Parshas Shemini – What Went Wrong?

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It’s hard for us to grasp the great tragedy that occurred on this first day of Nissan. On the happiest day in Aharon’s life, on the very day that the Shechina descended upon klal Yisroel, his two children, both very very great tzaddikim, are killed right in front of him. Their sin is explained clearly in the posuk. They mistakenly brought their own ketores onto the mizbe’ach, something they were not commanded to do by Hashem. Just one small deviation from Hashem’s word, and they were immediately struck by a Heavenly fire which killed them instantaneously.

Yet, if we look into the Germorrah (which we also find in Rashi), we seem to get two other reasons for their death. R’ Eliezer says that they died because they dared to pasken a din in front of Moshe, their rebbi.

Here, by the way, one sees the great care and respect one must show to his rebbi. Under no circumstances may a student give his decision on a halacha asked of his rebbi unless, of course, his rebbi tells him to do so. Answering is considered a crime so great as to deserve death by heaven. We find that Shmuel Ha’novi was guilty of this very same crime when he answered a question in front of his rebbi Eli HaKohen. Proper respect for a rebbi is extremely important. In fact, Rebbi Akiva says that the fear for one’s rebbi must be as great as the fear one must have of Hashem. He learns this from the posuk

What an unbelievable requirement! What an important lesson this must be for us.

Rebbi Yishmoel, however, says that the sin of Aharon’s children was that they went into the Mishkon drunk. Even though this commandment wasn’t given until after this tragedy, it should have been self-understood that one cannot serve Hashem properly when in a state of intoxication. The avodah must be done with full control of all one’s senses.

One finds these reasons extremely difficult to understand. The posuk clearly gives us the reason for their death. Why look for other reasons? What’s wrong with the one given in the posuk? Besides, aren’t these reasons actually contradicting what the Torah explicitly states?

Perhaps we can answer these difficult questions with a simple moshol.

A car went out of control and jumped the road divider separating the oncoming traffic. A truck speeding down the road from the other direction hit the car head-on, killing the driver instantly. The police who came to the scene of the accident filed the report which read that the driver died because his car was hit head-on by a truck coming from the opposite direction. Later on, however, an investigator was startled to find out why the driver had lost control and jumped the divider. Some said what it was because the driver was drunk. Others said that he was blinded by the oncoming headlights. Others said it was because he had a blowout of one of the tires.

True, the Torah says that the sons of Aharon died because they brought a kerores zoroh. But we still want to understand how it could be that they weren’t aware of the great danger of their act. Rebbi Yishmoel says that it happened because they entered the Mishkon drunk. When one is drunk he loses the ability to make rational decisions. Rebbi Eliezer says that this was their punishment for deciding a halacha in front of Moshe, their rebbi. Their very assumption that they knew things on their very own and needn’t ask their rebbi, made them assume that it was perfectly right to bring a ketores of their own and did not first ask their rebbi if this was permitted. This caused their own downfall.

Many times misfortune strikes, yet we haven’t got the faintest idea as to why. To understand these situations requires the input of our chachomim. They have the keen insight to tell us where we went wrong and what to correct. Many times we are simply blind to our own faults. We are far better at criticizing others yet we fail miserably when we need to analyze ourselves. For this we must seek the advice of our chachomim. They possess an innate ability to see where we have gone astray.