Saturday, 23 March 2019

Parsha: Shemini, "Punishment or Consequences?"

Let's start with Acharei Mot. What does "v'lo yamut" imply?

Coming into the proximity of the Qodshei Qodshim requires protection . For Aharon, that meant a proper Q'toret. An improper Qktoret - even b'shogeig - could have left the Kohen Gadol without his "radiation suit." He would risk death through exposure to an overwhelming dose of Q'dusha, not through his transgressions. Like an electrician with a  faulty rubber glove, the shock would be overwhelming.

Back to Nadav and Avihu. Fire consumed them mainly because their ersatz Q'toret failed to protect them. Therefore Aharon was commanded how to avoid such a similar catastrophe.

And as for Uzah - in the Haftara of Sh'mini - he wasn't punished. He lacked protection from the aron's overwhelming  Q'dusha.

Electricity, radiation and high places all entail physical risk. It's like a child sticking his finger in an exposed socket. Hashem is not punishing the kid. We are fixated on the concept of seeing din as punishment. Din isn't "punishment," but natural consequences.


Parsha: Shemini, "Asher Lo Tsivah"

Pick your preferred parshanut.  

Parshanut suggests three translations of the phrase, "Asher Lo Tzivah" (Vayikra: 10:1) There is basically a 2-way split concerning Nadav and Avihu (N&A) and their eish zara. The first two schools may help start a future Nishmablog poll, BE"H, though the third school is kinda' tangential.

  1. "They were commanded NOT"  N&A were actually seeking to grow spiritually through transgressing the commandment NOT to bring such an eish zarah [Tur et. Al.] It literally went up in flames  Don't serve Hashem by violating protocol
  2.  "They were NOT commanded" - N&A added on an extra embellishments. They acted excessively "frum"  and their zeal was their sin in their spiritual approach. This idea is very popular among Left-wing circles. Don't be mosif "humrot". [Bal tosif. Al t'hee tzaddiq harbei
  3. This explanation can work for either side of the split. Since N&A brought ersatz K'toret, they were left unprotected to eish Hashem and vulnerable to a form of spiritual "radiation."  Their action was not so much a sin as a failure to use real Ketoret. It was what they failed to do which allowed them to get burnt. [See Haforah of Uzah]. Genuine Ketoret was tantamount to a radiation suit; don't play with the rules lest you risk exposure.

Let me tell a related story.  

There once lived a woman looking to add a spiritual dimension to her avodah. A Great Gadol, "Moshe," asked her to experiment by wearing a four-cornered garment without tzitzit. She felt exhilirated. 

Moshe exclaimed, "For three months, you have been wearing a garment without any religious or halachic value, it is thus clear that your feeling comes from a source outside of the Mitzvah", and he [Moshe] did not grant her permission to wear a Talit " [Source?]

To which Avodah's R Micha Berger protested:

We do many things that come from sources outside the mitzvah. "Hinei Keil yeshuasi" before Havdalah, for example. The particular patterns of hand washing most qehillos use for neigl vasr or before hamotziQabbalas Shabbos. Etc, etc, etc... Why is this woman wanting to do something that makes her feel connected to the Borei valueless just because it is non-halachic? Would this Gadol "Moshe" have given the same advice to NCSY and tell them to stop doing kumzitzin or a pre-havdalah "ebbing" for an hour? [Source??]

This offers us a segue towards a poll on valid paths to spirituality in Judaism. Which guidelines are permitted or desirable?


P. Shmini - Asher Lo Tsivah 2 - Truth or Consequences

Originally published 3/31/11, 6:54 pm.
Previously, I had written:
3. [Can work either way] N&A were left vulnerable to a form of spiritual "radiation" because their Q'toret with eish zarah was ersatz instead of genuine, leaving them unprotected against "eish Hashem". Not sin so much as a failure to use a bona fide Q'toret allowed them to get burnt. [See Hafatarah of Uzah]. A genuine q'toret was tantamount to a radiation suit. Don't play with the rules lest you risk exposure.
When I was teaching the Parshah at Cong. MT. Sinai in Wash Heights, circa late 1990's, I made a conscious approach to shift away from the idea of punishment and vindictiveness and towards "spiritual consequences" in order to portray that "Elohim-Teva-Middat Haddin" is a function of the natural order and that Elohim is not out to get anyone. I was mostly inspired by Sefer Hachinuch's compassionate approach to Torah, and BE"H I've since discovered a similar Hashqafah in Tomer D'vorah, as well as, to an extent, in other s'farim.
When a child such as myself who once did this - but please do NOT try it at home - sticks his hand into an electric outlet one will receive a shock but not due to a malicious, vindictive G-d.
Similarly,  Nadav & Avihu and Uzzah died - according to my parshanut - because they got overwhelmingly exposed to a kind of radiation. This same radiation of shechinah, for instance, could blind those peeking at birkas kohanim in the. Mikdash. Or could kill the Kohein Gadol on YK if or when his Q'toret or Avodah were somehow flawed. The cloud of a valid Q'tores acts as a Divine shield protecting the Kohein Gadol. Nadav & Avihu lacked that.
Uzzah could never touch the Aron Hakodesh with his bare hands and live. I darshen away any "anger" on behalf of Hashem and see it as merely as manifestation of a typical human perception of Divine Anger
L'mashal: my daughter once banged herself as a toddler against the table. The baby-sitter yelled, "bad table" a very human reaction. But the table was static. So was the "radiation" from the Aron in Uzzah's case or the Shechinah in the case of Nadav &Avihu. Their impulsivity got them in trouble by going to an unsafe precinct without proper protection.
Similarly, when one cheats with weights and measures Hashem ALLOWS Amaleiq C"V to harm us. He does not necessarily send them. Yes this is similar to l'havdil Jerry Falwell's "drashah" regarding 9/11, the removal of a Divine Shield. His reason for HOW/WHY that shield was removed is quite debatable, but I had already bought into that approach myself long before 9/11.

An Adam Harishon who defies Hashem by eating the forbidden fruit may not remain in Gan Eden.
A Bnai Yisroel dor hamidbar that weeps over the spies cannot enter Israel.
A King Shaul who saves Agag may not rule. Even though, as per Midrash, Shaul was no sinner, he suffered for his flaw as did all of the above suffer the consequences of their character flaws.
Thus the onesh in the Torah is, to me, Consequences, as in Truth or consequences.
And yes - Once in a while a neis intervenes, for example, in the case of Yosef in the pit, etc.
I hope this helps.


Parsha: Shemini, "Olam Chesed Yiboneh"

Another D'var Torah from Cantor Wolberg--

There's a verse in Parshat Shemini (Lev. 11:13) which states: "These shall you abominate from among the birds, they may not be eaten; they are an abomination..." In other words, fowl that are cruel are not eligible to be kosher. One will not always find cruel fowl necessarily exercising cruelty (we see this in the human species as well). It would therefore have been impractical and impossible to have positively identified a specific bird as being unfit. Therefore, the Torah must list all the fowl that are unsuitable for eating.

There is an overriding concept in the laws of kashruth that the characteristics of what we eat somehow have a great influence on the way we behave. The old saying: "You are what you eat." We do not want to associate ourselves for instance with cruelty, therefore we are forbidden to eat cruel animals, and in this case, some species of fowl. Among the fowl that are listed as being non kosher is the chasidah, the white stork. You may ask what cruel character trait does the stork possess. Rashi mentions that the reason it is called a "chasidah" is because it does chesed only with its friends regarding the food it finds. On the surface this seems strange. If the stork acts kindly with its food, why is it disqualified as being kosher?

A beautiful explanation to this difficulty has been given by the Chidushei Harim, in which he explains the nature of the stork. He says that the fact the stork only shows its kindness with its friends defines its cruelty. A fowl who is not in the circle of the stork's good buddies is excluded from getting any help from the stork in finding food. In other words, the stork is very selective in its kindness. This type of kindness is misleading. We, as Jews, are commanded even to help our foes. If we come across someone we dislike intensely who needs help, we are commanded to help. The stork, on the other hand, helps only his inner circle of friends. It is this character trait of differentiating between close friends and others when it comes to providing food that makes the stork non-kosher.

Chesed means reaching out altruistically, with love and generosity to all. The process of maturing involves developing our sense of caring for others. This is crucial for spiritual health. The Talmud likens someone who doesn't give to others as the "walking dead." A non-giving soul is malnourished and withered. It is only through unconditional love that our successful future will be built. In the words of King David (Psalm 89:3): Olam chesed yiboneh - "the world is built on kindness." The more this kindness dissipates and degenerates, the more danger of the foundation collapsing.

- Cantor Wolberg