Shemini: Crying, Fighting & Silly Stuff

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13 Apr 2009


But did he cry?

Yes, we all know of Aharon’s silent nobility – but did he shed tears for the loss of his Nadav and Avihu? A stoic Aharon training his inner world to be inured to the pain is a disturbing notion. Ramban’s words (1): “that he was crying aloud and then weeped silently” comfort me. To Ramban then, Aharon’s silence was the words he (could have but) chose not to say rather than the tears he would not shed.

Elsewhere (2), Ramban teaches that even the greatest believer, who knows beyond doubt, that the soul is in a better place, also cries. Why? Because teva ha’adam livkot, it is the nature of man to cry, even when great friends say goodbye in life. But why?

Ohr Hachaim explains that a real departure from the one(s) that you loved will always evoke tears – even if they are going to a better place, for the personal loss is so great (think Israel yeshiva/seminary airport scene – saying goodbye to one’s daughter). The believer cries for himself, his pain and the pain of all those left behind who will no longer experience the closeness of the departed.

The first Belzer Rebbe (3), the Sar Shalom [1779-1850] had lost his Rebbitzen Malka and after a year was still crying. His gabbai, mindful of the Rambam’s admonition against excessive mourning pleaded: “Rebbe, it’s enough”. The Rebbe responded: I am no longer crying for Malka. After a year, of such pain, I would do anything to have my kallah (bride), my Malka back; so I turned to Hashem – How painful must it be for You without your kallah, without your Malka (queen, aka the Jewish people)?! So why not bring your Malka back? I was so troubled by that question.

And what did Hashem answer?

If they would cry for Me as much as you cry for your Malka, then I would have brought the redemption so very long ago.

We are so close – for we are the generation of ikvisa d’meshicha [the heel/footseps of the Mashiach]; the heel is the most calloused part of the body; sometimes we have become so calloused that we have forgotten how to cry


The very first dispute in Oral Law appears in the Written Torah. An Onein (a mourner before the burial) may not eat from the sacrifices. However, God mandated a temporary override on the occasion of the Mishkan inauguration. Thus Aharon, who had lost his children, but was also serving as the High Priest had to eat the sacrifices. Aharon partook of two of the special-occasion sacrifices but refrained from eating the “regular” new month sacrifice. Moshe was angry, for he believed Aharon must abide by the Divine override and eat from all the sacrifices. Aharon explains to Moshe that his understanding of the Divine imperative only applies to the special sacrifices of the day (seir nachson, seir miluim). He uses a basic principle of comparison that the temporary override only applied to the temporal sacrifices

Moshe hears Aharon’s logic and it is good in his eyes. Moshe accepts Aharon’s interpretation. In the first dispute of interpretation, Moshe the Torah transmitter yields to Aharon’s interpretation – and feels good

We may learn:

1. That no matter how great one is (who is greater than Moshe?), never be embarrassed to acknowledge truth. Surely, Moshe the giver of the Torah may have been concerned that some might cast aspersions on the Torah itself – but the truth must emerge.

2. In a Beis Midrash, you may fight with anyone, even the big ones (respectfully) to express your view and understanding of Torah. Everything is legal in the sincere search for the word of God.

3. Moshe’s anger turned into goodness and approval, evoking the notion that the war of Torah, the milchamot Hashem, ultimately bring people closer together. In Gemaraspeak, the oyevim become ohavim, the antagonists become lovers. If people aren’t closer after their war of Torah, maybe it was not Torah they were fighting for – but some unpleasant admixture thereof.


A gemara (4) teaches that when the seventy great Sages were forced by Ptolemy to translate the Torah into Greek (Septuagint), they were separately sequestered to insure that they would produce an accurate and unapologetic translation. Independently and miraculously, they all made the same revisions, because some things are just too hard to explain (e.g. “Let US make man” to a pagan society).

One revision that emerges from our parsha seems whimsical. The arnevet (the hare) is listed among the non kosher animals. The Rabbinic revision replaced arnevet with tzeirat-raglayim (young/short legged). Why? Because arnevet was Ptolemy’s wife’s name and the Rabbis were concerned that Ptolemy might accuse the Jews of inserting her name amongst the non-kosher animals to mock him.

This one seems so silly. Any bit of elementary research would have revealed that the Torah text predated the Queen. Kosher or not, it seems absurd to name someone after an animal, so if arnevet is a strange name, then so is a cow or goat?

There is certainly a depth here that commentaries draw out (5). Without the deep stuff, it seems that the Talmud is highlighting the notion that our impediments to truth can sometimes be so emotional and subjective that they border on the absurd. One fellow who loves the concept of Shabbat can’t keep it all year round – because he loves college football (Saturday games – September thru December) and he doesn’t want to be a hypocrite (the rest of the year). Another fellow once explained that kosher is impossible because there are no good croissants to match his English taste. We can easily become blinded by the trivialities.

While we cannot deny our personal challenges, perhaps acknowledging their non-intellectual basis is the first step to confronting them.

Good Shabbos

1. Vayikra, 10:3
2. Devarim, 14:1
3. Heard from Rav Moshe Weinberger, shlit”a
4. Megillah, 9a-b
5. See Shem Mishmuel who connects the gamal shafan and arnevet with the 3 exiles of Bavel, Paras-Madai and Yavan while Edom is the Chazir. The former three chew their cud (a lengthy scientific question not for this forum regarding the definition of ma’aleh gerah is in order) – which implies internal kedusha – while the latter Edom/Rome only possesses external sanctity

Rabbi Asher Brander is the Rabbi of the Westwood Kehilla, Founder/Dean of LINK (Los Angeles Intercommunity Kollel) and is a Rebbe at Yeshiva University High Schools of Los Angeles

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