Parshat Shemini

Priest at the altar

Parshat Shemini

Vayikra (9: 7)
Then Moses said to Aaron: “Come forward to the altar …”

And Moses said to Aaron, Go to the altar: for Aaron was diffident and feared to go there. Moses therefore said to him, “Wherefore art thou diffident? For this purpose hast thou been selected!” Why might Aaron have felt reluctant to participate in the service?

Rabbi Henach Leibowitz
The Ramban explains that Aharon always carried the burden of his sin with him in order to raise his teshuvah to a higher level. As he approached the golden Altar, in his eyes, it took the shape of the Golden Calf. This aroused within him an intense fear that his offering would not be accepted; he became paralyzed and could not act.

Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe
…there is a limit to the extent that one should exercise this trait [of humility.] If one’s humility inhibits his avodas Hashem [service to God], then he has overstepped the proper parameters of this middah. …

Mussar study is imperative for our self-improvement. However, knowing and believing in our positive traits takes precedence over studying mussar. Take a piece of paper and write down at least 20 positive traits that you possess. Only then should you proceed to the Mesilas Yesharim [Path of the Just, Rabbi Luzzato] for a healthy dose of mussar.

Vayikra (10: 1-3)
And the sons of Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, took each of them his fire-pan and put fire in it and placed incense upon it and brought forward alien fire before the LORD, which He had not charged them. And fire came out from before the LORD and consumed them, and they died before the LORD.

Rabbi Dessler notes that the Midrash identifies ten possible causes for their deaths. He thinks that the common thread in all of them was flawed humility/a lack of appropriate humility. Here are the 10 possible causes. How do you think these are related to humility?

  1. Decided a law in the presence of their teacher.
  2. Entered the Holy of Holies without permission.
  3. Brought an offering which they had not been commanded to bring.
  4. Brought “strange fire” — [coals] from their own hearths.
  5. Acted independently, without even consulting each other.
  6. Entered after drinking wine.
  7. Entered without proper garments …
  8. Had not married.
  9. Looked forward to the time when Moshe and Aharon would die and they would lead the generation.
  10. Feasted their eyes on the glory of the Shechina, which they beheld at Har Sinai.

If Aaron was too humble, and Nadav and Abihu too enthusiastic, where is the right balance? How do you find it?

Rabbi Henach Leibowitz [Citing the commentary Yalkut Shimoni]
Nadav and Avihu should have consulted Moshe. As great as they were, Moshe was their spiritual leader … [they should have consulted each other] … Chazal are showing us the power of asking advice. Even if two equals, such as Nadav and Avihu, both feel the same way about a certain topic, talking it over may cause them to change their minds.

Pirkei Avos (4:1) where Ben Zoma teaches us, “Who is a wise man? One who learns from all people.” Rabbeinu Yonah explains that one who truly loves wisdom will search all over for it, as if for silver and gems. He will ask anyone, even someone who knows but one fact, to learn from him. Rabbi Leibowitz mentions three kinds of people from whom to seek advice. Could you describe these in your own words? Why is it important to seek advice from a diversity of people?

Rabbi Shmulevitz, echoing the same Midrash and commentary, says that Torah wisdom comes from a group, not an individual, no matter how learned or smart one is. Alan Morinis has said that a spiritual path taken alone is not only difficult, but impossible. What do you think he means? How might that relate other important journeys in life?