On a side note, as a precaution I would like to clarify that just because I use the example of women making Shabbos meals does not mean that they are bound to doing so. In my house, I would be happy to make the Shabbos meal, and I do make some parts of the meals (I’ve become quite skilled in boiling salmon!) However, if the entire meal was left to me I don’t think my wife or guests would appreciate the haphazard arrangement of the menu nor the quality of the food. Cooking is not my forte. In fact, I’m terrible at it. I just don’t have the taste or expertise to pull it off. Therefore, in my house my wife, who is an EXCELLENT cook and baker, takes charge of the meal planning and most of the cooking. Other couples and families should do what makes them most comfortable and what works best for them, which could be a reversal of the traditional roles.
This week we read about the tragic sin of the Golden Calf. Let me explain this sin as a primer for the video: The Jews miscalculated Moses’ descent from Mt. Sinai by one day. Remember, G-d called him up to the mountain to receive the physical tablets with the ten commandments written on them. The Jews knew he would be on top of the mountain for 40 days and 40 nights. Since Moses was running a little late, they lost faith and believed he died on the mountain. Therefore, they needed someone, or rather something, to be the intermediary between themselves and G-d. They pooled together all their gold from jewelry, mirrors, and the like and melted it down. Then they formed a calf from this gold and worshipped it. My response to this is in the video.
We also learn a tremendously powerful message about Jewish unity from the composition of the frankincense, a combination of spices the Jews were commanded to burn as an offering to G-d.
In this week’s parsha we learn a bit about how the High Priest in the Holy Temple dressed. It’s all described in specific detail, of which I enumerate in the video above. We also learn an important message about the sanctity, or making it so, of the things we ingest. Also, interesting fact: this is the only parsha after Moses is introduced into the Torah that does not contain his name. Watch the video to find out why!
I must admit, it was quite difficult to extrapolate an inspirational message from this week’s parsha, Terumah. It mainly discusses details and instructions on building the Mishkan (Tabernacle).
The entire Torah is a manual for life. However, there are certain areas where the instructions are overtly, well, instructional. Often, there are examples with allegory or a motif attached. However, this week simply comes across as “connect A to B, C to D, and E to F.” It’s hard to find or even see any inspiration in that. However, we can be sure that the materials G-d instructed the Jews to build the Tabernacle with were not chosen at random. They had very specific purposes and specific correlations to our everyday lives.
In this video I discuss the materials used and how they correlate to various sins Jews committed through the ages. These materials correspond to the atonement for those sins. This teaches us that there’s always hope for atonement and teshuva (repentance). G-d constantly presents us with opportunities to turn everything around; to change the err of our ways. It is up to us to make those changes and put the “raw materials” He gives us to good use. The Tabernacle represents a physical amalgamation of these opportunities.
Enjoy the video! Please leave a response below. If you’re enjoying these videos or if you’re just tuning in for the first time, please feel free to pass the message along and share with a friend. Thanks for visiting.
Why is the Torah narrative non-linear? The story of Moses talking to the Jews and going up and down Mt. Sinai is broken up and told out of order. You can see this for yourself in any Chumash or Bible. The end of last week’s parsha does not coincide with the opening events of this week’s. Instead, the narrative is broken. Inserted into this gap are the many judgments, mishpatim, that we are commanded to follow in regards to matters of civil law. With any regular story book we could assume this was an oversight or some funny artistic method of the author. Not so with the Torah. This “misplacement” gives a very powerful message. Additionally, think of a time something seemed out of place in your life. Later, when you could see the final outcome, did you think about how, at the time, that event or situation was terrible? However, later turned out to be the best thing for you. Things that are out-of-place can teach us a lot later on. They become perfect with the fullness of time.
(After the Superbowl, I had to show my allegiance to the other football. Hence, the Manchester United beanie. Enjoy.)