Pearls of Rashi – Parshas Shemini

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This week we read the Torah portion of Shemini. In last week’s Parshah we read of the seven days of preparing the Mishkan. Moshe would assemble it each day. This week we finally arrive at the point where the portable sanctuary would be ready for use; it would be used each day throughout the Jews’ sojourn in the wilderness.

The Torah tells us that Aharon’s oldest sons, Nodov and Avihu, participated in this occasion. They offered Ketores – Incense. “… each took his pan, put fire in them. They placed incense upon it, and they brought before Hashem foreign fire, which He had not commanded them.[1]” The result of this was tragic, as the Torah immediately exclaims[2], “fire went forth from before the Lord and consumed them, and they died before Hashem.”

Why did they receive such a severe punishment? Rashi cites two opinions of our Sages; Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Yishmoel. “Rabbi Eliezer says that Aharon’s sons died only because they rendered a halachic decision before Moshe, their teacher. Rabbi Yishmoel says that (the reason they died was because) they had entered the sanctuary after having drunk wine.”

What does this mean to us; what lesson can we learn from this? None of us can even remotely approach the exalted level of Nodov and Avihu. Nevertheless, “they died only because they rendered a halachic decision in the presence of Moshe their teacher.” No matter how great one thinks he is, he must always humble himself before his teacher. No one may declare himself a rabbi, and think that he has no reason to wait for someone else’s ruling. That was the sole reason that Aharon’s sons died; “they died only because they rendered a halachic decision in the presence of Moshe their teacher.” Doing so pushes away the Shechinah.

However, humility alone does not suffice. One must strive to grasp everything he learns to the best of his ability. As Rabbi Yishmoel said, the problem was that “they entered the sanctuary after having drunk wine.”  Wine is the spiritual idea of Binah, meaning understanding. Having drunk wine means that one is at one with his understanding. That’s the manner in which we must learn. However, when we “enter the sanctuary,” when we are involved in prayer, it must totally be with the greatest humility.

The Sages teach us that “we learn the laws of Pesach thirty days before the holiday.” For Pesach, we must remove and destroy all of our Chometz – leaven. Rising symbolizes the concept of haughtiness. We now find ourselves within those thirty days. May we succeed in removing all of the Chometz from within ourselves.

I wish one and all a happy Pesach and good Shabbos!

Rabbi Shmuel Mendelsohn

Adapted from Likkutei Sichos Volume 12, Pages 49-56

מוקדש לזכות כ”ק אדמו”ר נשיא דורנו מליובאוויטש

חיילי “צבאות השם” חיים ועדן עודד שיחיו מאריס
נדפס ע”י הוריהם
הרה”ת ר’ מנחם מענדל
וזוגתו מרת חי’ מושקא שיחיו מאריס


[1]. Our Parshah, Vayikroh 10:1.

[2]. Our Parshah, Vayikroh 10:2.

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