These divrei Torah were adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissocher Frand’s Commuter Chavrusah Tapes on the weekly portion: Tape # 278, Chatziza and Netilas Yadayim.
“Opening Day” is Day Eight
The parsha begins, “And it was on the eighth day…” [Vayikra 9:1] To which eighth day is the Torah referring? The Torah is discussing the “eighth day” after the previous seven, during which the Jewish people performed the Seven Days of Inauguration Offerings. It was a “Chanukas HaBayis” [inaugural dedication], so to speak, for the Mishkan [Tabernacle], with Moshe Rabbeinu acting as the Kohen Gadol [High Priest].
The “eighth day” referred to in the above quoted pasuk [verse] was the day when Aharon took over from Moshe, and the Mishkan began functioning in its normal way with the Kohanim performing the services.
Rav Dovid Feinstein notes that it is peculiar that the Torah refers to this occasion as the “eighth” day. It was really the “first” day. The first seven days were merely a dry-run rehearsal. Every day, they put up the Mishkan and then took it down, and the Shechina, the Divine Presence, did not rest within it. This was the real “Day One” of the functioning of the Mishkan, when the Shechina came down, [9:23] yet the Torah insists on calling it the “eighth day”. The Torah emphasizes the previous seven days nonetheless, even calling the whole Parsha “Shmini” (meaning eighth). What message is the Torah giving us?
He suggests that the Torah is teaching us the following important lesson: in spiritual matters, preparation is almost as important as the real thing. If the Torah had called this “Day One”, it would have been sending the message that all the preparation was merely practice. That may be how it works in worldly affairs, but not regarding matters of spirituality (Ruchniyus). Preparation is vital for spiritual matters. Preparations place the mitzvah in its proper perspective. Therefore the Torah emphasizes that this is day 8, not day 1.
At a Siyum marking the conclusion of a tractate of Talmud we say “We toil in our tasks (of learning) and they toil (in worldly tasks). We work and receive reward and they work and do not receive reward.” What does this really mean? Those who work are paid for their work. What does it mean “they work and do not receive reward”? The answer is that in other areas of life, a person only receives reward if he completes the task, if he is successful in his endeavor. A person is only paid for producing. It is not the effort or preparation that counts; it is the results: “What’s the bottom line?”
Regarding matters of spirituality, however, if a person attempts to do a mitzvah, but does not achieve the end result, the person still receives reward for his attempt.
So too regarding the Mishkan, the months of preparation and the Seven Days of Inauguration Offerings are not merely past events that are forgotten on “Day One”. The effort of that preparation will pay off. There will be reward for it.
We toil and receive a reward. “Opening Day” is already “Day 8” because all the thought and preparation that led up to that day also play a very important role in G-d’s calculations.
What Could Aharon Have Said?
The Torah says that when Aharon lost his two sons, he kept quiet — “And Aharon was silent” [Vayikra 10:3]. The Medrash says that this verse implies that Aharon really did have something to say, but that he held back. What did Aharon want to say? The Medrash gives a very cryptic answer: He wanted to say “On the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised.” [Vayikra 12:13]
What is the meaning of this Medrash? The Shemen HaTov answers by quoting a Gemarah [Niddah 31b]: The Gemarah asks why Milah [circumcision] takes place on the eighth day – why not circumcise the baby boy immediately at birth? The Gemarah answers that Milah occurs on the eighth day so that we will not have a situation where everyone is happy and the parents of the child are sad.
According to Torah law, the mother is Tameh [ritually impure] and is forbidden to her husband for seven days following the birth of a male child. If the Milah took place during that first week, everyone would be happy, but the parents – who were not allowed to have any physical contact with one another – would be sad. G-d did not want to put a damper on the festive occasion. G-d wants everyone to be happy – including the father and mother – when a father brings his son into the Covenant of Avraham our Patriarch. Therefore the circumcision was ‘delayed’ until the eighth day at which time the mother (at least on a Torah level) is permitted to her husband (even though she is still prohibited at that point by Rabbinic Law), so that the parents can fully participate in the celebration of the Milah.
The Medrash is refering to this Gemarah. The Dedication of the Mishkan was a great day of celebration for the Jewish people. On that very day, the two eldest sons of the High Priest suddenly died. It was as if, on a joyous day dedicating a new synagogue, one of the main beams collapsed killing two of the celebrants. Clearly, such a calamity would have eradicated the celebration.
The Shemen HaTov explains that Aharon could have argued with G-d. “Granted my sons did something wrong, they deserved to be punished – but do not execute Your Judgment on them today, of all days! After all, we learn that Milah is done on the eighth day because You are sensitive not to place a damper on a joyous occasion.”
However, Aharon held his peace and kept quiet. “VaYidom Aharon” — Aharon remained like a stone.
Technical Assistance by Dovid Hoffman; Yerushalayim.
This write-up is adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissocher Frand’s Commuter Chavrusah Torah Tapes on the weekly Torah Portion. The halachic topics covered for the current week’s portion in this series are:
- Tape # 005 – Medicines Containing Chometz
- Tape # 050 – The Tuna Fish Controversy
- Tape # 093 – Melacha Before Havdalah
- Tape # 141 – Using a Mikveh for Non-Orthodox Conversions
- Tape # 188 – Netilas Yadayim for Bread and Fruit
- Tape # 234 – Netilas Yadayim at Breakfast: Is One “Washed Up” for the Day?
- Tape # 278 – Netilas Yadayim and Chatzizah
- Tape # 324 – Sefiras Ha’omer
- Tape # 368 – Don’t Drink and Daven
- Tape # 412 – Minhagim of the Days of Sefira
- Tape # 456 – Gelatin: Is It Kosher?
- Tape # 500 – Is Turkey Kosher?
- Tape # 544 – Bedikas Chametz
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