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G-d's Wrath

Rav Pesach Siegel

Parshat Shemini

Mar 25, 2011

Parshas Shemini 5771

 The work on the Mishkan had been completed. During the last seven days of the month of Adar, Moshe Rabeinu acted in the position of the Kohen Gadol.1 On the eighth day, the first of the month of Nisan, Moshe Rabeinu summoned Aharon, his sons, and the elders.  He told Aharon, “Take for yourself a calf as a sin offering for your part in the sin of the Golden Calf. Today, G-d will reveal his presence before you.”  Aharon HaKohen and his sons performed the service of the korbanos. They arrayed the korbanos upon the mizbe’ach. Aharon raised his hands and blessed the people. The glory of G-d’s presence was revealed to the people.

A heavenly fire descended upon the mizbe’ach and consumed the sacrifices. The nation cried out in joy and fell on their faces.2

Moshe Rabeinu said, “When Hashem revealed His presence to me out of the burning bush, he called upon me to deliver the Jewish people out of the land of Egypt. For seven days I resisted His call. It is due to this resistance that I only merited to serve for seven days. Had I not done so, my position in the Mishkan would be one of permanence.3  Even during the seven days that I served, my avoda was not the cause of the revelation of the presence of the Shechinah. It was only through Aharon that G-d’s presence was revealed.”4

In the Parsha of Shemos, Hashem says to Moshe, “And now, go, I will send you to Pharaoh, and take my nation, the Bnei Yisroel, out of Mitzrayim.” Moshe responds, “Who am I that I should have dealings with kings, who am I that I could possibly lead the great Children of Israel?”5  Hashem answers, “You will act as My emissary. You represent Me.”  Moshe continues, “They won’t believe that you appeared to me.” Hashem replies by providing Moshe with two signs. “They will believe you.”  “I am not a man of words,” says Moshe. Hashem asks Moshe, “Who created the mouth of Adam HaRishon?6  I will speak through your mouth.” Moshe, then, asks G-d to send someone else in his stead.

The posuk says, Vayichar af Hashem BiMoshe (G-d displayed anger towards Moshe). Hashem informs Moshe of the coming of his brother Aharon. He tells Moshe, you will tell Aharon what to say when you stand before Pharaoh. Aharon will relay your words to him. He will be for you as a mouthpiece; you will be to him as an angel.7

The dialogue took place over seven days; therefore, Moshe Rabeinu served in the Mishkan only seven days.


 It appears as if Moshe Rabeinu is being punished for his resisting of G-d’s mission. Why then, is his punishment to serve only seven days in return for his “sin” of resisting for seven days? The punishment is not the seven days that he actually served. It is all the days that he would have served, and due to his sin, are lost to him.

 The Ramban reveals the source of Moshe’s refusal. It was his unparalleled modesty. There was none as modest as he. All others were more worthy in his eyes. He couldn’t envision seeing himself addressing a king and saying, “G-d sent me,” or in the role of a ruler over the Bnei Yisroel.8

 Why should this anger G-d?

 If it is G-d’s will that Moshe should be the one, how can Moshe Rabeinu possibly refuse? Even if he sees it otherwise, due to his infinite modesty, G-d’s wish is for him to be his messenger.

 Moshe Rabeinu performed the service in the Mishkan for seven days, and yet, the Shechinah was revealed on the eighth day, due to Aharon’s avoda. Was Moshe Rabeinu’s avoda done in vain?

 Background/Deeper Understanding

 The exodus from the Land of Egypt is not to be viewed as a mere “slice” among human events. It is the very root of tikun ha’olam. From the time of the sin of Adam HaRishon in Gan Eden, man has fallen from the image of G-d that he was formed in. The slavery in Egypt was a crucible of fire. It was the descent and ultimate emergence that would free the chosen people from its impurities. The giving of the Torah was the final event in a series to bring the world to a perfect state, culminating in the final deliverance from the confines of this world, and entrance into the World to Come.9

 Moshe was chosen to be the one, the one who would effect the colossal change in the world, and bring it back from the depths of evil and depravity.

 Moshe saw himself as woefully inadequate for this task. He was aware of his own modesty. His modesty was due to the perfect state of his human body.10  Haughtiness derives from one who views himself as an independent entity. This view is reinforced by the makeup of the human body. It appears to be independent and self sufficient on the surface.

 How could he stand before Pharaoh and utter the word “I”. There is no “I” as far as Moshe is concerned. He doesn’t exist as an independent entity. He can’t be a figure who rules over others, because he “isn’t”. He can’t express himself, via human speech, in the language of those who don’t understand his manner of thought.

 How can he be the one to return the world back to the point from whence it strayed? Straying is foreign to him. He sees himself as a total extension of G-d’s will. Is it possible to stray from one’s heart? From one’s brain? How could one stray from G-d?

 The Targum Yonasan explains that Moshe Rabeinu was not arguing with G-d or disagreeing with him. He was begging G-d to have mercy and send someone else.11  He beseeched G-d to send Eliyahu HaNavi in his stead. Eliyahu is Pinchos, the descendant of Aharon HaKohen, Yosef HaTzadik, and Yisro the convert. Eliyahu is the one who will prepare the world for the coming of Mashiach Tzidkeinu. He is uniquely qualified to bring back even the lowest elements of Klal Yisroel and elevating them to the heights. Moshe Rabeinu is the ultimate shepherd. His concern extends even to the unreachable.

 Hashem grants Moshe’s plea. The grandfather of Eliyahu Hanavi, Aharon HaKohen will join him in redeeming the Jews of Mitzrayim, just as Eliyahu will redeem the Bnei Yisroel in the times of Mashiach.

 Rav Avraham Ibn Ezra states that this is not a lessening of Moshe Rabeinu’s stature. Moshe Rabeinu is likened to an angel.  An angel has no body. He is like the disembodied voice that requires the body of a mouth in order to be heard. Aharon would be Moshe’s body, Moshe’s mouth.12

 The Ibn Ezra continues.

 When the Torah uses the term “Vayichar af”, it generally refers to Hashem’s display of anger. A death or calamity usually follows as a result. This is not always the case. He quotes as an example the charon af displayed towards Aharon and Miriam. Miriam told Aharon of the separation of Moshe from his wife. The posuk states, “Vayichar af Hashem bam vayelach.”13 (And G-d displayed anger towards them and departed). The anger was directed towards both Aharon and Miriam, and yet we find, Aharon emerged unscathed from the encounter. Only Miriam was punished with the onset of leprosy.

 (Universally, the Targum translates the phrase vayichar af as “potent anger.” The case of Aharon and Miriam is the one exception. He translates vayichar af as “The glory of the Shechina departed from them.”)

 The word af does not literally mean anger. It means “nose.” The nose is the part through which life enters the body.14  The “nose” of Hashem is the way Hashem instills life into creation. The term vayichar af denotes a change in which Hashem channels life throughout creation. It usually describes a display of anger. One distributes benevolence in a different manner when one is in a state of anger. But the same term can indicate something totally different. It can refer to a siluk haShechina (a reduction in the revealed presence of Hashem).


 In truth, Hashem was not angry with Moshe Rabeinu for his refusal to embark upon His mission, nor did he punish him (although it certainly appeared that way). There are two manners with which the world can be redeemed; through Moshe Rabeinu alone or through a combination of Moshe and Aharon. It was due to Moshe Rabeinu’s heartfelt prayers and his trait of modesty that Hashem chose to bring abut the salvation of the world through Moshe aided by an extension of himself, Aharon, who would be successful in attracting the world to the word of Moshe. This way, all would have the chance to return, instead of the select few.

 Moshe did not refuse. He begged to be joined by another. And G-d acceded to his request. By doing so, he altered the way G-d interacts with the world. The world is not to be an unforgiving one, where one must always perform G-d’s will in the right manner, each and every time. It is to be one where G-d enables one to make mistakes and learn from them, eventually working one’s way back to Him. This is the meaning of the words vayichar af, pertaining to Moshe. Hashem reacted in a manner that appeared to be a display of anger, but in reality it was a change in the way G-d relates to the world.

 The same understanding can be applied to the inauguration of the Mishkan. Moshe Rabeinu was not punished in any form. His service in the Mishkan was limited to the first seven days. This is due to the seven-day process that he underwent while speaking to G-d of his mission in the world. The dialogue at the burning bush culminated in the synthesis between Moshe and Aharon. The Chanukas HaMishkan paralleled that process.

 Moshe Rabeinu performed the avoda on his level. It is a level unattainable by any one of the Bnei Yisroel. This avoda prepares the Mishkan for the avoda of Aharon. Aharon’s service is initiated with a korban of teshuva. This is not mere convenience or coincidence. So, it must be. Aharon is connected to Moshe, the paradigm of perfection, and Aharon himself is capable of straying and returning. Through Aharon, all the Bnei Yisroel from the greatest to the lowest have access to the level of perfection that Moshe attained. 

 And then …. The Shechina descended.

1 VaYikra Rabba, 11:6

2 Parshas Shemini, Perek 9

3 Baal HaTurim, Perek 9, Posuk 1

4 Eitz Yosef on VaYikra Rabba 11:6

5 Kli Yakar, Parshas Shemos, Perek 3, Posuk 11

6 Targum Yonasan, Parshas Shemos, Perek 4, Posuk 11

7 Parshas Shemos, Perek 4, Posuk 16

8 Parshas Shemos, Perek 4, Posuk 13

9 Ramban, Introduction to Sefer Shemos

10 Gevuras Hashem, Perek 17

11 Parshas Shemos, Perek 4, Posuk 13

12 Parshas Shemos, Perek 4, Posuk 14

13 BaMidbar, Perek 12, Posuk 9

14 Breishis, Perek 2, Posuk 7

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