Can You Hear It
1. Matan Torah; Revelation: When G-d gave the Ten Commandments to the
Jewish People and the moment in history when the they willingly committed
themselves to following the 613 commandment of the Torah as well as all
the Rabbinic teachings. This took place 3,318 years ago.
2. Yirah: The feeling of fear that results from being in awe of G-d's
greatness and might. It is also used in relation to parents and teachers.
It is not fear of punishment or consequence.
3. Ahava: The feeling of love generated by the awareness of how much we
are cared for and protected by G-d at all times regardless of our limited
perceptions of time and circumstance.
It was a moment of singular profundity. The Mishkan was fully assembled;
Aharon and his sons were engaged in the last stages of their initiation
into the service; and the Mishkan (tabernacle) was about to be consecrated
with heavenly fire; however, what should have been a picture perfect day
was marred by the tragic deaths of Nadav and Avihu (the two sons of
Aharon). What had begun as the happiest of all days (Medresh) ended in
We are taught that the construction of the Mishkan and the service that it
framed was a direct response for the sin of the Golden Calf. We are also
told that the Jews at the time of the Exodus and Matan Torah related to G-
d on the level of Yirah rather than relating to G-d on the level of Ahava.
The Rambamís (Maimonidies) formulation of Ahava vs. Yirah in the beginning
of the second chapter of Hilchos Yesodei HaTorah (the laws of the
foundation of the Torah) presents the ideal relationship with G-d as
developing through two basic stages. The first stage is Ahava. Ahava
occurs when the human recognizes that he, his family, and his nation are
the beneficiaries of G-dís personal and loving benevolence.
Yirah, the second stage, is an extension of Ahava. It builds upon the
recognition of G-dís loving benevolence and extends that recognition to
realizing that every creature, as well as the whole of creation, is
equally the beneficiaries of G-dís unlimited personal attention and love.
Therefore, the stage of Yirah does not contradict the starting stage of
Ahava; it enhances and extends the Ahava.
The Rambamís formulation of Yirah vs. Ahava and his ordering of Ahava as a
preliminary step to Yirah suggests that the Bnai Yisroel (Sons of Israel)
at the time of the Exodus were on the most exalted level possible in their
relationship with G-d.
The relationship that the Jews had with G-d at the time of the Exodus was
at the advanced level of Yirah. They had been catapulted to this exalted
level because of witnessing G-dís awesome power and majesty in ways never
before experienced by humanity: the plagues in Egypt, the miracle at
Kriyas Yam Suf (parting of the sea), their manner of travel and survival
in the desert, and finally the indescribable experience of Matan Torah.
Yet, despite the awesome display of G-d's power and the nation being truly
in awe of G-d they still sinned with the Golden Calf.
At the time of Purim there was a second Matan Torah - a reacceptance of
the Torah. We are told that the miracle of Purim motivated the Jews to
renew their covenant with G-d Ė a ďsecond acceptance of the Torah.Ē That
reconstituted relationship with G-d was different than the first Matan
Torah at Mt. Sinai because it was founded upon the principles of Ahava
rather than Yirah. It is important to note that it was the ďnew acceptance
of G-dís lawĒ that has remained and sustained us ever since. The first
acceptance which was founded upon Yirah resulted in the sin of the Golden
Calf while the second acceptance founded upon the principle of Ahava has
survived the test of time and history.
Before I go on, allow me to explain why I am discussing the sin of the
Golden Calf in contrast to Purim.
1. The Mishkan was in direct response to the sin of the Golden Calf, and
the Golden Calf occurred when the Jews were on the more exalted level of
2. Purim occurred when the Jews were on the lesser level of Ahava; yet,
that relationship has remained, regardless of all our subsequent sins and
3. The key difference between the two periods in history is Yirah vs.
Ahava; Yirah did not result in a lasting relationship whereas Ahava did.
4. It makes sense to conclude that the Mishkan, which was supposed to be
the Tikun (correction) for the sin of the Golden Calf, should represent
Ahava (love of G-d) the missing component when contrasted with Purim. (If
the relationship of Yirah did not last and the relationship of Ahava did
last the Mishkan must represent Ahava rather than Yirah.)
5. This weekís Parsha describes the final moments of the Mishkanís
consecration. Figuratively speaking, it was the laying of the corner stone
for the corrected, and hopefully ever-lasting, relationship between the
Jews and G-d. Therefore, those final moments must have been the
quintessential expression of G-dís Ahava for the Bnai Yisroel, and their
love for Him.
6. Therefore, the deaths of Nadav and Avihu at that very moment must also
represent G-dís greatest expression of love.
How can we understand that G-dís exacting and seemingly unforgiving
judgment against Nadav and Avihu was the greatest expression of love, no
less so than the entire creation and consecration of the Mishkan and the
As we explained, the Jewish people at the time of the Exodus had jumped
the stage of Ahava. Beset by 210 years of slavery and persecution, the
Bnai Yisroel did not perceive their relationship with G-d as ongoing and
personal. Although the recipients of His majestic might and power, they
did not relate their freedom as a consequence of an ongoing relationship
with G-d. In fact because the Jews did not yet understand that G-d had
always "been there for them and with them" Moshe successfully argued with
G-d at the Burning Bush not to reveal to the Jews that there would be
future times of persecution and difficulties. It was hard enough for them
to believe that G-d had suddenly decided to care enough to take them out
of bondage. It would have been near impossible for them to trust G-d
enough to also be with them in future exiles!
Our generation is much different than the generation of the Exodus. We
have learned to live with the ups and downs of life and history and trust
that G-d is always there - in good times and in bad. Coming at the tail
end of history, we can look back on history and see the ebb and flow of
our national successes and failures against the backdrop of trusting G-d's
constant benevolence. At the same time we have translated the national
historic experience into the very personal and private arena of our
individual lives. We are able to believe that each of our lives is a
microcosm of Jewish history and like Jewish history must be
retrospectively viewed from the elevated promontory of time. Only then can
the scope and sequence of events in our own lives begin to make some
loving sense. However, the Bnai Yisroel at the time of the Exodus did not
have the historic framework wherein which to assimilate the awesome
revelation of G-dís sudden personal attention and caring. For them there
was only the immediacy and confrontation with G-d's awesome power, majesty
and mastery. Instead of seeing G-d's personal and loving benevolence they
were catapulted to the level of Yirah. They did not have the benefits of
first coming to terms with G-dís love.
Following the first Matan Torah when Moshe seemingly had not returned from
his 40 day sojourn with G-d, the circumstances of their existence changed
along with their trust in G-d. Whereas before Matan Torah G-d had
consistently provided for their every need, food, water, shelter, and
leadership, after Matan Torah, with Moshe's "absence", they were minus the
important benefit of leadership. As such, there was a perceived change in
their circumstances and the limited trust the Jews had developed toward G-
d changed to fear, confusion, and panic. Not having had the time to first
develop a Ahava relationship with G-d, the Yirah they did have could not
be sustained. Without the trusting foundation of Ahava, Yirah could not be
sustained. The awareness of G-dís awesome strength and power had not been
softened by years of G-dís loving protection and benevolence, and every
change became a challenge and every challenge became a crisis of faith.
(Think about the Ahava to Yirah contrast in relation to spouse, children,
and parents. Think about the concerns and fears during the first years of
a marriage or child rearing in contrast to the challenges of later years
when there already exists a record of familial survival in spite of
successes and failures.)
Not so with Purim. Purim came after the first Bais Hamikdash (temple) had
been destroyed. Purim came on the threshold of redemption at the end of
the 70-prophesized years of Babylonian exile. Purim came about after the
Jews had lived enough time to realize that despite their shortcomings and
sins G-d had not turned His back on them. The exile in Babylon and its
final episode of the miracle of Purim proved to the Bnai Yisroel that G-d
truly loved them.
The purpose of the Mishkan was to provide the Jews with proof of G-dís
ever present loving benevolence. It was a building that was intended to
reflect G-dís desire to ďdwell within their midst.Ē It was a building that
was intended to be an ever-present testimony to G-dís Ahava. However, with
humans, time and its imposed mortal limitations is always the key factor.
Time is the critical ingredient in trust and it is the critical ingredient
in comfort. We are time-bound in contrast to G-dís timelessness and is a
component, like freewill, that must always be taken into consideration. At
the time of the Exodus, after all was said and done, after all the awesome
miracles and obvious displays of G-dís loving concern for His chosen
people, the Bnai Yisroel still needed time. They needed to experience the
ups and downs of life as dictated by its successes and the failures before
they could trust the constancy of G-dís love and compassion.
Imagine a parent - child situation where the child never did anything
deserving of real concern. Imagine if the first time it should happen that
the child does something ďreal badĒ the parent flips out and throws the
child out of his home. What will that say to the child? In spite of the
years of care and love what will the child feel and think? More
importantly, what will the child question? So too with G-d and the Jewish
people, the Jews had to experience a goodly slice of history and time
before G-dís love for them was proven and ingrained in the collective
conscience of the nation.
(This may have been G-d's original intent at the Burning Bush when He told
Moshe to introduce Him to them as the "One Who was with them in this exile
as He would be with them in all future exiles.")
The story of Purim came after sufficient time and experiences had passed
to prove G-dís love. It became exceedingly clear to them after they had
been exiled to Baval and yet continued to flourish how much G-d truly
loved them. Therefore, when they reaccepted the Torah in the aftermath of
the miracle of Purim, their acceptance was predicated upon the certainty
of G-dís Ahava - love.
This weekís Parsha is always read at the beginning of the Sefira count.
(The Sefira count is the 49 days between Passover and Shavuot. The word
Sefira is Hebrew for "count." The 49 days of the Sefira are explained by
Rabbi Simon Jacobson as 49 steps to personal refinement. This is based
upon the character qualities associated with the Sefira:
1. Chesed Ė loving kindness and benevolence.
2. Gevurah Ė justice, discipline, restraint, and awe.
3. Tiferet Ė beauty, harmony, and compassion.
4. Netzach Ė endurance, fortitude and ambition.
5. Hod Ė humility and splendor.
6. Yesod Ė bonding and foundation.
7. Malchut Ė nobility, sovereignty and leadership.
We are presently beginning the second week of the Sefira count which is
devoted to developing the qualities of Chesed and Gevurah, love and
Rabbi Jacobson points out that love should not be taken for granted. We
must view the ability to give and receive love as a present form G-d. Love
is not natural to all creations. There are many species of animals that do
not have the lasting natural instincts of parental love for a child, or a
childís love for a parent. Our ability to love each other is uniquely
Secondly, Rabbi Jacobson points out that love without discipline is not
love at all. Discipline and judiciousness, or the parental obligation to
criticize and direct children, is what love is all about. Sure, there is a
quality of unconditional love, however, that is for the person, not his or
her behavior. We can judge a personís behavior to be terribly lacking and
yet love that person more than life itself. The obligation of the parent
is to always make sure that the criticism expressed and the direction
offered is a product of our love for that person and not an expression of
our frustration and disappointment. To criticize and even to punish must
be solely motivated by the desire to see the child grow to become the very
best he or she can be. Often that demands tremendous strength, courage and
discipline on the part of the parent to accomplish.
The Mishkan was a physical manifestation and expression of G-dís love for
His children. Despite their terrible betrayal and defection at the time of
the Golden Calf, G-d did not turn His back on us. Instead, He reprimanded
us, punished us, and blessed us with His ever-present love and
benevolence. G-d showed the absolute in the integration of love and
discipline, Chesed and Gevurah.
At the greatest moment of G-dís loving kindness, at the moment that He
sent down heavenly fire to consume the first offerings on His Mizbeach
(alter), at the moment that He showed the Bnai Yisroel how much He desired
them as His chosen people, G-d also took the lives of Nadav and Avihu.
The moment was the single greatest expression of G-dís absolute love. Love
without discipline is not love. In fact, parents who love their children
so much that they cannot bear to punish them consign their children and
themselves to a life of pain, anger, and often death. Not so with G-d. The
seemingly greatest and least among us are subject to G-dís exacting
expectations. The seemingly greatest and least among us are expected to
attain their highest-level of accomplishment. For G-d to want anything
less from them would be a lack of His love. To punish when necessary and
help us realize our greatest potential is the truest sign of G-dís pure
It was with that thought that Moshe comforted his brother Aharon and
said, ďWith those who are closest to Me am I sanctifiedÖĒ
Text Copyright © 2006 by Rabbi Aron Tendler and Torah.org
The author is the Rabbi of Shaarey Zedek Congregation, Valley
Village, CA, and Assistant Principal of YULA.