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Posted on April 4, 2024 (5784) 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: #1332 – Dunking Your Doughnuts in Coffee – Must You Wash Netilas Yadayim? Good Shabbos!

Parshas Shemini contains the tragic event of the sudden death of Aharon’s two eldest sons, Nadav and Avihu. Chazal note on the opening words of the parsha (“Vayehi b’yom hashemini“) that the term “Vayehi” connotes pain. In this context, tragedy struck on the eighth day (which coincided with Rosh Chodesh Nissan), following the shivas yimay hamiluim (seven days of inauguration) of the Mishkan, during which Moshe served as the Kohen.

Just as Aharon was taking over the job as Kohen Gadol and his sons were taking over the jobs of serving as the Kohanim in the Mishkan, Nadav and Avihu brought an “eish zarah” (foreign fire) and were struck down right then and there. Whenever I read this parsha I think to myself, imagine if there was a Chanukas Habayis of a Bais Haknesses (dedication ceremony for a new shul). Everyone is dancing. It is a beautiful moment in time, and then suddenly a beam from the roof collapses and hits someone on the head and kills him on the spot. It would be an untold tragedy. People would never look at that shul the same. How much more so in this case. Aharon’s two eldest sons die, righteous leaders of Israel, right there in the Mishkan! It must have had a horrible effect.

The pasuk says: “Moshe said to Aharon: Of this did Hashem speak, saying: ‘I will be sanctified through those who are nearest Me, thus I will be honored before the entire people; and Aharon was silent.” (Vayikra 10:3). Rashi writes: “Aharon my brother, I knew that this House would be sanctified through those who were closest to the Omnipresent. I figured it would be through either me or you. Now I see that they (Nadav and Avihu) were greater than me or you.”

This is a very powerful, yet enigmatic statement by Rashi. “I knew that this had to happen.” What does that mean? Can it mean that a tragedy needed to happen? Why would a tragedy need to happen upon the inauguration of the Mishkan? We never consider such a possibility when we plan a Chanukas Habayis!

The Dubno Maggid in his Ohel Yakov gives a beautiful parable explaining what it means when Moshe said “I knew that this was going to happen.” As is his style, the Dubno Maggid asks “Mashal l’mah ha’davar domeh” (To what can this matter be compared)? Imagine that a country wanted to build a capital city to be the most beautiful city in the world. They hired the greatest architects and the most professional builders in the world. (When Washington D.C. was being designed, the fledgling American Government brought in Pierre Charles L’Enfant, a French army engineer who fought in the Revolutionary War, to build the most beautiful capital city imaginable. Washington D.C. is indeed a beautiful place.) So, they build in the finest of everything, the finest materials, the finest architects, etc., etc., etc.

Of course, being a world-class city, as they envision, they want to also build there for themselves a world class hospital, the greatest hospital the world has ever seen. Again, it would have the latest technology, the best staff, the best equipment, all the ‘hidurim‘. And of course, it would need to have the greatest doctor in the world. Since this is the capital city, the city that is going to put all other cities in the world to shame, and since this is going to be the hospital that is the most world-renowned medical center, it needs to have at its head the greatest doctor to walk the face of the earth.

And so it was. On the day they cut the ribbon to go into the city, everything opened as planned. People were overwhelmed by the beauty. One fellow started not feeling well on this first day of the inauguration of the city. He complained of a headache. He went into the hospital and became the first patient in the hospital. Of course, the head of the hospital, this world-renowned doctor treated him personally. (It is just a headache. “Take two aspirin and call me in the morning.”) A few days later, the person died. He died in the best hospital in the world, in the greatest city in the world, under the care of the best doctor in the world, from a headache yet! What happened? How did this go wrong?

The Board of the Hospital gets together to analyze what happened. It is so embarrassing. The mayor comes to join in the investigation. The head doctor gets up and says “The fact that this person died is the most fortunate thing that could have happened to this city.” He explained: If we have the greatest city in the world, the most pleasant city to live in, and we have the best hospital in the world, everyone will say “I don’t need to take care of myself. I can eat without caring about my weight gain. I don’t need to watch my cholesterol. I don’t need to monitor my blood pressure. I don’t need to exercise. I have no worries about my health because I live in the city with the best hospital in the world. If I get sick, I will go to the hospital and be treated by the best doctor in the world and everything will be fine.”

The doctor said that this is why it was important, and even helpful, that the first patient in the hospital died. This lets people know that such calculations are incorrect. Someone can have the most beautiful city, the greatest technology, the greatest hospital with the greatest equipment and the greatest doctor, but you still need to take care of yourself.

The Dubno Maggid explained the ‘nimshal’ (object of his comparison): Klal Yisrael now had a Mishkan. A Mishkan is a place where Korbonos are brought. The people might figure that now we can do whatever we want. All we need to do now is go to the Mishkan, bring a Korban, recite the Vidui (confession), v’Nomar Amen! (L’Havdil, this is a phenomenon found in the Catholic Church. Catholics feel that they can do anything that they want, go to the priest and say “Forgive me father, for I have sinned” and their sins are atoned for, without even needing to fast on Yom Kippur!)

People might think: We have a Mishkan. We can now do anything that is forbidden and be guaranteed forgiveness. So Moshe Rabbeinu told Aharon that it was important to disabuse the masses of such a notion. More importantly, Heaven needed to teach a lesson that it is crucial to be careful with the Mishkan and its holiness. If not treated with the proper deference, the Mishkan itself can kill. This thing that people think is the cure-all and panacea for all ills may actually cause fatalities, if people don’t act properly.

That is what Moshe Rabbeinu meant when he said “I knew that this House would be sanctified through those who were close to the Omnipresent.” The Mishkan is akin to radiation. It is very powerful. It has much positive potential, but someone who is not careful with it may be killed by it.

The Power of Silence

The second thought I would like to share is from the end of that very pasuk: “ Vayidom Aharon” (…And Aharon was silent). (Vaykira 10:3). This is an incredible thing. Aharon haKohen lost his two oldest sons who were tzadikim, and yet his reaction was silence. The Ba’al HaTurim writes that the word “Vayidom” appears only twice in Tanach. It appears once here in Parshas Shemini, and once more in Sefer Yehoshua (10:13) “And the sun was silent (vayidom hashemesh) and the moon stood still…” Klal Yisroel was in battle with the Emorites and wanted to pursue them, however it was getting dark. Yeshosua miraculously made the sun stand still. The sun did not set that day and the Jews were able to pursue their enemy.

Ostensibly, the two vayidoms have different meanings. One means that Aharon was silent and the other means that the sun did not move. On the face of it, the identical words do not mean the same thing in these two places. Vayidom hashemesh means the sun kept on shining. How is that analogous to Vayidom Aharon, which means Aharon kept quiet? What is the connection between these two different uses of the word vayidom?

The Ba’al HaTurim addresses the connection, but I saw the following explanation in the sefer Kol Aryeh (by a Rav Yehudah Aryeh Klein, who was a Rav in Pressburg). There is a Gemara (Chullin 60b—which Rashi brings in Parshas Bereshis 1:16) that when the Ribono shel Olam created the sun and the moon, they were of equal size. The Medrashic story is well known: The moon complained that co-equal kings are not practical. One needs to be larger and one needs to be smaller. Hashem thereupon commanded the moon to make itself smaller. The sun remained its original size, and it is thereafter referred to as the “Maor hagadol” (the large illuminator) in the sky.

The Kol Aryeh says that it is a bit strange to call the sun Hamaor hagadol just because it was now bigger than the moon, because the sun did not get larger. It only remained the larger of the two luminaries by default. The Kol Aryeh suggests a different reason why the sun is known as the Maor hagadol: When the moon said to the Ribono shel Olam that it is not right to have two kings of the same size, the sun should have immediately popped up and said “Wait a minute! You are telling me that I should be smaller? Maybe you should be smaller!” At the very least, the sun could have demanded that they both go to a Din Torah over the issue.

Instead, the sun was silent. Vayidom hashemesh. The sun didn’t say anything. The Kol Aryeh says that is why the sun is called Hamaor hagadol. When someone is hurt, as the sun was (which is the natural reaction to the moon implying ‘you shouldn’t be that size; you are too big!”), and does not respond, that is very praiseworthy. Therefore, both vayidoms do indeed refer to silence.

The Kol Aryeh points out that this explanation enables us to understand the following Gemara very well (Shabbos 88b): “The Rabbis taught – those who suffer insult but do not insult in response, who hear their disgrace but do not reply, who perform G-d’s will out of Love and are happy even in suffering, regarding them the pasuk states, ‘But they who love Him shall be as the sun going forth in its might’ (Shoftim 5:31)” We say that the person who silently hears his insults is loved by the Almighty “like the sun in its might”.

Where do we see that? The Kol Aryeh says this is where we see it. The sun should have stood up for itself when the moon proposed that one of them be diminished in size. Vayidom hashemesh. The sun was silent. The ability to keep quiet and walk away when insulted by another is the strength the sun demonstrated during those first days of creation.

The Kol Aryeh says that this is what the Baal HaTurim means when he says that there are two vayidoms in the Torah. Vayidom Aharon and Vayidom hashemesh. Where did Aharon learn this capacity to stay silent after the Ribono shel Olam took away his two children? He learned it from the shemesh.

Transcribed by David Twersky; Jerusalem [email protected]

Edited 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:

  • # 005 – Medicines Containing Chometz
  • # 050 – The Tuna Fish Controversy
  • # 093 – Melacha Before Havdalah
  • # 141 – Using a Mikveh for Non-Orthodox Conversions
  • # 188 – Netilas Yadayim for Bread and Fruit
  • # 234 – Netilas Yadayim at Breakfast: Is One “Washed Up” for the Day?
  • # 278 – Netilas Yadayim and Chatzizah
  • # 324 – Sefiras Ha’omer
  • # 368 – Don’t Drink and Daven
  • # 412 – Minhagim of the Days of Sefira
  • # 456 – Gelatin: Is It Kosher?
  • # 500 – Is Turkey Kosher?
  • # 544 – Bedikas Chametz
  • # 588 – The Aveil and the Haircut
  • # 632 – Baal Teshaktzu – Abstaining From Unpleasant Behaviour
  • # 676 – Buffalo, Giraffe, and other Exotic Animals — Are they Kosher?
  • # 720 – A Guf Naki for Davening
  • # 764 – Loaig Le’rosh – Respecting the Dead
  • # 808 – New York City – Don’t Drink the Water?
  • # 852 – Four Questions You Probably Never Asked
  • # 896 – Women & Havdalah – Second Thoughts
  • # 941 – Mayim Acharonim: Is It Necessary?
  • # 983 – Pesach – Thoughts on the Hagaddah – Vol. II
  • #1027 – Giving Shalom/Saying Hello To A Person in Aveilus
  • #1072 – The Fly That Fell Into The Soup
  • #1114 – Can You Change Your Minhag of When To Keep Sefira?
  • #1200 – Bugs in the Soup – What Should You Do?
  • #1245 – The Latest Kashrus Problem: Orange Juice
  • #1287 – Oops! I Spoke After Netilas Yadayim – Now What?
  • #1332 – Dunking Your Doughnuts in Coffee – Must You Wash Netilas Yadayim?
  • #1376 – Talking While Washing Your Hands for Netilas Yodayim – Is There a Problem?
  • #1420 – Using a Plastic Cup for Kiddush, Havdala or Netilas Yadayim?
  • #1464 – Davening in a Porch Minyan During the Corona Pandemic – Is It A Good Idea?
  • #1507 – An Interesting Sefiras HaOmer Shailah
  • #1549 – DUI – Davening Under the Influence

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.