Posted on March 28, 2019 (5779) By Rabbi Yissocher Frand | Series: | Level:


These divrei Torah were adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissocher Frand’s Commuter Chavrusah Tapes on the weekly portion: CD #1072 – The Fly That Fell Into The Soup. Good Shabbos!

How Is Being the Kohen Gadol for Seven Days a Punishment?

The first pasuk in this week’s parsha says, “It was on the eighth day, Moshe called to Aharon and his sons and to the elders of Israel” [Vayikra 9:1]. The Baal HaTurim writes that the Gematria of the (third, fourth and fifth) words (of this pasuk) “…haShemini Karah Moshe…” (the eighth Moshe called) equals the Gematria of the words “Haya bYom Rosh Chodesh Nissan” (which means “was on the day of the New Month of Nissan”).

The eighth day followed seven preparatory days of inauguration of the Mishkan [Tabernacle], which took place during the last days of the month of Adar.  Now who acted as the “Kohen” for the entire inauguration process of the MishkanChazal say it was Moshe Rabbeinu.  Chazal say that Moshe commented, “Since I argued with the Almighty by the Burning Bush for seven days about whether I should be the one to lead Klal Yisrael out of Egypt, I only merited serving as the Kohen Gadol for seven days.  After this period, I lost the job to my brother Aharon and his descendants.

In the beginning of Parshas Shemos, the Ribono shel Olam came to Moshe and said, “Take the Jews out of Egypt” and Moshe said, “No!”  It is clear from the pesukim that this argument went back and forth for quite some time.  Chazal say that it went on for seven days.  Now Moshe recognized in hindsight, “Because I then refused for seven days, therefore I only had the privilege of acting as the High Priest for seven days.”  This is the language of the Medrash.  This, in fact, is also a Gemara in Tractate Zevachim [102a]. 

The “original plan,” so to speak, was that Moshe’s brother Aharon was supposed to be the “Levi” and Moshe Rabbeinu was supposed to be the “Kohen”.  In that Gemara, Rav Yehoshua ben Korcha states that normally, whenever the Torah uses the term “Charon Af” in connection with the Almighty (indicating His Anger), there are consequences.  And yet, even though the Torah uses that term in connection with Moshe’s persistent refusal to accept his mission [Shemos 4:14], Moshe does not appear to suffer consequences for this inappropriate behavior. 

Rav Shimon ben Yochai responds that here too there were consequences, as it is written (in that very pasuk), “Behold Aharon, your brother, the Levi…” indicating that originally Aharon was supposed to be only the Levi, but now, because of your refusal to immediately accept your mission, Aharon will be the Kohen, the job that was supposed to be yours.  “From now on you will be the Levi and he will be the Kohen.”

Moshe Rabbeinu lost the Priesthood for himself and his sons after him, because it took seven days of arguments before he agreed to take the Jews out of Egypt.  The Baal HaTurim says an incredible thing – because he refused for seven days, therefore he got to be Kohen for seven days!  This seems very strange! It seems backwards. Is this a punishment or a reward?  It seems counterintuitive.  Would we say that had he refused his mission for only one day he would be the Kohen for one day?  The longer he refused the longer he is Kohen?  This does not make sense!  Being the Kohen (even) for seven days seems more like a reward than a punishment!

A number of years ago, we mentioned an answer to this question from Rav Simcha Zissel, the Chevroner Rosh Yeshiva.  He said that in truth, it is a punishment.  However, why did Moshe refuse the mission?  He refused for very good and noble reasons – because of his extreme modesty.  He felt that he was not worthy enough to accept the position.  His humility convinced him that the job should go to his older brother, Aharon.  Now, although Moshe refused because of a very appropriate character trait, the Almighty weighs out the actions of the righteous like the width of a thread.  He gives them their just rewards and just punishments down to the finest nuance of their actions. 

The punishment was that Moshe lost the Priesthood on a permanent basis.  However, Moshe was deserving of reward for the noble reason for which he was refusing to lead Klal Yisrael, for his sensitivity and nobility of character.  Therefore, the reward was that at least for seven days he would be the Kohen Gadol

I recently heard another answer to this question on a tape from Rabbi Isaac Bernstein, of blessed memory, who was a Rav in England.  He cited a very interesting Medrash Shmuel on Maseches Avos.  The Mishna in Avos [4:21] teaches that jealousy, lustfulness, and honor-seeking takes a person out of the world.  A person can become obsessed with any of these vices to such an extent that he does crazy things that will cost him his Olam HaBah (the World-to-Come). 

The Medrash Shmuel asks, if this is the correct interpretation, the Mishna should be worded differently.  It should say, “One who is jealous, lustful, or has desire for honor has no portion in the World-to-Come.  The Mishna actually reads “Jealously, lustfulness, and honor-seeking take a person out of the world.”  It seems from the language of the Mishna that such a person has entered Olam HaBah and then he is extracted from it!

The Medrash Shmuel therefore offers a very novel interpretation: The punishment of a person who has jealousy, lustfulness, or desire for honor in fact involves the loss of his portion of Olam HaBah. However, the punishment is administered by first placing him in Olam HaBah, giving him a brief opportunity to experience it and see what he will be missing, and then taking him out from there! 

Someone who loses Olam HaBah without ever having tasted it does not really suffer that much.  He does not know what he is missing.  However, if he is placed in Olam HaBah for a short time, so he has a chance to luxuriate in the unimaginable pleasure of that experience and then is removed from there, he will feel the magnitude of the punishment.

Rabbi Bernstein suggests that this is the way to reconcile the fact that Moshe was given the opportunity to serve for a week as Kohen Gadol with the Talmudic teaching that he suffered the consequence of “Vayichar Af Hashem” for having initially persisted in his refusal to accept G-d’s Divine mission by losing the Kehunah.  If someone loses the Kehunah without ever having experienced it, he does not feel the loss. If someone losses it after having enjoyed its privilege, then it is a big punishment!

I said over this thought recently to someone confined to a wheel chair.  We were discussing this Rashi and the Baal HaTurim.  I told him this vort from Rav Isaac Bernstein.  He told me that he has a friend who has spina bifida.  Since shortly after infancy, this friend has been confined to a wheelchair.  His friend told him an amazing thing: “If I ever had to come back to this world again as a different Gilgul (via soul transmigration), I would want to come back again with spina bifida.  Why?  It is because in this condition I go to Camp Simcha, I have such wonderful friends, and people treat me so beautifully.  I am happy the way I am.  In fact, this life has been so pleasant and so geshmak that if I had to come back again, this is exactly the way I would like to have it.”  That was his attitude.

The person with whom I was discussing the above idea had not always been confined to a wheelchair.  He had once been able to walk and was once a fully functional individual.  Now, Rachmana litzlan [May the All Merciful Spare Us (from such suffering)], his illness confines him to a wheelchair.  He told me, “I would never say what my friend who has spina bifida said.  I know what it is to be able to walk, and I know what it is to be able to be independent.  I know what I am missing.  For my friend, ignorance is bliss, but I know what it is like, and if I had to do it over, I certainly would not request that this happen to me again.

That was his reaction to this Chazal.  Hashem told Moshe, “You see what it is to be a Kohen?  That — you cannot have!”  We do not appreciate what we have until we have it and lose it.  However, if we never had it, there is less of an appreciation of what we do not have.

Hoisted with Their Own Petard

The Torah teaches: “He said to Ahraon: ‘Take yourself a calf, a young male of cattle, for a sin offering and a ram for an olah offering, unblemished.  And to the Children of Israel speak as follows:  Take a he-goat for a sin offering and a calf and a sheep in their first year – unblemished – for an olah offering.” [Vayikra 9:2-3].  Both Aharon and the Children of Israel had to bring sin offerings as atonements. 

The Meshech Chochma quotes a Toras Kohanim: Why was it necessary for the Children of Israel to bring more than Aharon?  (They brought both a calf and a goat and he only brought a calf.)  It is because they needed to achieve atonement for both what they did previously and what they did most recently.  Their original sin was, “They took Yosef’s coat and slaughtered a goat…” [Bereishis 37:31].  They still had the sale of Yosef hanging over their heads.  In addition, a more recent sin was hanging over their heads, as the Torah says, “…they made for themselves a molten calf and they bowed down to it and slaughtered to it…” [Shemos 32:8].  Therefore, they now needed a goat to atone for the incident involving the goat and they needed to bring a calf to atone for the incident involving a calf. 

Rav Meir Simcha (the author of the Meshech Chochmah) asks: Why now?  The sale of Yosef happened years earlier.  Rav Meir Simcha answers that up until now, there may have been a mitigating factor in their actions relating to the sale of Yosef.  They felt they might have been somewhat justified.  Yosef should not have related evil stories about them to their father.  If he had a complaint about their behavior, he should have brought it straight to them.  “If he thought we were not treating the sons of the handmaidens appropriately, he should have chastised us directly.  Why does he run to our father right away?  We are adults; we deserve the courtesy of his direct complaint.”  That was their original claim to defend themselves: Yosef was not acting like a mensch!

However, now (after the sin of the Golden Calf) where Chur did in fact come to them with a complaint (that they should not be making an idol to replace Moshe – it would be Avodah Zarah!) and they killed him, their original claim of justification was proven to be worthless.  We see now what your reaction is with somebody who comes and tries to give you mussar to your face.  Do not tell me that Yosef should have done that instead of going to Yaakov with the report of your misbehavior.

This is why now they not only had to bring a calf to atone for the sin of the Golden Calf but they also had to bring a goat to atone for the sin of the sale of Yosef.  Retroactively, they indicted themselves.

We see the same phenomenon from a Gemara in Yoma [22b]: “At the moment that the Holy One Blessed Be He said to Shaul ‘Go smite Amalek.’  (Hashem commanded Shaul to wipe out Amalek – men, women, and children, even the animals) Shaul said (to himself), ‘If when one person dies, the Torah requires us to bring a calf to decapitate (as atonement), certainly it is not appropriate to kill out all these souls of Amalek.  Also, if man has sinned, what sin did the animals do?'”  So Shaul said, “I cannot kill out Amalek, it is too cruel.”

The Gemara continues that a Heavenly Voice (Bas Kol) came out and said, “Do not be so righteous.”  In addition, later when Shaul gave orders to Doeg “You go out and smite the Kohanim (of Nov),” another Heavenly Voice came out and said “Do not be so wicked.” (Their terrible ‘crime’ was that they provided food and shelter for Dovid and his soldiers.)  So what happened to Shaul’s great compassion at Nov?  The answer is that when compassion suited him, he invoked it and when compassion did not suit him, he was not at all compassionate.

There is an expression in English [from Shakespeare’s Hamlet] “hoisted with his own petard” (a “petard” is a small explosive device). The phrase’s meaning is literally that the bomb-maker is blown up (“hoisted” off the ground) by his own bomb.  It indicates an ironic reversal or poetic justice.  That is exactly what we see here: “If I would have received mussar, I would have listened…”  No, way!  Look what happened when you did receive mussar, just look how you acted!   “Oh I am too compassionate, I cannot kill them.  How did the animals sin?”  No way!  Look what happened to Nov the City of Kohanim!

The Meshech Chochma teaches us that a person’s own activities can come back to haunt him.  They can come back to indict him.  That is why specifically now the Children of Israel needed to bring atonement for the sin of the Sale of Yosef.  Retroactively, we see that their claimed excuse is without merit.  They were hoisted with their own petard.

Transcribed by David Twersky; Jerusalem [email protected]

Technical Assistance by Dovid Hoffman; Baltimore, MD [email protected]

This week’s write-up is adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissochar Frand’s Commuter Chavrusah Series on the weekly Torah portion. A listing of the halachic portions for Parshas Shmini is provided below:

  • CD# 005 – Medicines Containing Chometz
  • CD# 050 – The Tuna Fish Controversy
  • CD# 093 – Melacha Before Havdalah
  • CD# 141 – Using a Mikveh for Non-Orthodox Conversions
  • CD# 188 – Netilas Yadayim for Bread and Fruit
  • CD# 234 – Netilas Yadayim at Breakfast:  Is One “Washed Up” for the Day?
  • CD# 278 – Netilas Yadayim and Chatzizah
  • CD# 324 – Sefiras Ha’omer
  • CD# 368 – Don’t Drink and Daven
  • CD# 412 – Minhagim of the Days of Sefira
  • CD# 456 – Gelatin:  Is It Kosher?
  • CD# 500 – Is Turkey Kosher?
  • CD# 544 – Bedikas Chametz
  • CD# 588 – The Aveil and the Haircut
  • CD# 632 – Baal Teshaktzu – Abstaining From Unpleasant Behaviour
  • CD# 676 – Buffalo, Giraffe, and other Exotic Animals — Are they Kosher?
  • CD# 720 – A Guf Naki for Davening
  • CD# 764 – Loaig Le’rosh – Respecting the Dead
  • CD# 808 – New York City – Don’t Drink the Water?
  • CD# 852 – Four Questions You Probably Never Asked
  • CD# 896 – Women & Havdalah – Second Thoughts
  • CD# 941 – Mayim Acharonim: Is It Necessary?
  • CD# 983 – Pesach – Thoughts on the Hagaddah – Vol. II
  • CD#1027 – Giving Shalom/Saying Hello To A Person in Aveilus
  • CD#1072 – The Fly That Fell Into The Soup
  • CD#1114 – Can You Change Your Minhag of When To Keep Sefira?
  • CD#1200 – Bugs in the Soup – What Should You Do?
  • CD#1245 – The Latest Kashrus Problem: Orange Juice
  • CD#1287 – Oops! I Spoke After Netilas Yadayim – Now What?
  • CD#1332 – Dunking Your Doughnuts in Coffee – Must You Wash Netilas Yadayim?

A complete catalogue can be ordered from the Yad Yechiel Institute, PO Box 511, Owings Mills MD 21117-0511. Call (410) 358-0416 or e-mail [email protected] or visit for further information.