Your Are What You Eight
By Rabbi Pinchas Winston
This week is the last of the four parshios for this time of year, Parashas
HaChodesh, which always comes in advance of the new month of Nissan. It was
in advance of Rosh Chodesh Nissan that G-d, 3,312 years ago and in Egypt,
handed over the responsibility of keeping track of the years into the hands
of the Jewish people:
G-d spoke to Moshe and Aharon in the land of Egypt, saying, "This month
will be for you (le-chem) the head of the months -- the first for you of
the months of the year." (Shemos 12:1)
As we have spoken about before (and in "Redemption to Redemption"), the
moon symbolizes the Jewish people and their mission on earth, and
therefore, the reason for their redemption from Egyptian oppression. For,
just as the moon reflects the light of the sun to the earth and reduces its
darkness, so, too, were the Jewish people redeemed to reflect the light of
G-d, that is the light of Torah, to mankind.
In addition, since the word "le-chem" (lamed-chof-mem) in the above posuk
has the same letters as the word "melech" (i.e., king -- mem, lamed, chof),
Nissan is treated as a "king," deserving of more honor than the rest of the
months. Lest we forget, it IS the month within which Pesach itself falls,
and therefore, the month of redemption -- past, present, and future,
b'ezras Hashem Yisborach.
As well, it was in the month of Nissan that the Mishkan - the EIGHTH DAY of
the Inauguration Ceremony -- was finally erected and put into full service,
in honor of Yitzchak Avinu who was born in this month. Furthermore, the
Talmud adds, Nissan is the month during which the world was created, at
least according to Rebi Yehoshua, and, according to Kabbalah, this refers
to the original emanation of light with which all of creation resulted.
This month has three names: First Month, Month of Spring, and Nissan - the
first originating in the Torah, and the latter, from Babylonia. However,
Nissan is related to the word "nitzan" which means "bud," for this is the
season of re-birth, when trees begin to bud. Hence, it is the time of year
that we make a special blessing on newly-budding fruit trees. Every
twenty-eight years, the sun is said to be at full-strength in this month,
precipitating a special blessing said at this time.
Interestingly enough, the Hebrew word "Nissan" (nun-yud-samech-nun) has
within it the word "neis," which means "miracle"; Nissan is certainly a
month of miracles. The gematria of "neis" is 110 (nun-samech), the age to
which both Yehoshua bin Nun and Yosef HaTzaddik -- his ancestor -- lived,
both for which, the Arizal points out, miracles happened and through whom
The remaining two letters of the word (yud-nun) total 60, represented by
the letter "samech" in the Aleph-Bais, which, according to Kabbalah,
symbolizes man's need to rely upon ("somech") G-d for redemption, be it
personal or national redemption. This is the source of true trust and faith
As well, the word "Nissan" has in it the letters yud-samech, "sandwiched"
between two nuns: yud-samech total the number seventy, the number of
redemption as we learn from Purim, and the "nuns" allude to the "Nun
Sha'arei Binah" - the "Fifty Gates of Understanding." As mentioned before,
"Mitzrayim" is "meitzer yumm" - the constriction (meitzer) of "yumm"
(yud-mem) which equals fifty, and therefore, Nissan is the month during
which we overcame all opposition to the Fifty Gates, thereby achieving
spiritual freedom and then physical freedom.
So, no matter how you look at it, there is plenty of reason to pay
attention to the month of Nissan, and to prepare for it on the Shabbos just
before its Rosh Chodesh.
Nadav and Avihu, sons of Aharon, took their incense pans and put fire and
incense in them, and offered an unauthorized fire before G-d, which He did
not command them to do. A fire went out from before G-d and burned them up,
and they died before G-d. (Vayikra 10:1-2)
This parshah begins with the account of the installation of Aharon and his
sons into the Mishkan-service on the EIGHTH DAY of the Inauguration
Ceremony. It ends off with a listing of animals that are kosher to eat, and
those which are not kosher for a Jew to eat. In the middle, is the tragic
account of the death of Nadav and Avihu, two of the fours sons of Aharon
It seems like an open-and-shut case as to the sin committed by Nadav and
Avihu to warrant such a terrible ending to their short lives: an
"unauthorized" fire. The service of G-d is not a free-for-all, and,
although it is a person's heart that G-d ultimately desires, still, there
are guidelines to the service of G-d. It is not just passion that G-d
wants, but, channeled passion; otherwise, such "fire" becomes
However, the Talmud says that there was another source of error that
resulted in their early deaths:
Rebi Eliezer said: The sons of Aharon only died because they decided a law
before Moshe, their teacher. What did they elucidate? "The sons of Aharon
the priest put fire on the altar" (Vayikra 1:7), reasoning that even though
fire came down from Heaven [to ignite the altar], still, there was a
mitzvah for a simple person to bring fire as well. (Eiruvin 63a)
And, so they did, without first consulting with Moshe Rabbeinu, and, as a
result, they became culpable to a death penalty to be carried out by Heaven
itself. The Talmud then launches into a discussion at what point it is
permissible to decide a legal matter while one's teacher is still living.
Some of the greatest rabbis would not teach anything they didn't hear from
their rebi, even after the teacher had died!
It begs the question: Is the system of transmission just a vehicle to
transmit Torah law from generation to generation, or, is it something more
If we analyze the fractured Jewish world today, we will see that, at the
heart of the matter are two issues. First of all, did G-d speak to the
Jewish people at Mt. Sinai and give the Torah, and, secondly, if He did
speak, is what we have today what He revealed then?
The truth is, yetzer hara aside, the questions don't make much of a
difference. Just for the sake of cautiousness, a Jew ought to live by
Torah, just in case it is true, and just in cases there IS a World-to-Come.
However, the yetzer hara is no truth-seeker, but a fun-seeker, and
therefore, it needs to dispute the conscience on these two very points.
Actually, the answer to the first question is embedded in the answer to the
second question: look at the emphasis on mesorah (tradition) in the Torah,
and in the halachic world. One need only visit an existing Orthodox study
hall, and witness first hand the emphasis on accuracy of learning; even
more so, a poseik (halachic-decisor) who is rendering new law for future
generations of G-d-fearing Jews.
True, we are in doubt about many issues today, the result of continuous
persecution and other negative spiritual forces, and we have often become
stringent as a result. However, what we know we know that we know, and
record it accordingly. Furthermore, if one traces the transmission of Torah
law throughout the past ages, one can see an amazing thread of
Torah-consciousness flowing all the way back to Mt. Sinai.
This is why Nadav and Avihu had to be killed for their severance of the
process of Oral Transmission. Yes, their elucidation was brilliant, and
yes, they acted with sincerity and a desire to express their love for G-d.
However, what was being offered on the altar that day was the very process
by which we know HOW to serve G-d correctly, which is above human genius
If one establishes that the transmission of the Oral Law, by definition,
has to be continuous, then, within that transmission is the story of G-d
coming down over Mt. Sinai and giving His Torah to the Jewish people below.
Such an accurate transmission moves the Sinai-event from the category of
legend to that of historical fact - for the truth-seeker willing to take
the time and make the effort to understand the nature of the transmission
of Torah throughout the three millennia.
And he was angry at Elazar and Itamar, the remaining sons of Aharon.
(For Aharon's honor, he turned his face to the sons and became angry." (Rashi)
In other words, Moshe was angry at Aharon for not carrying out the
procedure for the Sin-Offering as prescribed by G-d, but, to avoid
disgracing Aharon the High Priest, Moshe turned to his sons of lesser
stature and vented his thoughts. This was not just an act of favoritism,
but rather, an act of self-control, and lesson about anger in general.
Anger is one of those traits that leaves us eating its dust. Usually, the
person who gets angry is unprepared for the antagonism, and responds so
swiftly to the situation that, by the time he stops to analyze his angry
response, the damage is done and complete. This is why some people who know
their tempers try to condition themselves to count to ten before getting
angry; it is that split moment between angry situation and angry response
that provides enough clarity to remain calm, or, at least calmer.
When it comes to anger, one moment can represent so much self-control.
People who react immediately to situations with a fit of anger are said to
be "short-fused," that is, ready to "go off" at a moments notice. Such
people usually spend a lot of time regretting their reactions once they
come down, especially when it leads to the breakdown in relationships in
extreme situations. Achashveros had Vashti killed because of a fit of anger
resulting from her disobedience.
The fact that Moshe was able to direct and channel his anger in the
direction of his nephews, when really his question was being posed to his
brother, reveals that Moshe acted with self-control. But, one could ask,
why get angry at all? That much self-control Moshe didn't have?
No - the anger was necessary, at least from Heaven's point of view, even
though Moshe had to agree in the end that Aharon and his sons had acted
correctly (10:20). What made ANY anger necessary? Because, at such an early
stage in history, changes occurred to the procedure for serving G-d, this
time, as a result of the Nadav's and Avihu's deaths. All of sudden, Aharon
and his sons had become mourners, and that changed their status regarding
the eating of the sacrifices.
Any change in procedure, be it within the Temple, or just in everyday
ordinary life, represents an opening for more change, and not always in the
right direction. However, sometimes life creates situations that force
compromise which are even sanctioned by halachah -- for that given
situation at that given moment. However, to apply the same law in a normal,
non-stressful situation not only may not be sanctioned by Jewish law, but,
it may even be considered "destructive" to tradition.
When veering from the norm when it comes to halachah, even for halachic
reasons, one must be careful to take note of the change, and to appreciate
that it is a temporary response to a temporary situation. Onlookers too
must be made aware of the correct halachah, so as to not confuse people who
lack the knowledge to know what is truly happening.
Hence Moshe's anger. No one had any doubts about the seriousness of the
situation, BECAUSE Moshe expressed such concern. And, the fact that he was
able to direct his anger away from Aharon shows that he acted with
forethought. This, too, is expressed in the way that he immediately
accepted their answer, and felt no need to "cover up" for his reaction.
G-d of vengeance, Hashem, G-d of vengeance, appear! Arise, Judge of the
earth, and repay the arrogant. How long shall the evil - G-d - how long
shall the evil exult? (Tehillim 94:1-3)
The fourth day of the week in creation was the day that G-d put the
celestial bodies in their proper Heavenly locations - the sun, the moon,
and the stars. It is with these luminary bodies that we tell time and
location, which certainly represents a significant cosmic advancement for
With the Shir Shel Yom of Wednesday, we already look ahead to the upcoming
Shabbos. From Tuesday to Wednesday represents a transition from the
influence of the previous Shabbos over the upcoming days of the new week to
the influence of the upcoming Shabbos over latter part of the previous
week. Hence, this Shir Shel Yom actually spans all of Tehillah 94, and the
first three possukim of Tehillah 95, which are the beginning of Kabbalos
Shabbos every Friday night.
The Talmud's (Rosh Hashanah 31a) explanation for why this tehillah was
chosen for Day Four is because: the worship of celestial bodies was one of
the main forms of idol worship; Day Four was the day they were placed in
their orbits; this tehillah, the fifth of the eleven composed by Moshe
Rabbeinu, speaks of Divine judgment of such worshippers. According to the
Radak, Moshe composed this tehillah specifically to speed up that day of
Judgment, and therefore, the final day of redemption.
This would also explain why Moshe dedicated this psalm to the tribe of Gad,
from whom, according to some sources, Eliyahu the prophet descended.
Eliyahu has been designated to herald the coming of Moshiach, who will
precipitate a period of history during which G-d will take vengeance
against the proud and oppressive nations.
They speak freely (atak) and utter malicious lies (4)
Sounds like today, when you consider who "they" might be, and about whom
they speak falsely. The "whom," according to tradition, is G-d and those
who uphold Torah. The "they," therefore, are any of those who speak
"freely" derogatorily about G-d, Torah, and those who uphold Torah. The
more "they" speak against, the more they are from the "they," though all
THEY claim to want is to sever connections to the "ancient past" - one of
the names of G-d ("Atik") -- and "modernize" the Jewish people.
They glorify themselves
And, they are not only NOT embarrassed to speak thusly, they are even
emboldened to do so, and see such anti-Torah sentiments as path toward
Your nation, G-d, they crush, and afflict Your heritage. The widow and
the stranger they slay, and the orphans they murder (5 - 6)
If only they knew - if only they believed. "You think you only attack
people like yourselves," Moshe warns, "different from you only in belief?
You attack G-d's people!" And, the first stage of downfall for anyone -
non-Jewish OR Jewish is to take on G-d's people head on.
Not only that, warns Moshe, but, when you attack the "body" of the Torah
world, you are also attacking widows and orphans. For, it is the Torah
world that takes upon itself the survival of widows and orphans, and having
to fight a philosophical battle on one front weakens the Torah world's
ability to fight a survival war on behalf of the needy on another front.
And they say, "Yud-Heh will not see, nor will the G-d of Ya'akov
Do they actually SAY this? Not necessarily with words, but certainly with
actions, for they act without fear of Divine retribution, and with a sense
that they are invincible in their steps against Torah tradition. It is
important to note that Moshe does not use the full name of G-d here, but,
the two letters as found in the end of Parashas Beshallach, where G-d vows
to be at war with Amalek throughout all the generations -- until Amalek is
Amalek, as we have mentioned on so many occasions, is equal to the Hebrew
word for "doubt" ("sufek") in gematria (240).
Understand boors among the nation! (8)
When will you finally understand that G-d is alive, and well, and aware of
every thought, word, and deed - and keeping count of the mitzvos and
And you fools - when will you become wizened?
The word used here is "taskilu," from the word "seichel." In other words,
smart you may be, and really quite intelligent, but, still you do not use
your seichel, your mind's eye, the one that sees past the "hester panim"
(hiding of G-d's face). When will you use your seichel? You can't prove
Torah ISN'T true, and there is so much reason to believe that is; seichel
dictates that you don't throw caution to the wind, but instead, err on the
side of caution. After all:
He Who implants the ear, He won't hear? He Who creates the eye, shall He
not see? He Who chastises peoples, will He not rebuke?(9 - 10)
It is never a question of "if" - only a question of "when"?
For G-d will not throw off His nation, nor abandon His heritage. Justice
shall revert to righteousness, and following it will be all of upright
heart (14 - 15)
That is, says Rashi, the righteous of the nation, after the final process
of purification will be brought together, FINALLY, to receive their reward
for staying with G-d and Torah through it all. For, promises G-d:
"I will remove the impure spirit from the land ..." (Zechariah 13:2), and,
"I will give peace in the land, and you will lie down, and no one will make
you tremble; and I will remove the evil beasts from the land ..." (Vayikra