SEDRAH SELECTIONS PARSHAS SHMINI 5766 BS"D
Ch. 10, v. 2: "Va'teitzei aish milifnei Hashem vatochal osom" - And a fire went out from in front of Hashem and consumed them - It is most unusual to find the name Hashem used here, where a most devastating punishment was meted out to Nodov and Avihu, since Hashem connotes the characteristic of mercy. However, as explained in an earlier issue of Sedrah Selections their death came about by their exposing themselves to a spiritual level that was beyond their constitution. This cleaving to Hashem is called "k'los nefesh." It is precisely because they cleaved to Hashem that they died, and indeed it was "misas n'shikoh," a kiss of death. Had the characteristic of judgment been present, Elokim, their exposure would have been on a lower level, a spiritual "voltage" that their systems could with stand. (Shem miShmuel)
Ch. 10, v. 2: "Va'yomusu" - And they died - The Chid"o in his monumental work Nachal K'dumim, cites in the name of "Rabbo'nei Ashkenaz" the following medrash: When Iyov saw the death of Aharon's two sons he said, "Af l'zose yecherad libi" (Iyov 37:1). They explain, based on the gemara Sotoh 11, which states that Iyov was one of Paroh's three main advisors. When he raised the "Jewish problem" Iyov kept quiet, offering no advice. He thought that he would thus not anger Paroh, and at the same time not anger Hashem, by not responding. However, when he heard that not only Nodov, but also Avihu was punished, even though their punishment came about in response to Nodov's saying to Avihu, "When will these two elders who lead the nation die so that we can take over the leadership," he realized that not responding when hearing a negative statement is also punishable, even by death. He then was very worried, because he had just heard Bilom's advice to enslave the bnei Yisroel.
However, in Chomas Anoch the Chid"o writes that he saw this Medrash Tanchuma and it clearly says that Nodov and Avihu both actually said this, and the explanation offered has disintegrated.
Ch. 10, v. 2: "Va'yomusu lifnei Hashem" - And they died in front of Hashem - The Holy Zohar writes that Nodov and Avihu were under the age of 20 years when they committed their sin. This raises the question of how they were punished by Heaven, based on the ruling that the Celestial court does not punish someone who is under the age of 20. This can be resolved based on the opinion of commentators who explain that Er and Onoh were put to death by the Heavenly court even though they were not even 13 years of age because they were mentally developed to the stage of someone over 20 years old. We can surely say the same here.
The Kabalistic work Zera Beireich answers this question with the following enigmatic statement: Once the Holy Presence, "sh'chinoh," descends to the earth, permission is given to the destructive powers to do their work. He explains this with another similarly enigmatic statement: "Tana," we have learned, Isi ben Yehudoh says that Nodov and Avihu did not die until after the bnei Yisroel posited that the Holy Presence did not descend to the earth, and with the death of these two people they realized that the Holy Presence indeed did descend to the earth. This is explained by Rabbi Menachem Azarioh in Asoroh Maamoros. The Celestial court does not punish someone under the age of 20. However, this is only true when the Holy Presence is only found in the heavenly spheres. Once it descends to the earth, it functions in a manner similar to the earthly court, i.e. punishment is meted out even to someone who is 12/13 years old. The death of Nodov and Avihu when they were younger than 20 taught the bnei Yisroel that the "Sh'chinoh" was present on earth. Isi ben Yehudoh's statement is likewise understood.
We can now answer a question raised by the Mahara"l of Prague. He asks, "How can a person under the age of 20 bring a chatos offering to atone for his accidental sin? Since a prerequisite of a chatos is that 'z'dono ko'reis,' if intentionally transgressed, the sin carries the punishment of excision (gemara Horios 8a), a younger than 20 year old person should be exempt."
We can answer, based on the earlier concept, that when the Beis Hamikdosh was extant there was the presence of the Sh'chinoh, and "krisus" would be meted out to people under the age of 20. (Chid"o in Chomas Anoch)
This answer seems to be limited to the first Beis Hsmikdosh only, as the gemara Yoma 21 says that Sh'chinoh was not present at the second Beis Hamikdosh.
(On a simple level, it would seem that the requirement of "z'dono ko'reis" is fulfilled by the Torah stating that this or that sin carries such a punishment. Those under bar/bas mitzvoh age are exempt, as they are for almost all Torah punishments, and once reaching the age of majority the Torah says that there is "ko'reis." The leniency of the Heavenly court not interceding during this span of time has no bearing.)
According to the above it is now very well understood why the verse repeats "lifnei Hashem." They were put to death by the Heavenly court in spite of their being younger than 20 years of age because they were "lifnei Hashem," i.e. there was a Spiritual presence on earth. (Nirreh li)
Ch. 10, v. 3: "Bikrovai ekodeish v'al pnei chol ho'om eko'veid" - Through My holy ones I will be sanctified and upon the faces of all individuals of the nation I will be honoured - When our brethren witnessed and experienced the brutal savage murder of their brethren in the holocaust there were two reactions. "Bikrovai ekodeish," among those who are close to Me, I have become sanctified. They witness the actualization of the warnings and admonitions of the Torah, the exacting judgment. However, among the common people, "v'al pnei chol ho'om," there is much difficulty in comprehending My actions, "echo'veid." (Hakodosh Rabbi Boruch of Savrin)
Ch. 10, v. 3: "Va'yidom Aharon" - And Aharon remained mute - The gemara Z'vochim 115b says that as a reward for Aharon's not responding he received from Hashem the rulings of the restrictions against an inebriated person performing priestly service. Tosfos there asks that this seems contrary to a M.R. in parshas Korach, which states that even though the verse clearly says that Hashem spoke to Aharon saying ……, nevertheless the actual prophecy from Hashem was directed to Moshe to tell Aharon. Tosfos answers that even if the prophecy was to Moshe there was a great reward in and of itself in the the Torah's expressing itself in terms of direct address to Aharon.
Seemingly this means the words in verse 8, "Va'y'da'beir Hashem el Aharon leimore." The Mahari"l Diskin says that it is more than just this verse. It is the direct command expressed to Aharon and his remaining sons, "al teisht atoh uvo'necho itoch b'vo'achem …… v'lo tomusu," six words directed to Aharon.
Following the simple direct addressing Aharon, the Tzror Hamor says that we see the greatness of Aharon. He surely accepting the devastating death of his two oldest sons with equanimity, or else he could not possibly have received a prophetic message, as per the axiom that a spiritual presence does not rest upon one who is morose.
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