Parshas Shemini

This week’s Sedra opens in the midst of the drama of the dedication of the Mishkan, as Moshe is commanding Aharon as to the Karbannos (sacrifices) which Ahaharon is supposed to bring. As Moshe finishes his instructions, he tells Aharon to approach the Altar and to perform the Avoda that he just commanded him to do. While this particular instruction of Moshe need not seem at all peculiar (see Ramban) the Medrash in Torahs Kohanim derives from it that Aharon hesitated out of  humility to perform the Avoda in the Mishkan. The Medrash gives an analogy to Aharon’s hesitation: a woman marries a king and finds herself uncomfortable performing any intimate task for the lofty king. The new Queen’s sister seeing the Queen’s discomfort tells her not to be bashful because her role is to perform intimate tasks for the King. She explains that it was no doubt in part for that very reason that she was chosen as the Queen. The Medrash continues and says that upon Aharon’s hearing Moshe Rabeinu’s words he immediately conformed and performed the Avoda.                           

This Medrash seems to be pointing out something rather ironic; the tables seem to have been turned. When Hashem came to Moshe Rabeinu and asked him to go free Klal-Yisroel from their bondage in Egypt, Moshe Rabeinu had argued, seeing himself as not fit for such a mission, and feeling that Aharon would have been a better choice. Moshe Rabeinu at the time had suggested this to Hashem and had seemed to evoke Divine Wrath. In that episode, suggesting Aharon’s candidacy instead of his own represented Moshe’s ultimate argument in his attempt at shying away from accepting a position of authority. The story here is virtually a mirror image of Moshe’s story. In the latter, Moshe angered Hashem, while here the incident is barely noted save for the deduction of the Medrash.

Rav Moshe (see Darash Moshe vol.1) while answering an unrelated question offers the most interesting insight to this Medrash: Rav Moshe explains that Aharon Hakohen wasn’t bashful to perform the Avoda because he saw himself as unfit since Hashem Himself had ordered him to do it. Rav Moshe explains that Aharon’s discomfort was due to the fact that although maybe he was worthy of performing the Avoda that didn’t seem to be Hashem’s reason for wanting him to do it. Aharon felt that since the Kehuna (priesthood) was a function of being a descendent of his and not based on credentials, then perhaps he truly wasn’t worthy of performing the Avoda. Maybe he indeed wasn’t on the appropriate level to actually offer sacrifices to Hashem.  It is with regard to this fear that Moshe Rabeinu calmed him by telling him if it isn’t in his merit but rather for something intrinsic to his lineage, then it is nonetheless to perform these tasks that he was chosen by Hashem.

Perhaps we can extend this lesson to life in general. While in life some times a particular role seems more or less important than another. If logic or nature, and definitely if Halacha indicates that we should be doing something, or rather allowing someone else to do, it then there is no other equation to take into account. We must do our best to fulfill our God-given roles: Man or woman, young or old Kohen, Levi or Yisroel, we all have something we can do for Hashem, some sort of very important God-given role to fill.

****************************

In this week’s Sedra we read about the untimely death of Nadav and Avihu – Bnei Aharon. The Torah tells us that following their deaths Moshe Rabeinu called Mishael and Eltzaphon to remove their bodies from the interior of the Mishkan. Usually the Tzorchei Hameis (the various actions necessary in dealing with the dead) would have been looked after by their immediate family. In this case, however, since Aharon and his sons were busy with the inaugural Avodos in the Mishkan they were not at liberty to put those aside to take the remove the dead from where they had died.

While it is understandable on some level that Nadav‘s and Avihu’s close family couldn’t tend to their removal and burial, what is not so clear is why the Torah felt it necessary to mention Mishael and Eltzaphon by name. What is yet more curious is that there were closer relatives than those selected who were not being involved in the inaugural services and who could, therefore, have undertaken the task of burying Nadav and Avihu.  Why weren’t they called upon to do so?

One can no doubt make allowances for Moshe not troubling himself to seek out their nephew Pinchas to do these acts, but asking instead their first cousins-once-removed to do so out of mere convenience. And maybe there isn’t really any real obligation on a nephew over any other relative. The question still remains: why does the Torah specify them by name.

The Gemorah tells us that a Segula for having children is to raise orphans in one’s home. While this is often explained as a simple Mida Keneged Mida (measure for measure) there is a very real issue explaining it as such. Usually in a measure for measure reward (or punishment) the balance of the measure on each side is perfect. If someone gives Tzedaka Hashem will give that person the money he needs – as this fellow made sure to see to it that the poor man had what to eat Hashem will likewise see to it that the Tzedaka giver won’t lack in his needs, and so on and so forth. However in the case of a fellow bringing up orphans, giving him children to bring up might be a fitting reward but it is not a measure for measure type of reward.

It would thus seem that the explanation for this just reward is otherwise.

We are told about the Imahos (Matriarchs) of Klal-Yisroel that they were barren. In two instances – with Sarah Imeinu and with Rachel Imeinu – we see that when they couldn’t have children they gave their maidservants to their husbands as wives. Both times in turn these maidservants became pregnant and bore children, and only then did the originally barren Imahos have children of their own. What happened after our Imahos gave their servants as wives to their husbands? What made them all of a sudden fertile?

It would seem that the answer to all these questions is one and the same. Hashem sometimes decrees something, such as that a particular woman should be infertile. While this is Hashem’s Will and there thus is no way to change it, it is sometimes possible to ‘work around’ it. Hashem didn’t take away Sarah’s or Rachel’s ability to raise children, but rather only their ability to have children. Chazal tell us that when two people do a job jointly – one starts it and the other one finishes it – the job is considered to be done by the one who finished it.  Therefore as the purpose of being a parent is to raise children the one who raises them is considered to be the parent. Chazal also tell us Gadol Hameaseh Yoser Min Haoseh – greater is the facilitator than the one who carries out the job. Our Imahos both facilitated the Avos having children and then raised these children; they were essentially the mothers of these children. Once they gained motherhood status they were no longer able to be infertile for they had children already. This thus abled them to have more children – children of their own.

The same can be said to apply in the case of someone who raises orphans.

In our Parsha Mishael and Eltzaphon came and took over the job of the immediate family. It’s not just that they took over the job of the immediate family, but it’s that they did the job thus making it “their” job.

Often in life we fulfill a role that is not ours. Something was really someone else’s job, but we somehow ended up doing it.  As a result, we sometimes find ourselves doing a sloppier job because “it’s not really our job”. The truth is though, that once we assume a role it does become ours and we therefore need to give it our all. This is why the Torah mentions Mishael and Eltzaphon: their being the right persons at the right place at the right time made them the right people.

****************************************

This week’s Sedra starts out as a seemingly ordinary Sedra, but rapidly becomes almost incomprehensible. Hashem commands Aharon as to the inaugural Korbanos he and his sons were to bring.  Aharon and his sons do as Hashem instructed them. The Avoda was performed magnificently and it caused visible Hashraas Hashechina. Klal-Yisroel was filled with awe by the grand Divine Revelation brought about through the great Avoda of the Kohanim. However, in the midst of this spectacular awesome moment the Torah tells us that Nadav and Avihu, two of Ahoron’s sons brought an אש זרה – “a foreign fire”. The entire incident – not just the fact that the exact meaning of an אש זרה remains a mystery – is puzzling.  The Commentators’ grappling with this episode leaves us with many questions.

Particularly troublesome here is the apparent departure from what we know as the traditional practice with regard to mourning: the petirah (death) of a person usually necessitates mourning by the immediate family and the immediate family alone. Here however, Aharon and his remaining sons were forbidden to mourn the sudden loss of their close ones, while the rest of Am-Yisroel was instructed to mourn their loss. What was it about the petira of these two Holy Kohanim that fostered this unusual division of mourning?

The Medrash Tanchuma offers the following interpretation: the Torah tells us that Hashem had instructed Aharon and his sons to stay in the Mishkan for Seven days. During these days neither Aharon HaCohen nor his sons did the Avoda. It was Moshe Rabeinu who performed it.  Aharon and his sons were nonetheless instructed by Hashem not to even cross the threshold of the Mishkan. The Medrash Tanchuma then informs us that this was so to speak the Shiva for Aharon’s sons – Nadav and Avihu. The Medrash further explains that this is the meaning of the Passuk שומר מצוה לא ידע דבר רע – the keeper of a Mitzva knows no bad. The Medrash explains that since Aharon Hacohen had followed Hashem’s directive and sat Shiva for no apparent reason he didn’t suffer any pain after their Petira and therefore he did not need to sit Shiva afterward. That sitting Shiva beforehand enabled him to understand Moshe Rabeinu’s comforting words that they died because Hashem wished to sanctify Himself through taking His holy ones.

While this Medrash does in a way tell us why Aharon and his sons didn’t have to sit Shiva, it leaves us clueless as to the reason for it.

How does sitting Shiva beforehand make someone feel better afterward? How does listening to Hashem facilitate being comforted by hearing that their Petira was al Kiddush Hashem?

Aharon and his sons subjugated themselves to Retzon Hashem. Hashem told them to confine themselves to the Mishkan for seven days not in order to perform sacrificial ceremonies, not for any stated reason.  Hashem simply instructed them to stay there – period.  Aharon and his sons did so without wavering. Aharon and his sons understood that Darchei Hashem aren’t necessarily easily understood, but that one must conform to Hashem’s every word just because Hashem wishes it. The Medrash seems to be implying that this approach allows for a greater understanding in Darchei Hashem. When we realize that we may not always understand Hashem’s ways, but that Hashem’s Way and Will is the right and only way, we are thus creating the correct frame of mind to actually understand Retzon Hashem.

Usually one who suffers the loss of a loved one requires time to reflect upon the loss in order to obtain sufficient comfort to be able to continue with life – hence the usual Shiva period of mourning. However, if prior to any such suffering one is already able to reflect upon his lack of understanding of Hashem’s workings that person allows himself the ability to somehow understand things sufficiently to be comfortable with — or at the very least accepting of – Divine Will even if the manifestation of that Will is seemingly painful.

If we subjugate ourselves to Hashem’s Torah and Mitzvos we elevate ourselves to a new level of understanding that there is no bad and thus we will know no bad.

********************************

In this week’s Sedra the Torah discusses many laws pertaining to which animals we may and may not eat.  There are quite a number of Mitzvos throughout the Torah that are based on what we are allowed and not allowed to eat. In fact, the first instruction Hashem gave to Mankind was not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge. Food-related restrictions continue with Hashem’s telling Noach that he may eat livestock, and then with the prohibition to eat the Gid Hanashe (the Sinew of the thigh). Much later, with the giving of the Torah at Har Sinai, numerous Mitzvos are added relating to what we are allowed, or forbidden, to eat, to how and how not to eat.  To the Torah-mandated dietary Mitzvos, our Sages then added various Rabbinic injunctions (Bishul Akum, Chalav Akum, Rabbinic Tithes etc.).

Sometimes the Torah explains why we may – or may not – consume something, but at other times there is little explanation. At times there seems to be some sort of common aspect between a string of permitted or forbidden items, while at other times there is very little, if any, relation among the items. Why is it that Judaism has such an emphasis on dietary laws?

We say every morning in Psukei DeZimra ‘Baruch She’Amar Vehaya haolam’ – ‘Praised is Hashem who spoke and behold the world was’. We praise Hashem for the fact that he created the world and everything in it through His speech. This idea is reinforced by the Mishna in Avos that tells us that Hashem created the world through ten expressions.  The Reishis Chochmo takes this idea one step further. The Reishis Chochmo explains that each and every item that is “natural” derives its strength/energy to do and be what it is from Hashem. Grass grows, so to speak, only because of Hashem’s command to it to grow. Likewise an animal only grows because of Hashem’s saying to grow. Thus explains the Reishis Chochmo that when we eat a plant or meat item we absorb as well Hashem’s command to it to grow. Through this we receive special strengths from the item being consumed.

Whatever we eat contains particular energy from Hashem. Therefore it is important to eat right in order to acquire the right end result.

We are Hashem’s Chosen People; Hashem cares about our well-being. Hashem prescribed to us precisely what is good and what isn’t good for us to consume. Because Chazal understood this well, and because they also understood human nature, they felt a need to provide additional measures to serve as ‘protective’ barriers  – rules, in other words, that create an additional buffer between observance and possible violation. Their objective, as always, was to maximize proper implementation of Torah law.

While we may not be what we eat – we definitely are affected by what we eat.

********************************

This week’s Haftorah (Shmuel II, 6) contains many lessons. The Haftorah recounts the Aron HaKodesh’s (Holy Ark’s) long journey back from the Plishtim. Dovid Hamelech first attempted to bring the Ark to Jerusalem with a festive parade on a brand new oxen-drawn cart. The Navi tells us that Dovid and the entire multitude that were accompanying the Aron HaKodesh played musical instruments in front of it. When the procession reached Goren Nachon, the Ark’s weight shifted so that it appeared in danger of falling. Uza, one of those guiding the wagon, reached out and grasped the Ark to steady it. (The Ark could not fall as it ‘carried itself’.) The Navi tells us that Hashem was angered by Uza’s actions and struck Uza dead.

Many of the Meforshim explain that the reason we read this Haftorah for Parshas Shemini is because Uza’s death mirrors to some extent that of Aaron’s sons Nadav and Avihu. The latter were killed by Hashem because they brought a ‘foreign’ fire into the Mishkan. The two episodes do parallel each other, and both are troubling. They create a certain apprehension concerning Avodas Hashem, and leave us with a feeling that Avodas Hashem can place our lives in peril.

Dovid Hamelech indeed became frightened by Uza’s death, and temporarily halted the Ark’s travel. When Dovid eventually brought the Ark back he had Leviyim carry it as prescribed on their shoulders, and the king danced fervently and wildly in front of it. This presents us (see Chosom Sofer) with yet another question: when Dovid Hamelech originally attempted to bring back the Ark, he wasn’t afraid, and did so to the accompaniment of musical instruments.  In light of the first attempt’s fatal consequences, he was now fearful but nonetheless danced wildly. Why did the king on this second and successful attempt seem not to be scared?

Reb Nachman says that it is a big mitzvah to be always happy. The Kutzker was once asked if Reb Nachman was right in saying so. The Kutzker replied: “I am not aware of any such Mitzvah, but generally one is happy if one is doing Mitzvos, while one who doesn’t do Mitzvos is seldom happy.

We say in Tehilim to rejoice (when serving Hashem) in trepidation.

Dovid Hamelech knew from the start that one must approach the Ark with trepidation, yet he erred in exactly how to go about transferring it. The second time around Dovid Hamelech did it the right way. Therefore, even though more fearful than earlier, he still was able to rejoice wildly.

Perhaps the Haftorah is really letting us know the secret to deciphering which Avodas are safe for us to do and which aren’t. We must have trepidation in all aspects of our Avodas Hashem but, as the Kutzker said, if we aren’t also happy there must be a fault in our Avodas Hashem. When we truly serve Hashem we will always be content even when we must be scared.

This week’s Sedra opens in the midst of the drama of the dedication of the Mishkan, as Moshe is commanding Aharon as to the Karbannos (sacrifices) which Ahaharon is supposed to bring. As Moshe finishes his instructions, he tells Aharon to approach the Altar and to perform the Avoda that he just commanded him to do. While this particular instruction of Moshe need not seem at all peculiar (see Ramban) the Medrash in Torahs Kohanim derives from it that Aharon hesitated out of  humility to perform the Avoda in the Mishkan. The Medrash gives an analogy to Aharon’s hesitation: a woman marries a king and finds herself uncomfortable performing any intimate task for the lofty king. The new Queen’s sister seeing the Queen’s discomfort tells her not to be bashful because her role is to perform intimate tasks for the King. She explains that it was no doubt in part for that very reason that she was chosen as the Queen. The Medrash continues and says that upon Aharon’s hearing Moshe Rabeinu’s words he immediately conformed and performed the Avoda.

                                   

This Medrash seems to be pointing out something rather ironic; the tables seem to have been turned. When Hashem came to Moshe Rabeinu and asked him to go free Klal-Yisroel from their bondage in Egypt, Moshe Rabeinu had argued, seeing himself as not fit for such a mission, and feeling that Aharon would have been a better choice. Moshe Rabeinu at the time had suggested this to Hashem and had seemed to evoke Divine Wrath. In that episode, suggesting Aharon’s candidacy instead of his own represented Moshe’s ultimate argument in his attempt at shying away from accepting a position of authority. The story here is virtually a mirror image of Moshe’s story. In the latter, Moshe angered Hashem, while here the incident is barely noted save for the deduction of the Medrash.

 

Rav Moshe (see Darash Moshe vol.1) while answering an unrelated question offers the most interesting insight to this Medrash: Rav Moshe explains that Aharon Hakohen wasn’t bashful to perform the Avoda because he saw himself as unfit since Hashem Himself had ordered him to do it. Rav Moshe explains that Aharon’s discomfort was due to the fact that although maybe he was worthy of performing the Avoda that didn’t seem to be Hashem’s reason for wanting him to do it. Aharon felt that since the Kehuna (priesthood) was a function of being a descendent of his and not based on credentials, then perhaps he truly wasn’t worthy of performing the Avoda. Maybe he indeed wasn’t on the appropriate level to actually offer sacrifices to Hashem.  It is with regard to this fear that Moshe Rabeinu calmed him by telling him if it isn’t in his merit but rather for something intrinsic to his lineage, then it is nonetheless to perform these tasks that he was chosen by Hashem.

 

Perhaps we can extend this lesson to life in general. While in life some times a particular role seems more or less important than another. If logic or nature, and definitely if Halacha indicates that we should be doing something, or rather allowing someone else to do, it then there is no other equation to take into account. We must do our best to fulfill our God-given roles: Man or woman, young or old Kohen, Levi or Yisroel, we all have something we can do for Hashem, some sort of very important God-given role to fill.

 

****************************

 

In this week’s Sedra we read about the untimely death of Nadav and Avihu – Bnei Aharon. The Torah tells us that following their deaths Moshe Rabeinu called Mishael and Eltzaphon to remove their bodies from the interior of the Mishkan. Usually the Tzorchei Hameis (the various actions necessary in dealing with the dead) would have been looked after by their immediate family. In this case, however, since Aharon and his sons were busy with the inaugural Avodos in the Mishkan they were not at liberty to put those aside to take the remove the dead from where they had died.

While it is understandable on some level that Nadav‘s and Avihu’s close family couldn’t tend to their removal and burial, what is not so clear is why the Torah felt it necessary to mention Mishael and Eltzaphon by name. What is yet more curious is that there were closer relatives than those selected who were not being involved in the inaugural services and who could, therefore, have undertaken the task of burying Nadav and Avihu.  Why weren’t they called upon to do so?

One can no doubt make allowances for Moshe not troubling himself to seek out their nephew Pinchas to do these acts, but asking instead their first cousins-once-removed to do so out of mere convenience. And maybe there isn’t really any real obligation on a nephew over any other relative. The question still remains: why does the Torah specify them by name.

The Gemorah tells us that a Segula for having children is to raise orphans in one’s home. While this is often explained as a simple Mida Keneged Mida (measure for measure) there is a very real issue explaining it as such. Usually in a measure for measure reward (or punishment) the balance of the measure on each side is perfect. If someone gives Tzedaka Hashem will give that person the money he needs – as this fellow made sure to see to it that the poor man had what to eat Hashem will likewise see to it that the Tzedaka giver won’t lack in his needs, and so on and so forth. However in the case of a fellow bringing up orphans, giving him children to bring up might be a fitting reward but it is not a measure for measure type of reward.

It would thus seem that the explanation for this just reward is otherwise.

We are told about the Imahos (Matriarchs) of Klal-Yisroel that they were barren. In two instances – with Sarah Imeinu and with Rachel Imeinu – we see that when they couldn’t have children they gave their maidservants to their husbands as wives. Both times in turn these maidservants became pregnant and bore children, and only then did the originally barren Imahos have children of their own. What happened after our Imahos gave their servants as wives to their husbands? What made them all of a sudden fertile?

It would seem that the answer to all these questions is one and the same. Hashem sometimes decrees something, such as that a particular woman should be infertile. While this is Hashem’s Will and there thus is no way to change it, it is sometimes possible to ‘work around’ it. Hashem didn’t take away Sarah’s or Rachel’s ability to raise children, but rather only their ability to have children. Chazal tell us that when two people do a job jointly – one starts it and the other one finishes it – the job is considered to be done by the one who finished it.  Therefore as the purpose of being a parent is to raise children the one who raises them is considered to be the parent. Chazal also tell us Gadol Hameaseh Yoser Min Haoseh – greater is the facilitator than the one who carries out the job. Our Imahos both facilitated the Avos having children and then raised these children; they were essentially the mothers of these children. Once they gained motherhood status they were no longer able to be infertile for they had children already. This thus abled them to have more children – children of their own.

The same can be said to apply in the case of someone who raises orphans.

In our Parsha Mishael and Eltzaphon came and took over the job of the immediate family. It’s not just that they took over the job of the immediate family, but it’s that they did the job thus making it “their” job.

Often in life we fulfill a role that is not ours. Something was really someone else’s job, but we somehow ended up doing it.  As a result, we sometimes find ourselves doing a sloppier job because “it’s not really our job”. The truth is though, that once we assume a role it does become ours and we therefore need to give it our all. This is why the Torah mentions Mishael and Eltzaphon: their being the right persons at the right place at the right time made them the right people.

 

****************************************

 

This week’s Sedra starts out as a seemingly ordinary Sedra, but rapidly becomes almost incomprehensible. Hashem commands Aharon as to the inaugural Korbanos he and his sons were to bring.  Aharon and his sons do as Hashem instructed them. The Avoda was performed magnificently and it caused visible Hashraas Hashechina. Klal-Yisroel was filled with awe by the grand Divine Revelation brought about through the great Avoda of the Kohanim. However, in the midst of this spectacular awesome moment the Torah tells us that Nadav and Avihu, two of Ahoron’s sons brought an אש זרה – “a foreign fire”. The entire incident – not just the fact that the exact meaning of an אש זרה remains a mystery – is puzzling.  The Commentators’ grappling with this episode leaves us with many questions.

Particularly troublesome here is the apparent departure from what we know as the traditional practice with regard to mourning: the petirah (death) of a person usually necessitates mourning by the immediate family and the immediate family alone. Here however, Aharon and his remaining sons were forbidden to mourn the sudden loss of their close ones, while the rest of Am-Yisroel was instructed to mourn their loss. What was it about the petira of these two Holy Kohanim that fostered this unusual division of mourning?

The Medrash Tanchuma offers the following interpretation: the Torah tells us that Hashem had instructed Aharon and his sons to stay in the Mishkan for Seven days. During these days neither Aharon HaCohen nor his sons did the Avoda. It was Moshe Rabeinu who performed it.  Aharon and his sons were nonetheless instructed by Hashem not to even cross the threshold of the Mishkan. The Medrash Tanchuma then informs us that this was so to speak the Shiva for Aharon’s sons – Nadav and Avihu. The Medrash further explains that this is the meaning of the Passuk שומר מצוה לא ידע דבר רע – the keeper of a Mitzva knows no bad. The Medrash explains that since Aharon Hacohen had followed Hashem’s directive and sat Shiva for no apparent reason he didn’t suffer any pain after their Petira and therefore he did not need to sit Shiva afterward. That sitting Shiva beforehand enabled him to understand Moshe Rabeinu’s comforting words that they died because Hashem wished to sanctify Himself through taking His holy ones.

While this Medrash does in a way tell us why Aharon and his sons didn’t have to sit Shiva, it leaves us clueless as to the reason for it.

How does sitting Shiva beforehand make someone feel better afterward? How does listening to Hashem facilitate being comforted by hearing that their Petira was al Kiddush Hashem?

Aharon and his sons subjugated themselves to Retzon Hashem. Hashem told them to confine themselves to the Mishkan for seven days not in order to perform sacrificial ceremonies, not for any stated reason.  Hashem simply instructed them to stay there – period.  Aharon and his sons did so without wavering. Aharon and his sons understood that Darchei Hashem aren’t necessarily easily understood, but that one must conform to Hashem’s every word just because Hashem wishes it. The Medrash seems to be implying that this approach allows for a greater understanding in Darchei Hashem. When we realize that we may not always understand Hashem’s ways, but that Hashem’s Way and Will is the right and only way, we are thus creating the correct frame of mind to actually understand Retzon Hashem.

Usually one who suffers the loss of a loved one requires time to reflect upon the loss in order to obtain sufficient comfort to be able to continue with life – hence the usual Shiva period of mourning. However, if prior to any such suffering one is already able to reflect upon his lack of understanding of Hashem’s workings that person allows himself the ability to somehow understand things sufficiently to be comfortable with — or at the very least accepting of – Divine Will even if the manifestation of that Will is seemingly painful.

If we subjugate ourselves to Hashem’s Torah and Mitzvos we elevate ourselves to a new level of understanding that there is no bad and thus we will know no bad.

********************************

 

In this week’s Sedra the Torah discusses many laws pertaining to which animals we may and may not eat.  There are quite a number of Mitzvos throughout the Torah that are based on what we are allowed and not allowed to eat. In fact, the first instruction Hashem gave to Mankind was not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge. Food-related restrictions continue with Hashem’s telling Noach that he may eat livestock, and then with the prohibition to eat the Gid Hanashe (the Sinew of the thigh). Much later, with the giving of the Torah at Har Sinai, numerous Mitzvos are added relating to what we are allowed, or forbidden, to eat, to how and how not to eat.  To the Torah-mandated dietary Mitzvos, our Sages then added various Rabbinic injunctions (Bishul Akum, Chalav Akum, Rabbinic Tithes etc.).

 

Sometimes the Torah explains why we may – or may not – consume something, but at other times there is little explanation. At times there seems to be some sort of common aspect between a string of permitted or forbidden items, while at other times there is very little, if any, relation among the items. Why is it that Judaism has such an emphasis on dietary laws?

 

We say every morning in Psukei DeZimra ‘Baruch She’Amar Vehaya haolam’ – ‘Praised is Hashem who spoke and behold the world was’. We praise Hashem for the fact that he created the world and everything in it through His speech. This idea is reinforced by the Mishna in Avos that tells us that Hashem created the world through ten expressions.  The Reishis Chochmo takes this idea one step further. The Reishis Chochmo explains that each and every item that is “natural” derives its strength/energy to do and be what it is from Hashem. Grass grows, so to speak, only because of Hashem’s command to it to grow. Likewise an animal only grows because of Hashem’s saying to grow. Thus explains the Reishis Chochmo that when we eat a plant or meat item we absorb as well Hashem’s command to it to grow. Through this we receive special strengths from the item being consumed.

 

Whatever we eat contains particular energy from Hashem. Therefore it is important to eat right in order to acquire the right end result.

 

We are Hashem’s Chosen People; Hashem cares about our well-being. Hashem prescribed to us precisely what is good and what isn’t good for us to consume. Because Chazal understood this well, and because they also understood human nature, they felt a need to provide additional measures to serve as ‘protective’ barriers  – rules, in other words, that create an additional buffer between observance and possible violation. Their objective, as always, was to maximize proper implementation of Torah law.

 

While we may not be what we eat – we definitely are affected by what we eat.

 

********************************

 

This week’s Haftorah (Shmuel II, 6) contains many lessons. The Haftorah recounts the Aron HaKodesh’s (Holy Ark’s) long journey back from the Plishtim. Dovid Hamelech first attempted to bring the Ark to Jerusalem with a festive parade on a brand new oxen-drawn cart. The Navi tells us that Dovid and the entire multitude that were accompanying the Aron HaKodesh played musical instruments in front of it. When the procession reached Goren Nachon, the Ark’s weight shifted so that it appeared in danger of falling. Uza, one of those guiding the wagon, reached out and grasped the Ark to steady it. (The Ark could not fall as it ‘carried itself’.) The Navi tells us that Hashem was angered by Uza’s actions and struck Uza dead.

Many of the Meforshim explain that the reason we read this Haftorah for Parshas Shemini is because Uza’s death mirrors to some extent that of Aaron’s sons Nadav and Avihu. The latter were killed by Hashem because they brought a ‘foreign’ fire into the Mishkan. The two episodes do parallel each other, and both are troubling. They create a certain apprehension concerning Avodas Hashem, and leave us with a feeling that Avodas Hashem can place our lives in peril.

Dovid Hamelech indeed became frightened by Uza’s death, and temporarily halted the Ark’s travel. When Dovid eventually brought the Ark back he had Leviyim carry it as prescribed on their shoulders, and the king danced fervently and wildly in front of it. This presents us (see Chosom Sofer) with yet another question: when Dovid Hamelech originally attempted to bring back the Ark, he wasn’t afraid, and did so to the accompaniment of musical instruments.  In light of the first attempt’s fatal consequences, he was now fearful but nonetheless danced wildly. Why did the king on this second and successful attempt seem not to be scared?

Reb Nachman says that it is a big mitzvah to be always happy. The Kutzker was once asked if Reb Nachman was right in saying so. The Kutzker replied: “I am not aware of any such Mitzvah, but generally one is happy if one is doing Mitzvos, while one who doesn’t do Mitzvos is seldom happy.

We say in Tehilim to rejoice (when serving Hashem) in trepidation.

Dovid Hamelech knew from the start that one must approach the Ark with trepidation, yet he erred in exactly how to go about transferring it. The second time around Dovid Hamelech did it the right way. Therefore, even though more fearful than earlier, he still was able to rejoice wildly.

Perhaps the Haftorah is really letting us know the secret to deciphering which Avodas are safe for us to do and which aren’t. We must have trepidation in all aspects of our Avodas Hashem but, as the Kutzker said, if we aren’t also happy there must be a fault in our Avodas Hashem. When we truly serve Hashem we will always be content even when we must be scared.