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Parsha and Manuscript – Sh’mini – ‘A faithful attendant’

Friday, 1 May, 2020 - 6:09 am

Opp. Add. 4° 188 Sh'mini.pngThe Torah portion of Sh’mini discusses the 8th day of the inauguration of the tabernacle when Aaron offered up sacrifices and the Divine presence rested on the tabernacle. The verse states:[1] ‘And fire went forth from before the Lord and consumed the burnt offering and the fats upon the altar, and all the people saw, sang praises, and fell upon their faces.’ The events that follow, whereby the two sons of Aaron pass away[2] after bringing an alien fire with incense in the Tent of Meeting, is however tragic. The Torah relates:[3] ‘And Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu, each took his pan, put fire in it, and placed incense upon it, and they brought before the Lord foreign fire, which He had not commanded them. And fire went forth from before the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord.’


Following the passing of the two sons of Aaron, G-d commands Aaron not to
drink wine and enter the tent of meeting: ‘And the Lord spoke to Aaron, saying, Do not drink wine that will lead to intoxication, neither you nor your sons with you, when you go into the Tent of Meeting, so that you shall not die.’ We would like to explore the numerous reasons given in the Midrash and Talmud as to why the two sons of Aaron passed away and how this is presented in the commentary of Rashi, particularly through the manuscript of his commentary found at the Bodleian Library.

 

Reasons for the passing of the two sons of Aaron

 

A principle reason for the passing of the two sons of Aaron in the Talmud is due to the process of adjudication, as opposed to their actual conduct. The Talmud in tractate Yoma[4] and Eruvin[5] explain they passed away for issuing a ruling in the presence of their master,[6] to bring a man-made fire to the altar, in addition to a heavenly fire. Although this was permitted according to Jewish law, based on the verse in Leviticus:[7] “And the sons of Aaron the priest shall put fire upon the altar,” legislating that ‘even though fire descends from the heavens, there is a commandmentto bring fire by a person,’ the rendering of this ruling on their own in the presence of Moses made them liable to death. This is also the opinion of Rabbi Eliezer, cited in Midrash Torat Kohanim.[8]Similarly, the Midrash Torat Kohanim and Leviticus Rabba[9] offers two further aspects of their behaviour that led to their passing: 1. They did not ask advice from each another,[10] 2. They did not take advice from Moses and Aaron. The above reasons suggest their actual behaviour was permitted, had they requested permission.

 

Other reasons relate to their actual behaviour: 1. For drawing near to the holy place unauthorised.[11] 2. They brought a foreign fire from the Beit HaKirayim (house of ovens) to the altar, instead of from the outer altar.[12] 3. They brought a sacrifice, which they had not been commanded to offer.[13] 4. They had drunk wine,[14] 5.  They lacked the prescribed number of priestly garments while officiating.[15] 6. They entered the sanctuary without washing their hands and feet.[16] 7. They had no children.[17] 8. They had no wives.[18] 9. They were arrogant and craved power at Mount Sinai.[19] 10. They fed their eyes upon the Divine presence at Mount Sinai, as a man looks upon his neighbour while eating and drinking.[20] 11. They uncovered their heads, became presumptuous and fed their eyes upon the Divine presence at Mount Sinai.[21]

 

Two approaches: Accumulative or no reason

 

The many reasons may be viewed in two ways: the behaviour of the two sons of Aaron were cumulative beginning with their display of arrogance at Sinai, leading them to disregard the authority of Moses and Aaron and bring a foreign fire.[22] A further approach is that in fact none of the reasons were actual sins, as they had not been warned about the prohibitions of these misdemeanours, including the punishment for bringing a foreign fire and usurping the authority of Moses. Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch Rappaport (1765-1832), in his commentary Ezrat Kohanim on Midrash Torat Kohanim,[23] explains that the sin of not entering the Holy of Holies other than on Yom Kippur[24] to bring incense and that fire for a voluntary[25] offering of incense on the inner altar may only come from the outer altar[26] had not been commanded yet. Their punishment then was an expression of their holiness that G-d judged them in this manner.[27] This is derived from Moses’ statement to Aaron after their passing that they had sanctified G-d by their passing.[28]


Rashi – second approach

 

Opp. 35 Sh'mini.pngWe would like to present the view of Rashi that also appears to follow this second view. From the fourteen reasons mentioned above for the passing of the two sons of Aaron, Rashi writes that they died because either 1. they usurped Moses’ authority or 2. because of drunkenness. Rashi writes:[29]


And fire went forth: a. Rabbi Eliezer says: Aaron’s sons died only because they rendered halachic decisions in the presence of Moses, their teacher. b. Rabbi Yishmael says: They died because they had entered the sanctuary after
having drunk wine. The proof is that after their death, Scripture admonished
the survivors that they may not enter the sanctuary after having drunk wine.

Following these two reasons, Rashi brings an analogy for the reason that Aaron was warned against drinking wine when entering the sanctuary, to indicate that the two sons of Aaron died because they entered the sanctuary while drunk:

 

This is analogous to a king who had a faithful attendant, as recounted in Leviticus Rabba.[30]


Full analogy in Midrash

 

The source for the analogy that Rashi brings is from Leviticus Rabba, where the full text is found:[31]


Rabbi Shimon says: They died because they had entered the Tent of Meeting after having drunk wine. Rabbi Pinchas in the name Rabbi Levi says: This is analogous to a king who had a faithful attendant. When he found him standing at tavern entrances, he severed his head in silence and appointed another attendant in his place. We would not know why he put the first to death, but for his enjoining the second thus, “You must not enter the doorway of taverns,” from which we know that for such a reason he had put the first one to death. Thus it is said, “And fire went forth from before the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord.” But we would not know why they died, but for His commanding Aaron:[32] “Do not drink wine that will lead to intoxication.” We know from this that they died only on account of the wine. For this reason Scripture showed love to Aaron by directing the divine utterance to him alone, thus, “Do not drink wine that will lead to intoxication.”

 

Opp. 34 Sh'mini.pngManuscripts

 

The parable that Rashi quotes is brought in the published edition of Rashi and the manuscripts but consists of three versions:

 

1. Most Oxford manuscripts, like the published edition, do not quote the whole parable but only the beginning: ‘This is analogous to a king who had a faithful attendant.’ This can be found in CCC 165, MS. Oppenheim 34 (1201-1225), MS. Oppenheim 14 (1340), MS. Canon. Or. 81 (1396), MS. Michael 384 (1399) and MS. Canonici Or. 35 (1401-1425).


2. MS. Oppenheim Add. 4° 188 (1301-1400) brings the whole parable as found in the Midrash.


3. MS. Oppenheim 35 (1408) only brings the very beginning: ‘This is analogous to a king’ without the addition: ‘who had a faithful attendant.’


Questions

 

What is the significance of the differences in the manuscripts and the published edition as to how they quote this midrashic parable, whether a. complete, b. highlighting only the beginning regarding it having to do with a king or c. to include the detail about the faithful attendant? A further question: why does Rashi find it necessary to bring the analogy of a king in the first place, when the idea is self-understood?[33] Finally, why does Rashi choose specifically these two reasons when there are many others, as mentioned above, and conversely, the most simple reason from a literal reading of the text is either they brought unauthorised incense[34] or drunkenness, as evident from the juxtaposition with the command that one should not enter the sanctuary when drunk, as opposed to rendering a halachic decision in front of one’s master, as found in the Talmud and Midrash, which is not as evident in the biblical text.

 

Rashi - Second and third approach - peripheral sin and no sin


The commentary of Rashi, by selecting the two sins – usurping the authority of Moses and drunkenness - reflects sins that are not directly connected to the fire that they brought. The reason for omitting to mention the sin of the fire as one of the reasons may be understood through the commentary of the Rashbam,[35] who comments that the two fires mentioned in chapter nine and chapter ten, both with the wording: ‘And fire went forth from before the Lord’ - the first in response to the sacrifices that Aaron brought on the eighth day,[36] and the second in response to the fire that the two sons of Aaron brought immediately afterwards[37] - are in fact both the same fire.[38]

 

At the time that the heavenly fire emanated in order to consume the sacrificial meat on the altar in the courtyard of the Tabernacle, it consumed the two sons of Aaron on its way. This fire had meant to consume only the incense, but seeing that the sons of Aaron had been in its way it consumed them also and they died as a result. Based on this, both fires that came forth from G-d were a manifestation of the presence of G-d’s holiness. If this is the case, the fire that consumed the two sons of Aaron was inherently positive – the presence of the Divine and not in response to a foreign incense that they brought.[39] In this context Rashi quotes reasons as found in the Talmud and Midrash, that are more peripheral: rendering a Halacha in front of one’s master or having been drunk, that is not a sin at all as it had not yet been commanded.[40]


Analogy

 

Following the view – second and third approach – that the sin of the two sons of Aaron was either of a peripheral nature or consisted of no sin at all, the parable that Rashi alludes to is to explain this fundamental question: if they had not been commanded why were they punished?[41] The answer to this question is not so much from the whole parable about the faithful attendant at the doorway of a tavern to explain how we derive what their sin was in the first place but from the idea of their status of being faithful attendants to the king. As faithful attendants of G-d, the two sons of Aaron ought to have known that they should not enter the tent of meeting while intoxicated or to undermine Moses’ authority, he being also a faithful servant of G-d. This would explain the version of the manuscripts and the printed edition that do not quote the whole parable, or just the word king but select the additional words about the faithful attendant, as relevant to answering the above question.

 

 

 


 

Footnotes 

[1] Leviticus 9:24.

[2] This took place on the 1st of Nissan (Leviticus Rabba 20:12).

[3] Leviticus 10:1-2.

[4] Talmud Yoma 53a: Rabbi Eliezer says: Aaron’s sons died only because they taught a halakha before Moses their teacher; they should have asked him for his ruling, but they neglected to do so. What did they interpret? The verse states: “And the sons of Aaron the priest shall put fire upon the altar” (Leviticus 1:7), which indicates that although fire descends from the heavens, it is a mitzva to bring man-made fire.

[5] Talmud Eruvin 63a.

[6] Leviticus Rabba 20:7: Rabbi Eleazar taught: It is forbidden for a disciple to give a legal decision in the presence of his master until he is twelve mils away from him. See Talmud Berachot 31b.

[7] Leviticus 1:7.

[8] The ruling was based on the teaching found in the Talmud in tractate Yoma (21b): it was taught in a baraita: “And the sons of Aaron the priest shall put fire upon the altar” (Leviticus 1:7), indicating that even though fire descends from the heavens, still there is a special mitzva to bring fire by a person.’ See also Yoma 53a and Eruvin 63a. Mishneh Torah, Daily Offerings and Additional Offerings 2:1. The Talmud Yoma 45a explains there were three arrangements of fire on the altar. The placing of the fire on the altar was a stand-alone commandment, besides the fire for the sacrifices (Sefer Hachinuch 132:1).

[9] Leviticus Rabba 20:8-10.

[10] This is derived from: ‘each took his pan.’

[11] This is the view of Bar Kappara in the name of Rabbi Jeremiah ben Eleazar in Leviticus Rabba (20:8), based on the verse (Leviticus 16:1): ‘when they drew near before the Lord, and they died.’

[12] This is the opinion of Rabbi Akiva in Torat Kohanim and Bar Kappara in the name of Rabbi Jeremiah ben Eleazar in Leviticus Rabba (20:8). It is derived from: ‘they brought before the Lord foreign fire.’ The statement: ‘which He had not commanded them’ is to explain that Moses was not to blame for their sin, as he had not been asked and had he been, he would not have commanded them to bring the fire. This is also the reason mentioned in Hadar Zekeinim on beginning of Acharei Mot.

[13] This is the view of R. Mani of She’ab, R. Joshua of Siknin, and R. Yochanan in the name of R. Levi in Leviticus Rabba 20:9.

[14] This is the view of R. Mani of She’ab, R. Joshua of Siknin, and R. Yochanan in the name of R. Levi in Leviticus Rabba 20:9, based on Leviticus 10:9: ‘Do not drink wine that will lead to intoxication, neither you nor your sons with you, when you go into the Tent of Meeting, so that you shall not die’. This is also found in Leviticus Rabba 12:1 in the name of R. Shimon.

[15] This is the view of R. Mani of She’ab, R. Joshua of Siknin, and R. Yochanan in the name of R. Levi in Leviticus Rabba 20:9, based on Exodus 28:43: ‘They shall be worn by Aaron and by his sons when they enter the Tent of Meeting or when they approach the altar to serve in the Holy, so they will not bear iniquity and die. It shall be a perpetual statute for him and for his descendants after him.’

[16] This is the view of R. Mani of She’ab, R. Joshua of Siknin, and R. Yochanan in the name of R. Levi in Leviticus Rabba 20:9, based on Exodus 30:21: ‘They shall wash their hands and feet so that they will not die; this shall be for them a perpetual statute, for him and for his descendants, for their generations.’

[17] This is the view of R. Mani of She’ab, R. Joshua of Siknin, and R. Yochanan in the name of R. Levi in Leviticus Rabba 20:9, based on Numbers 3:4: ‘Nadab and Avihu died before the Lord when they brought alien fire before the Lord in the Sinai desert, and they had no children.’

[18] This is the view of Abba Hanin in Leviticus Rabba 20:9, based on Leviticus 16:6: ‘And Aaron shall bring his sin offering bull, and initiate atonement for himself and for his household,’ and ‘his house’ signifies his wife, implying he had to have a wife (Midrash Rabba Leviticus, Soncino, p. 260). The reason why they had not married, according to Leviticus Rabba 20:10 was due their arrogance, saying that since their uncle was king, uncle was the prince, their father high priest and themselves deputy high priests, no woman is worthy to marry them. This is also the view of R. Levi in Leviticus Rabba 20:10.

[19] Talmud Sanhedrin 52a: ‘And it had already happened that Moses and Aaron were walking on their way (ascending Mount Sinai – Torat Kohanim on Leviticus 10:1), and Nadav and Avihu were walking behind them, and the entire Jewish people were walking behind them. Nadav said to Avihu: When will it happen that these two old men will die and you and I will lead the generation, as we are their heirs? The Holy One, Blessed be He, said to them: We shall see who buries whom.’ See Rashi: they desired power. Maharsha explains they were punished for jealousy of Moses and Aaron, based on Proverbs (14:30): ‘anger (lit. jealousy) is the rot of the bones.’ This teaching about their arrogance and craving for the assumption of power after the passing of Moses and Aaron is also found in Leviticus Rabba 20:10 in the name of R. Menahama in the name of R. Joshua ben Nechemiah, based on the fact that they are mentioned after Moses and Aaron in Exodus 24:1: ‘And to Moses He said, "Come up to the Lord, you and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel, and prostrate yourselves from afar.’ The Midrash (ibid) presents a dispute whether the above conversation actually occurred (R. Judah in the name of R. Avihu) or they merely harboured such thought (R. Pinchas).

[20] Leviticus Rabba 20:10.

[21] Leviticus Rabba 20:10. The Tosafot in Yoma 53a quotes in the name of the Talmud (Sanhedrin 52a) and Torat Kohanim the following reasons as conflicting: they craved power at Sinai; uncovered their hair; were drunk; lacked garments.

[22] Tosafot Ha’azara on Torat Kohanim, Sh’mini, 32 connects the events at Sinai in Exodus with their conduct in Leviticus. Tosafists in Da’at Zekeinim seems tofollow this view with its commentary that the reason for the passing of the two sons of Aaron was because they belittled the miracle of G-d’s fire by bringing a man made fire first; usurping the authority of Moses, “and fire came forth from before the Lord, etc.” this was because they had not acted appropriately. Even though it is in order to use man made fire, as we have read specifically in Leviticus 1:7: ‘the sons of Aaron are to put fire on the altar,’ this was in addition to the heavenly fire which had come down a single time. Before G-d had demonstrated acceptance of the Israelites' offerings in the Temple precincts, they were not allowed to use man-made fire, as it would have belittled the miracle G-d provided. People would have argued that their offerings had been consumed by man-made fire. This is why G-d struck these two sons of Aaron with fire emanating in heaven.

[23] Ezrat Kohanim on Torat Kohanim, Sh’mini, 275.

[24] Leviticus 16:2: ‘And the Lord said to Moses: Speak to your brother Aaron, that he should not come at all times into the Holy within the dividing curtain.’

[25] The prohibition against bringing foreign fire (from the Oven House) for obligatory incense had been taught already.

[26] This question is cited in Ezrat Kohanim the name of Rabbi Isaiah di Trani. See Torat Kohanim on Leviticus 2:9: ‘And the kohen shall lift out, from the meal offering, its reminder and cause it to [go up in] smoke on the altar; [it is] a fire offering [with] a pleasing fragrance to the Lord.’

[27] Tosafot Ha’azara on Torat Kohanim, Sh’mini, 32.

[28] Rashi on Leviticus 10:3: “And I will meet with the children of Israel, and it will be sanctified through My glory (b’chvodi)” (Exod. 29:43). Do not read b’chvodi “through My glory,” but b’mchubodiy - “through My honorable ones.” Moses said to Aaron, “Aaron, my brother! I knew that this House was to be sanctified through the beloved ones of the Omnipresent, but I thought it would be either through me or through you. Now I see that they [Nadab and Abihu] were greater than I or you!” (Leviticus Rabbah 12:2).

[29] Leviticus 10:2.

[30] Leviticus Rabba 12:1.

[31] Leviticus Rabba 12:1.

[32] Leviticus 10:9.

[33] This reason is also the reason given by R. Mani of She’ab, R. Joshua of Siknin, and R. Yochanan in the name of R. Levi in Leviticus Rabba 20:9, but without any analogy.

[34] Likkutei Sichot 7:122, footnote 25. See Rashi on Numbers 16:6 and 17:13.

[35] Rashbam on Leviticus 10:2:1.

[36] Exodus 19:8.

[37] Leviticus 9:24.

[38] See Torat Menachem (Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson) vol. 46, p. 373.

[39] This argument is made in Likkutei Sichot 12:50, footnote 10, where it points out that even if they were two separate fires, the use of the same exact wording implies that they would not have opposite connotations: reward for erecting the tabernacle and punishment for a grave sin.

[40] In Torat Menachem, vol. 46, p. 373, footnote 52 it argues that from the word ‘ben bayit’ (faithful attendant) in the singular, as found in Rashi, it implies that in fact only Nadav and Abihu were of this stature, indeed loftier than Moses and Aaron, as Moses himself testified after their passing. This being the case, Nadav and Abihu did not in fact transgress rendering a halachic decision in front of their master. This is in addition to the argument by Tosafot Kohanim that the punishment for this sin was not yet taught and therefore could not be applicable.

[41] Likkutei Sichot 12:52.

 

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