Holy To G-d
This week's parshah sheet is dedicated in memory of Dov Ber ben Yehudah
Aryeh, z"l, who passed away on the 7th of Nissan. Though he was a simple
man, he lived a remarkable life, and exuded chayn to all those with whom
he came into contact. He was one of the last of his generation, but he has
left an indelible mark on the one of that has followed.
Moshe told Aharon, “That is what G-d told me, that He would be
sanctified through those close to Him, that before all the people He would
be glorified.” (Vayikra 10:3)
Rashi points out back in Parashat Vayakhel (Shemot 38:8), that Moshe had
decided to reject the copper mirrors donated by the women for the sake of
making the wash basin for the Mishkan. Apparently, these were the same
mirrors that the women used back in Egypt to entice their husbands when
they came home each day from back-breaking and will-crushing labor. It was
their hope to multiply the numbers of the Jewish people just as Pharaoh
had sought to reduce them.
It wasn’t that Moshe Rabbeinu thought that anyone had acted in an
inappropriate manner back in Egypt, rather, even if the intentions of the
all the Jews had been for the sake of a mitzvah, nevertheless, the yetzer
hara had also been involved, and whenever the yetzer hara is involved, it
is next to impossible to act totally L’Shem Shamayim (for the sake of
G-d set the record straight as only G-d could do, for only He knows what
goes on in the hearts of man. Moshe Rabbeinu could assume that everyone
had acted for holy reasons, but unable to read every corner of the hearts
of his people, he had to act stringently since there was no room for even
a little impurity when it came to the Mishkan and its implements. So G-d
told him, “Not to worry, Moshe. These mirrors are not only acceptable to
Me, they matter more to Me than anything else that was received to build
In fact, though the head plate of the Kohen Gadol said, “Holy to G-d”, a
directive not just to the Kohen Gadol, but to every Jew, the mirrors
themselves were already holy. They represented the very goal of every Jew,
to use the world in a way that is totally in consonance with the will of G-
d, in a way that helps Creation come closer to its ultimate goal of
perfection, and to understand why we need only to turn to another episode
in Jewish history, but this time, a much happier one (Moed Katan 9a).
It was the year 2928 from Creation, and a great thing had just happened:
the Jewish people had put the finishing touches on the first and only real
temple to G-d. It was a time for tremendous celebration, for a holy
celebration, since it represented a climax in the accomplishments of
mankind. Shlomo HaMelech spared no cost to guarantee a siyum fitting such
a holy and great occasion.
However, says the Talmud, it happened to be that the time for the
celebration occurred just as the Yemai Norayim, the High Holidays, were
supposed to begin, and Shlomo HaMelech had called for 14 days of
consecutive celebration. The question was, what to do on the 10th of
Tishrei, Yom Kippur: observe it as prescribed in the Torah and take a one-
day break from the celebration, or override it that year and continue on
with the simchah right through Yom Kippur?
The Talmud says that they chose the latter, and in that year, on Yom
Kippur, the entire nation celebrated Yom Kippur by not only eating, but by
feasting, rather than fasting. Later, they started to worry about their
actions being the day that a person is usually cut off from the Jewish
people for eating on it. So, a Heavenly Voice came out and said, “The
entire generation is going to the World-to-Come!’
Impressive? Normally, if we can just guarantee another year after a day of
heavy praying and fasting, we have cause to celebrate. However, the
generation of the Bait HaMikdosh did much better than that, by eating!
They guaranteed themselves their portions in the World-to-Come! What did
they do so right that year that transformed their Yom Kippur of eating
into much more than our Yom Kippur of fasting?
Nadav and Avihu, sons of Aaron, 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. (Vayikra 10:1)
Let’s answer that question by asking another one. Let’s say that you were
allowed to eat on Yom Kippur one year, perhaps for health reasons, but
only just so much. Would you be careful to eat just the right amount, or
would you think to yourself, “Look, if I am already allowed to eat on Yom
Kippur, what difference does it make if I eat a bit more, or a bit better?”
The answer is, that it makes all the difference in this world, and perhaps
the next one as well. For, should you knowingly eat more on Yom Kippur
than you are allowed to eat, the surplus would constitute eating on Yom
Kippur without permission, and the punishment for which is excision. That
is why people who must eat on Yom Kippur actually make a point of using
pre-measured cups to make sure that whatever they eat on Yom Kippur
remains in the category of that which is permissible.
Likewise was it for the people of Shlomo HaMelech’s siyum. The
only “heter” to eat on Yom Kippur that year was for the sake of the Bait
HaMikdosh; any selfish eating on that day was tantamount to eating on Yom
Kippur for the wrong reasons, bringing with it the punishment for doing
so. However, who can be so sincere, especially when it comes to a feast,
even on Yom Kippur, as careful as they tried to be? They doubted
themselves, and therefore worried about the excess eating, that is, any
pleasure they may have derived above and beyond what they enjoyed in
celebration of the completion of the House of G-d.
That is why it took a Heavenly Voice to proclaim otherwise. Not only can
we not read the hearts of others, we can’t even fully read our own hearts,
only G-d can do that. So, G-d told them that year, “Not to worry, My loyal
children! Everyone not only ate for the right reasons on Yom Kippur, your
eating even rectified the world beyond your own lives, for it constituted
a true “achilah sh’b’kedushah” (a eating for holy purposes) and a
rectification of the Aitz HaDa’at Tov v’Rah.
In fact, explains the Pri Tzaddik, that is the whole purpose of Yom Kippur
in the first place. When Adam HaRishon ate from the Aitz HaDa’at without G-
d’s permission, it was an unholy eating. Had he only waited until Shabbat
to eat, which he could have done with G-d’s blessing, explained the
Arizal, his eating would have been totally L’Shem Shamayim, and it would
have completed the rectification of Creation. It would have been the first
act of Yemot HaMoshiach.
However, we know what really happened, and the rest is history, our
history, a history about trying to get back to the level of achilah
sh’b’kedushah. That means partaking and enjoying this world in a totally
unselfish way. It does not mean not enjoying this world, but enjoying it
in a way to which G-d can attach His stamp of approval, as He did to the
eating on Yom Kippur at the siyum of the Bait HaMikdosh, during which the
fear of erring was great enough to make the people of that time eat
completely L’Shem Shamayim.
And what about the mirrors of the Jewish women in Egypt? Given that it was
a time that no one in their right mind would want to bring children into
the world, just to hand them over to Pharaoh to have them killed shortly
after their birth, the only reason to do so would be because that was what
G-d wanted them to do, in spite of the disastrous situation, just as we
did again during Roman times, and later during the Holocaust. Anti-Semites
come and go, but the Jewish people must go on, without a break. Thus, the
actions of the women could only be for Heavenly reasons, making the
mirrors “kodesh L’Hashem” (holy to G-d). This was something Moshe could
not have known, and therefore G-d had to confirm it for him.
Thus, the mirrors represented the very purpose of the Mishkan, and the
complete opposite of the golden calf: an achilah sh’b’kedushah, something
that we must all endeavor to do, but something that only G-d can confirm,
which brings us to the tragic episode of Nadav and Avihu, and their
strange, unauthorized fire.
A fire went out from before G-d and burned them up, and they died
before G-d. (Vayikra 10:2)
Anyone who might have been there at the inauguration of the Mishkan, who
happened to see Nadav and Avihu do that which resulted in their untimely
deaths at the end of the celebration, would have been in awe, at least up
until the bolts came out of the Holy and Holies and burned their souls out
from within them. They would have seen two sons of the Kohen Gadol
passionately run to bring fire to the altar in an effort to devote
themselves to the service of G-d, and would been impressed.
However, once those two sons of one of the greatest men the Jewish people
have ever known were killed by G-d Himself, there was reason to consider
otherwise. However great they were, and they were indeed great,
nevertheless, there was something wrong in what they did, and G-d made
that known. And, it was serious enough to put an abrupt halt to the
inauguration ceremony of the Mishkan. It was an achilah sh’lo b’kedushah,
meaning that it did not fit into the plan of G-d, just like Adam’s eating
from the Aitz HaDa’at Tov v’Rah, which also began with the best of
The Arizal reveals that the death of Nadav and Avihu was also a punishment
for Aharon HaKohen for his involvement in the sin of the golden calf,
which is amazing since everything he did was for all the right reasons.
And he did do everything to try and stop it. Nevertheless, G-d was
prepared to take all four of Aharon’s sons for his “sin”, and He would
have had Moshe Rabbeinu not prayed on his behalf to mitigate the
It is not coincidental that the golden calf represented unbridled passion,
a “strange fire”. Perhaps, just as the gold and silver to build the
Mishkan was meant to be a tikun for the gold and silver that was used to
build the calf, the unbridled passion of Nadav and Avihu was meant as a
tikun for the unbridled passion of those who served the gold calf. Perhaps
it was meant to be an achilah sh’b’kedushah, but that fell short, which
may be acceptable in every day life, but not when it comes to the Mishkan.
It was like when Shimon and Levi took revenge against the people of S’dom
for the violation of Dinah. Being the sons of Ya’akov, we can assume that
they had the best of intentions when they carried out their deed. And, had
Ya’akov not criticized them for it while on his deathbed, we might have
believed that they acted heroically.
However, what Ya’akov revealed, what perhaps even they themselves had
known, that in spite of their drive to implement justice for justice’s
sake, their pure drive to serve Truth was intermingled with their own
personal anger, and when it comes to zealousness on behalf of G-d, there
is no room for error, not even a little bit. It must be completely L’Shem
The Talmud gives us reason to suspect Nadav and Avihu of being less that
perfect in their intentions. First, as Rashi explains at the end of
Parashat Mishpatim, when the Shechinah came down over Mt. Sinai, Nadav and
Avihu looked at that which was forbidden for them to see. Earlier, while
grazing Yitro’s flocks, Moshe came across the burning bush, and he fell on
his face to avoid seeing that which was forbidden to him. And yet, Nadav
and Avihu presumed they could look at the Shechinah.
Furthermore, says the Talmud, when they would walk behind Moshe Rabbeinu
and Aharon HaKohen, their uncle and their own father, they would ask one
another, “When will these two elders pass on so we can lead the nation?”
No matter how one tries to explain these words in line with good
intentions, the bottom line is that someone with the purest of intentions
would never ask such a question. Thus, G-d’s answer to them was, “We will
see who will bury whom!”
You can fool some of the people a lot of the time, and you can fool
yourself some of the time, but you can't fool G-d any of the time.
I am G-d; I called you for righteousness and I will strengthen your
hand; and I formed you, and I made you for a people’s covenant, for a
light to nations. (Yeshayahu 42:6)
We are all actors. Most of us are concerned about how we appear in the
eyes of others, and sometimes even when we think we are being sincere, we
are play-acting a bit. As the head plate of the Kohen Gadol reminded us,
the goal is to get to a point of complete sincerity by doing everything
However, it is much easier said than done, but the important thing to
remember is to try and be as honest with yourself and others as possible.
The other important thing to remember is, that it also depends upon what
you are doing, since there are some places that G-d expects more sincerity
than in others. Obviously the greater a role one plays in leading the
Jewish people, and as a result of which he finds himself more in the
public eye, the greater the need will be for him to be L’Shem Shamayim.
This is why, and very often is the case, the people who are best suited
for roles of leadership are the ones who flee from them, and not because
of laziness, but out of fear of abusing their position in the slightest
way, or out of fear of any honor they might receive as a result of their
prominence. The incredible amount of corruption that is endemic to just
about every government in the world today is the result of the many that
are in office to satisfy some personal agenda, even if they claim to be
there on behalf of the people.
It is incredible how many people are in government for selfish reasons,
and how they hide the fact by claiming to be there for the people. The
incredible part is that the people know this and simply accept it, in
exchange for the chance that their candidate just might help them fulfill
their wishes. Bill Clinton was impeached for his terrible wrongdoings, but
he remained in office and then left it with prominence because the people
who voted him in forgave him on the basis that the economy still served
That is no tikun for the Aitz HaDa’at Tov v’Rah; it is far from an achilah
sh’b’kedushah, not that G-d expects that from anyone who doesn’t even know
that Torah is true, or what an achilah s’b’kedushah even is. However, it
is the job of the Torah Jew to teach his people, and the job of the Jewish
people to teach the world. This is the underlying mission behind the idea
of being a “light unto nations”, to show the world what to be passionate
about, how and why.
Well, the world is a long way from that point, because the Jewish people
are a long way from that point. We’ve lost the Bait HaMikdosh, so we lost
the Kohen Gadol, and therefore, we also lost the Tzitz and its message
of “Kodesh L’Hashem”. As a result, we have lost our way, and the amount of
holiness involved in the pleasure that we get from this world is, in many
cases, dubious. When was the last time you even heard the
expression, “achilah sh’b’kedushah”, if ever at all?
Hence, every year it’s back to flour and water for seven days. Then we
count the omer and work on our Middot, our negative character traits, as
we move in the direction of Kabbalat HaTorah. As the Ba’al HaTurim
said, “Torah is only for those who eat manna”, because the manna was 100
percent pure, there was no waste product whatsoever, the symbol of what
we’re supposed to be like as well.
Like Nadav and Avihu, we are running towards the service of G-d, hopefully
with passion. We extracted the chometz from our bread, symbolic of the
need to do so from ourselves, to purify our passion, so that by the time
we get to Shavuot, there is no longer any trace of any kind
of “unauthorized fire”. Yom Kippur purified the intentions of the people
of Shlomo HaMelech’s generation, and the deadly situation did it to the
Jews in Egypt.
Between Pesach and Shavuot, hard work and sincerity can be enough for us
to do it to ourselves.
Have a great Shabbat,
Text Copyright © 2007 by Rabbi Pinchas Winston and Torah.org.