Parashat Shemini: Consistent Messages

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Russian Nesting Dolls
12 Apr 2007

Isru Chag HaPesach and Parshat Shemini 5767

“The Haggadah speaks of four sons: the wise, the evil, the naive and the ignoramus,” and parashat Shemini prohibits eating the four species which have only one characteristic of kashrut.

Aside from the number four, one would be hard pressed to find a connection between the four sons of the Haggadah and the four species which have only one kosher characteristic. However, there is a great lesson to be learned from them.

The four sons are not unrelated people, they are the children of the same parents; so despite the differences which exist between siblings, the striking personality and spiritual gaps between these four are very odd.

How does it come about that the same family unit produces a talmid chacham righteous son and an evil son who are religiously different, and two other sons who are intellectually so different?

On Chol Hamoed, while riding in the mountains of the tribes of Binyamin and Efrayim, just north of Yerushalayim, I recalled the episode of “pessel Micha” brought in the Book of Judges (Shoftim), which transpired in that area.

Micha erected a sanctuary for avoda zara (a”z) in the town of Gerev. But not being versed in the ceremonies, he required the services of a “talmid chacham” in a”z.

It just happened that when Micha was searching for the “right” man, that a Levi passed his door. One thing lead to another and Micha offered the Levi a handsome salary if he would serve as the kohen for a”z. The Levi accepted. The Tanach informs us that his name was “Yehonatan ben Gershom ben Menashe”. But the letter “nun” in Menashe is written differently then the others in order to camouflage his true identity. For if we remove the letter “nun” from the name Menashe, we are left with the name “Moshe”. Yes! The Layvi who dedicated himself to a”z was the grandson of Moshe Rabbeinu!

The facts get even more bewildering. The Yerushalmi in Brachot (chap. 9 halacha 2) relates that David HaMelech met with Yonatan and asked him how he serves a”z? Yonatan answered that he received from his grandfather Moshe, a rule that it is preferable to give yourself over to a”z then to live off the proceeds of tzedaka. And since he had no means of making a livelihood he accepted the position at Micha’s a”z. David was shocked and explained to Yonatan that Moshe meant that it is preferable to do work which is “zara” strange to (if you cannot find work in your profession then do other work which is “zara” to you but do not accept charity). David understood that Yonatan was a man who craved material things and appointed him to the position of Minister of Finance. After the demise of David, King Shlomo dismissed all the ministers in David’s cabinet including Yonatan, who, as the Yerushalmi tells us, returned to serve a”z.

What a bizarre man this Yonatan ben Gershom ben Moshe, who weaves in and out of Yirat Shamayim and a”z with such ease. What went on in the mind of this man?

The midrash in Yalkut Shimoni, opens a window of understanding into the workings of this strange man’s mind.

Rabbi Natan says that Gerev (the place of pessel Micha) was three kilometers from the Holy city of Shilo, where the sacrificial service was performed for 369 years until it was destroyed in the time of the prophet Shmuel. The smoke from the holy sacrifices of Shilo and the smoke from the profane sacrifices of Yonatan ben Gershom met and became intertwined while rising into the shamayim.

This merger of kodesh and chol, tahara and tuma, was the external expression of the inner thoughts of Yonatan. His inner self was a twisted reservoir of contradictory and unclear spiritual messages. Yonatan studied Torah under his grandfather, Moshe Rabbeinu, but he was also affected by the life styles of the other nations. His loyalties to Hashem became perverted by the merger with foreign beliefs and produced this dual personality. He did not receive a clear message of what the Torah demands from a Jew, but received messages which vied with each other for his soul.

Yonatan was not a “kosher” Jew nor was he a total non-kosher Gentile, for he had one kosher characteristic and one treif, just as the four species in our parsha have only one kosher sign and are deemed “asur”.

The sad episode of Yonatan teaches us the first principle in Torah education. Transmit to your children, to your students and to your congregation clear messages, free of contradiction and compromise. To do otherwise is to invite ideological dissension and strife just as the poor parents of the wise son and his three disfunctional brothers in the Haggadah.

This would be the perfect place to conclude this week’s message. But then I would sound like one more rabbi “blowing off” theoretical steam. My intention is to relate this message to the enormous sin of these last generations – the denial of Medinat Yisrael as the harbinger of the end of our galut punishment and Hashem’s call for us to return home.

I read of Jewish communities replete with yeshivot, mikvaot, kollelim and even batei din, springing up in parts of the world. They are lead by talented and conscientious rabbis. But I liken it to the case of a world renowned surgeon who himself suffers from Hepatitis B. Would you let him operate on a loved one? On the one hand he is the best in his field, but at the same time that he is helping the patient he is passively killing him. The rabbis and leaders of the communities coming up all over America bring Torah to the people, but the message is mixed and contradictory – you can live in galut and still be a loyal son to Hashem. What you get is a community of people who live in two incompatible worlds.

Six million Jews are being challenged here in Eretz Yisrael by hundreds of millions of enemies, while many of the other half of the Jewish nation abroad cannot even find Israel on a map.

Most Bnei Torah abroad have no more than a passing interest in what happens in Eretz Yisrael. They have no concept of the spiritual opportunity afforded every Jew living in Eretz Yisrael by bonding with the personalities of the Tanach in fulfilling our role in the continuation of Jewish history.

In one of the most dramatic moments in our history, when on the day of the Mishkan’s dedication, Hashem descended from His heavenly glory in order to create a presence among lowly human beings, two great men, Nadav and Avihu, died in order to serve as an example to the nation for all time, that the holier the person the greater are his responsibilities and punishments. Rashi adds that Moshe said to Aharon on the death of his two eldest sons, that he (Moshe) knew that on this day the greatest of the nation will be sacrificed, and Moshe believed it would be either himself or Aharon. But now he sees that Nadav and Avihu were greater then they.

I shall never be able to comprehend two realities in our generation: 1) How can a religious Jew remain with a clean conscience in the galut? How can he be so oblivious to the huge historical call to return home sent out by the millions of Jews who were slaughtered in the galut in the last two thousand years? 2) Why is it that so many non-religious Jews cling and love this embattled land?

In conclusion. I turn to you dear brothers and sisters. Set your sights on reaching greatness as Jews who took up the challenge to bring to fruition the promises made by Hashem to our fathers and mothers that the Holy land will be our heritage forever.

Shabbat Shalom, Nachman Kahana

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.