Parashas Shemini

This week’s parashah discusses the day of the Mishkan’s inauguration, and relates how Aharon’s sons Nadav and Avihu were punished by death on that very day for offering a “foreign fire” that Hashem had not commanded. In connection with this incident, the Midrash expounds (Vayikra Rabbah 12:2):
R. Yitzchak quoted a verse (Yirmiyah 15:16): “Your words come forth and I devour them, for Your word was my joy and the gladness of my heart, for Your Name was proclaimed upon me, Hashem, God of Legions.” Said R. Shmuel bar Nachman: “This verse refers to the word that was said to Moshe at Sinai, whose meaning he did not know until the event occurred. [Vayikra 10:3: ‘Through My close ones I will be sanctified,’ with the matter alluded to earlier in Shemos 29:43 as Rashi explains there.] Said Moshe to Aharon: ‘My brother, at Sinai I was told that in the future I will consecrate this house, and through a great man I will consecrate it. I thought that perhaps through me or through you this house would be consecrated. But now I see that your two sons were greater than you and I.’ When Aharon heard that his sons were God-fearing [and therefore served as the means of a sanctification of Hashem’s name], he kept silent, and he received reward for his silence.”
Elsewhere, the Midrash states (Vayikra Rabbah 20:4, Pesikta Rabbasi D’Rav Kahana 48):
R. Yudan Galyan expounded on a passage (Iyov 39:27-30): “Is it according to your word that the eagle soars, or makes his nest on high, dwelling and lodging in the clefts of rocks, upon rocky cliff and tower? From there he digs for food, his eyes look out to the distance. His eaglets swallow up blood, and where are corpses, there he is found.” He explained: “… Is it by your command that the eagle soars? Said the Holy One Blessed Be He to Iyov: ‘Are you greater than Aharon, to whom I granted honor that I never granted anyone else? When Aharon entered the Holy of Holies, I placed My glory between the two keruvim. … From there he digs for food. From there [the Holy of Holies, where he prayed for a year of bounty], he would collect food for the entire year. His eyes look out to the distance. At the beginning of the year, he would see what its end would bring. … His eaglets swallow up blood. He saw his eaglets weltering in blood on the ground and he was silent. Where there are corpses – Nadav and Avihu. There he is found – the Divine Presence.
The Maggid explains these two Midrashim through a parable. A baron built a magnificent city. When he completed the project, with all its splendor, he had trouble finding water. He dug many wells, but they all came up dry. He sent for an expert engineer, hoping that he could find a reliable source of water – for without this, all the effort in building the city would be for naught. The engineer arrived, and he conducted a comprehensive search over the entire city. He then pointed out a certain area in the city and said: “My lord, in this place there is a spring. After some time passes, it will emerge. And the following will be a sign that the spring will produce consistently and never go dry: When the spring emerges, it will emerge with a force great enough to break through walls.” The baron replied: “I am not anxious over the potential damage to walls. But I am anxious to see that your words are true and there will be enough water to supply this city.” The engineer, applying his expertise, took steps to bring forth the water. A few days later, the water broke out with massive force and destroyed a house. The owner of the house went to the baron, lamenting: “A flood broke out and toppled my house.” The baron was very happy to hear this report. While the distraught flood victim was still speaking, another victim appeared, and then a third, and then a fourth. The baron sat and listened with a big grin, and the onlookers were dumbfounded: How could the baron be happy over such a disaster? The baron explained: “You should understand that no matter how magnificent a city is, it cannot survive without water. How can I not be happy? The engineer predicted the flood, and he said that it would serve as a sign that the spring would always provide this city with a steady water supply.”
The parallel is as follows. Hashem instructed Moshe (Shemos 25:8): “Have them make Me a sanctuary, and I will dwell among them.” And He gave a sign that His promise to dwell among the Jewish People would be fulfilled, saying: “Through My close ones I will be sanctified.” And then, after the Mishkan was completed, they saw the sign come forth: Nadav and Avihu died when they came before Hashem with the foreign fire. Aharon said to himself: “I am overjoyed – the sign we were waiting for has come.” This is what the end of the second Midrash is bringing out: Aharon witnessed the death of Nadav and Avihu, yet he refrained from lamenting this loss, for he knew it was a sign that the Divine Presence had come to rest within the Mishkan – through fire Hashem had come, and through fire He executed justice. The message of the first Midrash is similar: Aharon saw the fulfillment of Hashem’s words, “through My close ones I will be sanctified,” and inwardly he rejoiced and was glad of heart, for it was through his incident that Hashem’s Name was proclaimed upon him – the incident made it clear that Hashem’s Presence had arrived.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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