On the eighth day [of the inauguration ceremony], Moshe called Aharon and his sons, and the elders of Israel … (Vayikrah 9:1)
For seven days, Aharon and his four sons had undergone a special installment ceremony, to induct them into the service of G-d in the Mishkan. Now, on the eighth day, the service was about to conclude, and life with a Mishkan was about to begin.
Whenever we see the number eight, lights should go off. As our tradition states, seven is a number that implies physicality, because G-d made the physical world in seven days. Hence, the number eight implies the supernatural–a quantum step above the physical world, which is probably why Rashi adds:
“This was the new moon of Nissan, on which the Mishkan was erected, and it [the day] received ten crowns …” (Rashi)
In other words, as Rashi alludes, there were ten distinguishing features of this day, and they were:
1. It was a Sunday, which was the day on which creation occurred. This makes sense given that the Mishkan was a replication of creation, a microcosm of G-d’s masterpiece. The entire Mishkan was built to parallel the physical world.
2. The princes began to bring their gifts on this day. Hence, some have a tradition to read this part of the Torah (Bamidbar 7:1) each day–one prince per day–from Rosh Chodesh Nissan onward.
3. This began the priestly service, which, until then had been performed by the firstborn of the nation. Originally, the priesthood was the right of all firstborn–a right that was forfeited at Mt. Sinai when they did not step forward to help Moshe purge the camp of those who participated in the episode of the golden calf. Therefore, the priesthood was officially turned over to the seed of Aharon.
4. Communal services began that day (Continual-Offering, Mussaf-Offering, etc.).
5. The Heavenly fire to ignite the altar came down that day. This is also mentioned in this week’s parshah:
Then, a fire came out from before G-d and consumed the Burnt-Offering and the fat on the altar, while the people watched … (Vayikra 9:24)
6. The sacrifices could no longer be eaten anywhere, but only in their prescribed locations.
7. Private altars became forbidden, since now sacrifices could be brought to the opening of the Appointed Tent. Until this point, it was permissible to build an altar and sacrifice to G-d just about anywhere one wanted. However, once the Mishkan was operative, that was no longer so.
8. It was the first time since Torah was given that Rosh Chodesh Nissan, the New Year of the months, came around. In Egypt, Moshe received the mitzvah to start counting the months and the years (Shemos 12:1), and this Rosh Chodesh Nissan was the completion of the first cycle.
9. The Shechina began to dwell among the Jewish people, as it says:
Let them make Me a sanctuary, so I can dwell among them … (Shemos 25:8)
10. Birchas Kohanim–the Priestly Blessing–began. Outside of Israel, this is only recited on holidays; inside Israel, it is recited in the Morning Service daily (see Bamidbar 6:22).
These are the ten “crowns” to which Rashi refers. However, what all of this really indicates is that the eighth day of the inauguration was a transition point between the physical and spiritual reality–which is why the death of Nadav and Avihu, the sons of Aharon HaKohen is so shocking, and needs investigation each year.
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)
In previous years, we (and just about everybody else) have discussed simple and deeper reasons for the death of Nadav and Avihu. However, there is a story in the Talmud that raises a question regarding the deaths of Nadav and Avihu, as to how it could have happened the way they did.
Nechunia, according to the Talmud, used to dig wells for the sake of Jews making the pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the holidays. He was concerned that they should have water along their journey. This chesed was considered a great act of righteousness, and an important merit to one day save his own daughter’s life:
Our rabbis taught: It once happened to the daughter of a well-digger, Nechunia, that she fell into a large well. They came and told Rebi Chanina ben Dosa, who, during the first hour simply said, “Peace [to her].”
He said the same thing during the second hour. At the third hour [when there was fear that she might have died], he said, “She is out of the well.” When the girl was asked who saved her life, she said, “A ram that passed by the well, led by an old man.” They told him [Rebi Chanina], “You are a prophet!” He answered them, “I am neither a prophet nor the son of a prophet. I just said, ‘Can it be that the children of that righteous man shall stumble in the very thing for which he troubled himself?’.” (Bava Kamma 50a)
Apparently, the answer to Rebi Chanina’s question was “no”–and this is why a miracle occurred to save Nechunia’s daughter’s life. However, if so, why then did Aharon’s two sons “stumble” and die through the Incense-Offering? Can’t we assume that Aharon HaKohen was very particular and exact in his performance of this mitzvah, as he was with all other mitzvos?
The answer may lie in the end of the story:
… Rebi Acha said: Nevertheless, his [Nechunia’s] son died from thirst, as it says, “Around Him a mighty storm raged.” (Tehillim 1:3), from which it may be inferred that The Holy One, Blessed is He, is particular with His pious even to a hairsbreadth …
In other words, even though Nechunia was a righteous individual doing righteous acts, still, G-d is strict with those of whom He has high regard. But even if this is true, asks Tosfos, why did G-d save the daughter’s life and allow the son to die? Tosfos answers: By the exact same thing the child won’t stumble.
In other words, Nechunia dug holes to save people’s lives and his daughter fell into one; it was not “just” that a hole should be the cause of his own daughter’s death. On the other hand, the water that filled the holes Nechunia dug, says the Maharal (Chidushei Aggados), was a result of digging the hole, and from Heaven itself. Therefore, dying of thirst was less directly connected to what Nechunia himself did than was falling into a hole. (The Maharal offers other explanations as well.)
Needless to say, there are many points here in need of elaboration, especially when one learns that the ram that saved the life of the girl was the one that replaced Yitzchak at the Akeidah, and that the “older man” leading it was none other than Avraham Avinu himself (i.e., in the merit of the Akeidah, and Avraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son to G-d, this miracle occurred for Nechunia’s child). We even learn about how our scrupulousness in performing mitzvos today can save the lives of our own children tomorrow, spiritually and physically.
However, in the meantime, we can at least be satisfied in knowing that it was not a lack in Aharon’s own performance of the Incense-Offering that caused the deaths of his own sons. For, as the verse says, Nadav and Avihu “offered an unauthorized fire before G-d,” which means it was not part of the regular service in the Mishkan–not an act that Aharon himself would have performed.
G-d told Moshe and Aharon to say to them, “Tell the Children of Israel that these are the animals which they may eat …” (Vayikra 11:1-2)
The Yalkut Reuveini (Shemini 114) mentions the following on this week’s parshah, which also serves to connect the laws of kashrus to the deaths of Nadav and Avihu.
“Know that there are sins that affect the “Inner Sanctum”–such as forbidden relationships, profaning Shabbos, and similar transgressions–and there are sins that only affect the “Outer Sanctum”–such as eating creeping animals, and spiritually impure livestock, wild animals, birds and fish; a Jew who eats these things is like one who brings an idol into the Sanctuary … And this is why the Righteous are called “righteous”: They place into the Inner Sanctum what belongs there, and into the Outer Sanctum what belongs there, and nothing goes beyond its boundary … (Sha’arei Tzedek)
Unbeknownst to many of us, is that every single detail in the physical world has a spiritual counterpart. We may know and accept the notion of a physical world, and a spiritual world, but often we have little awareness of the connection between the two, and how one affects the other. Even the Midrash asks the question, “What difference does it make to G-d if we slaughter an animal from the front of his neck, or from the back?”
The answer, as the Sha’arei Tzedek makes clear, is, all the difference in the world–or rather, worlds. This is because if something exists down here, it has a spiritual root “Up There.”
A tree is a good parable for this idea (though in reverse). If one looks at a tree, all he sees is what grows above the surface. But what gave rise to the tree in the first place? The seed below the surface, and it is the roots in the ground that continue to nourish the entire tree. Not knowing this, one may mistakenly assume that the tree is only what is visible to the eye, as if it merely sits on the ground, and is not attached to it.
It is no different when it comes to such matters as kashrus. Every animal has a spiritual “root,” and whether we eat that animal or not, or how we prepare it, has a direct impact on its spiritual counterpart. (The Midrash says that eating kosher food was what gave Chananyah, Mishael, and Azariah the strength of character to stand up to Nebuchadnetzar, and gave them merit to have a miracle occur for them, and for Daniel, who was saved from the lions.)
In other words, what we do down here sets off a spiritual chain reaction that affects the World Above, and then, eventually, our physical world as a result–a very dramatic effect, such as the deaths of Nadav and Avihu.
“But all they did was offer incense …” we may wonder aloud. Physically, perhaps. But spiritually-speaking, their impact went far beyond their physical act, and it set off a series of spiritual consequences that resulted in their own deaths. (According to Tradition, they actually performed an act that Aharon, their father, was to perform at a later time–which would have had an extremely positive effect on creation.)
A tzaddik is someone who knows this, and is very, very careful to take the spiritual consequences of his physical act into account. He is aware of the “boundaries” established by Heaven, and of concepts such as the “Inner Sanctum” and the “Outer Sanctum.” He knows that G-d has ordered His world just so, and that man must obey these boundaries and respect them. Nadav and Avihu, with all their good intention, overstepped those boundaries, and creation, in an effort to right itself, took their lives.
(We could discuss how this is really what is going on with the “Evil Son” spotlighted in the Haggadah, but that is a vort unto itself. But that is one main reason for the emphasis on the concept of “seder,” which means “order,” which implies boundaries.)
This entire concept was something to contemplate on a daily basis; now it is also something to think about when you pass up the non-kosher food for the kosher food instead.
You are to count from the next day after the rest, from the day you brought the Omer-Offering that is waved; they are to be seven complete weeks … (Vayikra 23:15)
This verse is not from this week’s parshah, but we are well into the Omer period, which began the second night of Pesach. In previous years, we have discussed various aspects of the omer and the counting, and their significance. Let’s add another dimension to that discussion now.
In total, we count seven weeks of seven days, or, forty-nine days altogether. Seven is a number that alludes to the physical world, because, as the Torah teaches, G-d made physical creation in seven days–corresponding to the seven lowest sefiros: Chesed, Gevurah, Tifferes, Netzach, Hod, Yesod, and Malchus–spiritual building blocks of creation.
Expanding on the concept of seven, seven-times-seven (forty-nine) is the idea of physicality on a two-dimensional plain–“on paper,” so-to-speak, and seven-times-seven-times-seven (7-cubed) represents this idea on a three-dimensional plain, or, in the three-dimensional world in which we live.
What does seven-cubed equal? It equals 343, a number which when written in Hebrew letters is: shin, mem, gimmel. These three letters, when re-arranged, spell the word: geshem, or rain. However, “geshem” is also the root of the word, “gashmi,” which means “physicality,” and which generally refers to the more materialistic aspect of living in This World.
And just like the number “seven” represents the physical, natural, world, the number “eight” (as already we mentioned at the beginning of this week’s parshah) represents the supernatural world, as does the number “fifty” (the day on which Shavuos falls), and the number “344.” The goal of working through “seven” is to get to the “eighth”; the goal of moving through “forty-nine,” is to arrive at the “fiftieth”; the goal of traversing “343,” is to get to the “344th”–that is, to rise above materialism.
This is the path to freedom. On Seder-Night, we start with “Poor Man’s Bread,” and the next night we start counting the omer to integrate the concept of being independent of materialism. Enjoy the world? No problem–which is why the Seder table was set for royalty. Be dependent on materialism, as a way to define ourselves and determine our worth, and to make ourselves happy? It is not the Jewish way, as counting the omer for forty-nine days is to help make clear.
Have a great Shabbos,