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The Sins of his Sons

Rabbi Pesach Siegel

Parshat Acharei Mos

Apr 26, 2010

This week's Parsha, according to Rashi, is really a continuation of Parshas Shemini with regards to the death of Aharon's sons. Rashi explains that Hashem is reinforcing his warning to Aharon to not follow in their footsteps. Rashi uses an analogy of a patient receiving a second doctor's opinion which matches the first doctor's prognosis, strengthening the first prognosis by sharing with him the story of a patient who passed away because he didn't follow the doctor's instructions. So too here, Hashem is merely strengthening his first warning by warning Aharon a second time.


The Medrash records numerous transgressions committed by Nadav and Avihu (Aharon's children). Nadav and Avihu did not marry, they did not procreate, they delivered conclusions on halachic cases in front of Aharon and Moshe (it is prohibited for one to deliver conclusions in halachic cases in front of one's Rebbi), and they were recorded having said "When will these sages (Moshe and Aharon) die?" However, according to Rashi's explanation of why Parshas Acharei Mos and Shemini are connected, there is a big difficulty. How could it be that Hashem was reinforcing His admonishment toward Aharon about Nadav and Avihu's transgressions if Aharon couldn't possibly commit the transgressions that they committed? Aharon was already married, he had children, and there wasn't any Rebbi for him to judge in front of improperly due to the fact that he was one of the chief Rabbis of Bnei Yisroel; he was the Cohen Gadol! Moreover, none of the transgressions mentioned by the medrashim are explicitly mentioned in the Torah. In fact, the Torah simply sates that Nadav and Avihu brought an "Eish Zara" (a strange fire). What is meant by this "strange fire" brought by Nadav and Avihu that warranted their death? In addition, Aharon is instructed in the service of Yom Kippur. In this manner he would avoid untimely death. By doing so, how is he avoiding the pitfall of imitating the behavior of his sons?


The Slonimer Rebbe quotes the Kli Yakar who brings down a posuk (perek 28 posuk 1) in Parshat Tetzaveh, "Now you (Moshe) bring near to yourself Aaron your brother, and his sons with him, from among the children of Israel." The question asked here is why is it necessary for the Torah to teach us that Aharon was being brought close to Hashem from the midst of Bnei Yisroel? The Slonimer Rebbe answers that the sole cause for Aharon's closer connection with Hashem is because he was representing Bnei Yisroel as a whole. If it wasn't for Bnei Yisroel's collective effort to become close to Hashem, Aharon would not have been able to attain the status that he achieved. For the above reason, the Kohen Gadol is only permitted to enter the Kodesh Hakodashim once a year. It is brought down that on Yom Kippur all of Bnei Yisroel are considered to have attained the spiritual status of Mal'achim (angels). The Kodesh Hakodashim is the most spiritual aspect of the Mishkan. Neither time nor space exists within its perimeters and therefore anything that is bound by these physical limitations (i.e. a human) cannot possibly exist within its walls. Consequently, the Kohen Gadol is only permitted to enter on Yom Kippur because when he enters the Kodesh Hakodashim, it is as if all of Bnei Yisroel are along beside him. Being that Bnei Yisroel were like Mal'achim on Yom Kippur, this allows the Kohen Gadol to exist within the Kodesh Hakedashim because he embodies Bnei Yisroel thus acquiring the status of a Malach.

The sefer Tiferes Shlomo refers to the mussaf in the Yom Kippur davening and points out the phrase "And the Kohanim and the people were standing in the courtyard… " The Tiferes Shlomo asks why the word courtyard in Hebrew is "Azarah"? The root word in the word "Azarah" is "Ezer" which means "to assist". This brings a whole new meaning to the phrase "And the Kohanim ..." The Bnei Yisroel were actually assisting by davening for the success of the Kohen Gadol for the Kohen Gadol is an exemplification of themselves.

The sefer Bris Menucha tells us that when the Kohen Gadol entered the Kodesh HaKodashim, he saw the letters of Hashem's name over the Holy Ark. If they were burning brightly, with an illuminating white light, all was well. If the letters were red in color, it was a sign that a harsh decree hovered over the Bnei Yisroel. He shook a string that led out to the courtyard as a sign to those assembled that they should intensify their prayers. If, due to the increased prayers, the color of the letters changed to bright light, he would ring a bell to acknowledge that all was well.

It is hard to fathom the level of humility achieved by the Kohen Gadol. The Kohen Gadol realized that his whole purpose was to reflect Bnei Yisroel and their status with regards to their Kedusha. In essence, the Kohen Gadol acknowledged that he himself had no individual identity and this is truly a humbling experience. From this we learn that someone who truly sees himself as an independent not having to answer to a higher authority is a dangerous force to be reckoned with. Even great and emanate people need to Mevatel (mitigate) themselves to a higher authority or they will feel as if they have no restriction, an obvious folly. Aharon epitomized the ultimate level of Hisbatlus (self negation) which is why he was anointed as the Kohen Gadol.


Now we can understand the severity of Nadav and Avihu's sins. By choosing to not get married and have children, Nadav and Avihu were choosing to exclude themselves from Klal Yisroel (as discussed in further depth in last week's parsha) by contributing to its continuity. In addition, Nadav and Avihu also chose to exclude themselves from their Rebbeim by judging cases in the presence of Moshe and Aharon as well as asking when they will die, a clear indication that they felt indifferent about their Rebbeim. As a result of their decision to alienate themselves from Bnei Yisroel to attain a closer relationship with Hashem, they entered the Mishkan with their own fire and not the fire brought by the Kohen Gadol which represented the fire of all of Klal Yisroel. Consequently, the fire they brought was called an Eish Zara. The word Zar in English means stranger; Nadav and Avihu estranged themselves from the rest of Klal Yisroel and this is something far from laudable resulting in their death. Nadav and Avihu's sins: 1) They were not married 2) They had no children 3) They rendered P'sak Din in front of higher authority (Moshe and Aharon) 4) They were interested in the timing of Moshe and Aharon's death.

The posuk states "bikorvasam lifnei Hashem vayamusu" - The came close before Hashem and they died. They died due to their greatness. Our sages tell us, quoting Moshe Rabeinu, that they were even deemed greater than Moshe and Aharon. They sought a solitary relationship with Hakodesh Baruch Hu, and indeed, they attained a level that they were worthy of such a relationship. But this is not the will of Hashem. Hashem seeks a bond with Klal Yisroel as a whole.

So in this week's parsha, Hashem is warning Aharon that although Aharon was at the level to enter the Kodesh Hakedashim at all times (he was at the level of a Malach every day unlike Bnei Yisroel which were only like Melachim on Yom Kippur), he should refrain from separating himself from the rest of Bnei Yisroel (unlike his sons) and not create his own, closer relationship with Hashem. This is why the laws of entering the Kodesh Hakedashim only once a year follow directly after Hashem reminded Aharon of the sins of his sons: to inform Aharon that he is to enter the Kodesh Hakedashim with all of Bnei Yisroel (not alone as did his sons) and that can only be done on Yom Kippur.

Good Shabbos!

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