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They Gazed .... They Ate ...

R Pesach Siegel

Parshat Mishpatim

Feb 17, 2012

Parshas Mishpatim 5772


As Moshe Rabeinu ascended Har Sinai, the posuk states, “Vayechezu  es Ha’Elokim vayochlu vayishtu.” The prestigious ones, Nadav and Avihu, gazed upon the vision of Elokim, and they ate and drank. The Bnei Yisroel were warned against going up upon Har Sinai and gazing at the display of G-dliness upon fear of death.  And yet, Nadav and Avihu did so and didn’t die.


Questions


What is the secret of their apparent immunity?


What connection does this vision share with eating and drinking?


Background/Deeper Understanding


The gemara in Meseches Chagiga relates how four entered the Pardes. Rabi Akiva, Ben Azai, Ben Zoma, and Elisha Ben Avuyah uttered the Shem HaMeforash and rose up to shamayim.  Ben Azai gazed and died, Ben Zoma gazed and lost his mind, Elisha gazed and became the rasha known as Acher. Rabi Akiva entered bishalom and went out bishalom.  Rashi comments that they gazed at the Shechina. The posuk states “Ki lo yirani adam vachai.”  One may not gaze upon Hashem and live.


It seems that Rabi Akiva did not look at the Shechina, and so, he lived. What, then, did he look at? What was his reason for entering the Pardes?

The Rambam explains that they entered the Pardes of the hidden Torah.


What kind of Torah has the power to end someone’s life?


We can gain a limited understanding by delving in to the meanings behind the names of our Creator.


The name Elokim is the one that describes the process of creation, as the posuk says, Breishis bara Elokim. Hashem created a natural world. A world that appears independent. A world that various powers are contained within.  And Elokim is the master of all those powers, even if it might appear otherwise. The numerical equivalent of the name Elokim is 86 which is the same as the word Hateva.

 

G-d created a new type of reality that He and others can co-exist.


The name known as the Shem Havaya is beyond us. That is why we are not given the right to pronounce it the way it is spelled. It is the name affiliated with the suspension of nature, when Hashem performs open miracles in the world. The name of Havaya represents the existence of G-d to the exclusion of all else. This is incomprehensible to us. How can we, thinking, breathing creatures, understand our own non-existence?

In Parshas Yisro the Bnei Yisroel  are warned against crossing the boundary and rising up to view Hashem. The name used in that posuk is the name of Havaya. (Perek 19, Posuk 24).

 

Nadav and Avihu gazed upon the vision of Elokim.


Answers


At the time of the giving of the Torah, Hashem revealed the hidden connection between the spiritual world and the physical one. He placed on display the secret of creation, the connection between the soul and body of creation. The physical earth without its connection to shamayim is but a dead husk. The spiritual nourishment which reaches the earth from the heavens is what maintains its existence as a living thriving entity.


Nadav and Avihu strove to understand this connection. They immersed themselves in the divrei Torah that Hashem was sharing with the world that contained the secret of the life of the universe. And they recognized their limits. They gazed at only what they had to right to gaze at.


The divrei Torah that preceded creation are off limits. They are the divrei Torah of the non-existence of the world. One who enters into the waters of these divrei Torah, is immersing himself in his own non-existence and therefore he ceases to exist. He dies.


Rabi Akiva acted as Nadav and Avihu did, He restrained himself. The others weren’t as fortunate. They failed to hold themselves back and they entered the area of the King’s place that was off limits. The area that nothing else but G-d may exist.


This vision actually nourished them, as food nourishes the body. They literally consumed the illuminations. (This is a direct parallel to Moshe Rabeinu. He also subsisted on divrei Torah during the forty days he was upon Har Sinai). One on such a lofty level has no need of physical food. He can be sustained by the life emanating from shamayim directly.


The parshah is introduced to us through the metaphor of eating.  As the posuk states, “Vi’eileh hamishpatim asher tasim lifneichem.” The words of the Torah are to set before the Jewish people as one would present a fine banquet (shulchan aruch). The table should be set, and the guests treated with fine tasty cuisine.


So too, it does not suffice to teach the laws of Torah by repetition and by rote. The taste, meaning the understanding of the secrets behind the words of the Torah, must be imparted as well.


Epilogue


Tragically, Nadav and Avuhu died on the day the Mishkan was dedicated. They entered the Kodesh Hakodashim improperly. And the posuk states, “Bikorvasam lifnei Hashem vayamusu.” The name used in that posuk is the name of Havayah. At that time they felt themselves worthy of acting as Ben Azai, Ben Zoma, and Elisha did and surviving the encounter.

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