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Parsha Perspectives

Table Talk

For Discussion Around the Shabbat Table

The Torah forbids Jews from going in the ways of the Egyptians and Canaanites (Vayikra 18:3).  Rashi writes that their actions were more abominable than those of all other nations.  This seems to imply that imitating the practices of other less immoral nations would be permitted.  As this isn’t the case, why did the Torah write the prohibition in this manner?

Q: The Gemara (Sanhedrin 52a) recounts that while Moses and Aaron were leading the way at Mount Sinai, Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu followed behind them and wondered aloud to one another when their father and uncle might die so that they could assume the mantle of leadership.  G-d replied, “We’ll see who will bury whom.”  Rashi explains that the Gemara is coming to teach us that it was for this act of seeking power that they died prematurely.  How can this be reconciled with the fact that the Torah gives an alternate reason for their death, namely that they brought a strange fire on the Altar regarding which they weren’t commanded?  Secondly, where do we find that the pursuit of power is a capital crime?

A: Rabbi Yaakov Yisroel Kanievsky beautifully resolves these questions based on a Gemara in Rosh Hashana (17a-b).  The Gemara states that G-d overlooks the sins of a person and gives him time to repent if he makes himself humble and unassuming.  Based on this, we can understand the Gemara in Sanhedrin.  The Gemara is not saying that Nadab and Abihu were put to death for seeking honor and glory.  The actual cause of their deaths was the foreign sacrifice, as the Torah states explicitly.  The Gemara, however, is bothered by the fact that G-d normally does not punish people instantly, but rather allows them an opportunity to repent.  The Gemara is coming to explain that Nadab and Abihu lost that opportunity by their desire for power.  To recap: Nadav and Abihu died because of the foreign sacrifice.  Their death was instant because of their desire for power. (Rabbi Ozer Alport)

Q: The Gemara (Ketuvot 103b) relates that when Rebbi – Rav Yehuda HaNasi – passed away, a piece of paper fell from heaven, which stated that all who were present at that time would merit a share in the World to Come.  Why don’t we find similar episodes regarding the deaths of other righteous individuals?

A: Rav Yitzchok Elchonon Spektor answers that the Gemara (Yoma 85b) records a dispute between Rebbi and the other Rabbis with respect to the atonement effected by Yom Kippur.  The Sages maintain that Yom Kippur is only effective together with confession and repentance for one’s misdeeds, but Rebbi maintains that the holiness of the day itself intrinsically brings atonement and forgiveness for all.  It is also known (see Rashi Bamidbar 20:1) that the death of the righteous effects atonement similar to Yom Kippur.  Although the halacha is decided in accordance with the majority of the Sages, in deference to the opinion of Rebbi, his death was treated in accordance with his opinion and therefore all who were present received forgiveness, even if they didn’t repent! (Rabbi Ozer Alport)

Parsha Tidbits

Jumping Points for Discussion and Further Study



    “G-d said to Moses: Speak to your brother Aaron that he not come at all times into the Holy Sanctuary that is inside of the Curtain, before the Ark-cover that is upon the Ark so that he not die, for in a cloud I shall appear upon the Ark-cover.”  Vayikra 16:2
    Speak to Aaron – So that he not die in the [same] way his sons Nadab and Abihu died by entering the Holy Sanctuary without permission. – Rashi
    Speak to Aaron – When Aaron heard to news of his son’s passing, he immediately said, “I offer thanks before You for the kindness that You have done [in taking my children], rather than allow them to lead corrupt lives…’ The Almighty said to Moses, ‘Since Aaron was visited by strict justice and not only did he not complain, but he even thanked Me for My kindness, go and comfort him.’  Therefore, the verse says, ‘Speak to Aaron,’ for the term ‘speak’ can be used to denote comfort. – Pesiktah Rabbasi
    Although Pesiktah Rabbasi explains that the word ‘speak’ can indicate comforting words, more commonly it is used to connote forceful speech.  The commentators explain that Moses was instructed to speak to Aaron in a forceful manner and not to soften his words in any way that could be interpreted as a show of favoritism to his brother.  His message was a strong one, and he could not temper it in any way, just because he was speaking to his beloved brother.  As a leader, Moses was expected to treat everyone equally and never to do anything that could lead to an accusation of nepotism.


    “The Kohen shall then order that for the person undergoing purification there be taken two live kosher birds, cedar wood, crimson thread, and a hyssop branch…” Vayikra 14:4
    “G-d spoke to Moses, telling him to speak to the Children of Israel, and say to them: I am Hashem, your G-d.  Do not follow the ways of Egypt where you once lived, nor of Canaan…” Vayikra 18:1-3
    “G-d spoke all these words, saying: I am Hashem your G-d, who brought you out of Egypt, from the land of slavery.” Shemot20:1,2
    This verse commences the portion discussing the issue of forbidden relationships.  Rav Hirsch zt”l points out that is very reminiscent in style to the opening verse of the Asseret HaDibrot [Ten Commandments].  This comparison is meant to drive home the point that the moral standards set forth by the Torah, are as critical to the spiritual well-being of the Jewish nation, as observance of the Ten Commandments.  Further evidence of this is apparent from the severe terms used to describe some of the forms of illicit behavior and the consequences they provoke.  Sexual purity is one of the foundations of our nation, and though often perceived as “out of touch with reality,” it is the hallmark of the only nation that has managed to preserve its heritage intact throughout the ages.


    “With this shall Aaron come into the sanctuary, with a young bull for a sin-offering and a ram for an elevation offering.”Vayikra 16:3
    “It is a Shabbat of complete rest for you, and you shall afflict yourselves; an eternal decree. – Vayikra 16:31
    With This – And even with this, only on Yom Kippur [may he enter the Holy of Holies]… – Rashi
    The first half of this Parsha speaks of the unique Yom Kippur service, as it was performed by the Kohein Gadol on behalf of the entire nation.  Without the benefit of having witnessed this inspiring service, it is difficult to imagine the impact it had on the participants, but a careful study of the Parsha reveals that it was the high point of the year.  The entire nation would witness open miracles and experience a rare sense of elevation when signs of G-d’s forgiveness became evident.  While Yom Kippur still occupies a prominent place in the Jewish calendar, lacking a Beit HaMikdash/Holy Temple and the Yom Kippur service, our Yom Kippur nowadays appears to consist solely of taxing prayers and afflictions, and we must struggle to appreciate its myriad benefits.  One means of doing so is by studying this Parsha and learning about what made this day so special in ancient times.  This knowledge can serve as an inspiration even when we lack the actual Temple service.


    “For on this day He shall provide atonement for you to cleanse you; from all your sins before G-d shall you be cleansed.” Vayikra 16:30
    This verse is a long-term guarantee to the Children of Israel that each year Yom Kippur will serve as a special day upon which they can earn atonement for their misdeeds, and repair their fractured relationship with G-d. – Rabbeinu Bachya
    From All Your Sins Before G-d – Rabbi Elazar ben Azaria taught that repentance and Yom Kippur service can prompt atonement only for sins ‘before G-d’ – i.e. sins against G-d, which have not harmed others [violating Shabbat etc.]  If one has sinned against his fellow, however, G-d will not forgive him until he first appeases the victim.” – Tractate Yoma 85b
    Before G-d Shall You Be Cleansed – Only G-d knows if you are truly sorry and repentant for your actions, and if your desire to improve will lead to meaningful change. –Sforno
    The gift of Yom Kippur as an opportunity for self-correction should not be misunderstood as a magical occurrence through which we somehow attain atonement for all our misdeeds without any prior effort on our part.  The Torah especially stresses that inter-personal relationships are beyond the range of Yom Kippur, and must be repaired independently.  While this is a most daunting task, we are confident of our success because we know that G-d will assist us throughout, and because even more than we desire to change, He desires to help us do so effectively.  So while we’re expected to take responsibility, we’re not being asked to go it alone either.


    “You shall observe My decrees and My laws, which man shall perform and by which he shall live.” Vayikra 18:5
    Rabbeinu Bachya explains that there are four types of people who observe the mitzvot, and all four merit extended life in the World to Come to varying degrees:
    1. One who performs mitzvot solely for the reward and honor that it bestows upon him in this world. His impure motives notwithstanding, he will benefit from his mitzvot and earn a share in the World to Come
    2. One who performs mitzvot solely in order to earn a share in the World to Come. His less than perfect motives notwithstanding, his soul will repose in the World to Come following his death.
    3. One who performs the mitzvot entirely out of love for the mitzvot and without any consideration of a reward in this world or the World to Come.  This person will merit success in the World to Come and even in this world, and his material endeavors will meet with great success.  Examples of this kind of person are the Patriarchs: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, all of whom enjoyed financial success along with eternal repose in the World to Come.
    4. One whose entire focus is on serving his Creator with nary a thought given to his own physical existence.  This individual, whose body is merely a repository for the soul but undeserving of added emphasis, will elude death altogether and ascend to heaven with body and soul intact.  Examples of such individuals are Elijah the Prophet and Chanoch.
    Not only are incompletely sincere mitzvot valuable in their own right, but the Talmud also assures us that insincere mitzvah performance will eventually lead to sincere mitzvah performance (provided the individual values this result and does not oppose it).  Thus, one earns a share in the World to Come at all stages of mitzvah observance.
    By Which He Shall Live – This refers to life in the World to Come, for if you say [that this refers] to life in this world, won’t he die in the end even if he observes the mitzvot? – Rashi
    By Which He Shall Live – This verse can also be speaking about increased life expectancy in this world.  For when one lives a life of thievery, adultery, or murder, his life-expectancy immediately diminishes.  All of these lifestyles, as well as so many others found among those ignorant of the Torah lifestyle prescriptions, lead to unhealthy results that severely impair one’s capacity to live a long life. – Rabbi Yosef Bechor Shor
    It is interesting to note that whereas all the Torah’s commandments must be abrogated in the face of a matter of life and death, there are three exceptions to this rule: idolatry, adultery, and homicide.  This is not merely because they are so much more distasteful than all the others.  Rather, the Torah was given to us to enhance our life.  Where it literally conflicts with our ability to continue living, it logically must be overridden or it would defeat its own purpose.  When, however, the sin is likely to lead to death, as in the case of these three [those who murder others are likely targets themselves etc.,] there is no justification for overriding the Torah’s prohibition.

Hey, I Never Knew That


The Torah states, “You shall therefore keep My statutes and My judgments, which a man shall do and shall live in them; I am the L-rd” (Vayikra 18:5).  The Talmud (Yoma 85b) understands the words “live in them” as the source for the idea that life takes precedence over virtually all the commandments.  The Talmud (ibid) rules that if a person is buried under a collapsed house on Shabbat, even if an expert believes that he will only live for a short time, and even that is doubtful, one must nevertheless do everything possible to extract him.  Some explain that the reason we must save this victim is because even if he lives only a short time he may be able to repent (Meiri, ad loc). However the Chofetz Chaim points out that in fact, even if the victim will be completely unconscious during the short time he remains alive, we would still be obligated to save him, because “we push aside the mitzvot for the life of a Jew, as derived from ‘you shall live in them’ ” (Biur Halacha 329).

Word of the Week


  • עינוי

    “[Y]ou shall ועניתם—ve’initem your souls…” (Vayikra 16:31). The verse states that on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, there is a commandment of עינוי—inuy.  According to the Ibn Ezra, the simple translation of the term is to fast, the central mitzvah of Yom Kippur.  Some translate the word as affliction and maintain that this includes the prohibitions against bathing, anointing, wearing shoes, and intimacy (Targum Yonatan ben Uziel, Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Shvitat Asor 1:5).  Some explain that the word is related to לענות—l’anot—to respond, and that the Torah is exhorting us this one day to “respond” to the needs of the soul and not to anything else (Sfat Emet, Devarim, Yom Kippur).

Dear Rabbi

The Torah prohibits tattoos, and indeed for thousands of years, tattoos were anathema to any Jew. One of the most common misconceptions about tattoos is that if a Jew has a tattoo he or she may not be buried in a Jewish cemetery.  This is completely untrue; although tattooing is forbidden, it is a sin like any other, and having a sin does not prevent someone from a Jewish burial.  Someone once asked Rav Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg this question and he answered, “If we didn’t bury people who have sinned in a Jewish cemetery, then no one would be buried there” (Rabbi Yekutiel Yehudah Greenwald, Kol Bo Al Aveilut, pp. 191-196, Rabbi David Zvi Hoffman, Responsa Melamed Le-Ho’il, 2:114).

“And you shall not walk in their statutes” (Vayikra 18:3) is the source for the prohibition against imitating the ways of the pagans (Avodah Zarah 11a).  How far does this prohibition extend? Pagans wear glasses, use cars, electricity and medication; clearly these are not prohibited.  Why?  Rabbi Moshe Isserless (Yoreh Deah 178) rules that if a particular activity of the pagans has a logical reason and tangible benefit, it is permitted.  Only those statutes and practices that can be traced to paganism or to immorality, or whose origin is unknown but they lack tangible benefit or logical reasons are prohibited.  According to the Gaon of Vilna (Shulchan Aruch ad loc) anything which the pagans would do independently of their religion, such as, clothing, technology, and medicine, are not considered “statutes” of the pagans and are thus not included in the prohibition.

Parsha at a Glance

After the death of Aaron’s 2 sons, G-d instructs Moses as to how the High Priest is to conduct the service when he enters the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur.  When Aaron follows these instructions precisely, his avodah (service) will be accepted by G-d as atonement for his iniquities and for those of Israel.  This is followed by instructions to the people about the fast of Yom Kippur, introduced here by the phrase “You shall afflict your souls.”  (The Talmud explains that these words mean that one must refrain from 5 actions: eating, drinking, washing, wearing leather shoes and having marital relations.)   The laws of shechitah (ritual slaughtering of animals for food) are repeated with special emphasis on the prohibition against eating blood.  The Torah states again that the Israelites are to be holy and different from other peoples, and gives us a list of the abominable sexual unions which were engaged in by other nations but which are forbidden to us.  We are told that if we violate these laws, the land will spew us out.