Friday, March 25, 2011

Don't Drink and Serve

After the 7 days of the Chanukas Hamishkan, the Mishkan is finally fully operational. Aharon takes over the Avodah from Moshe Rabbenu. After bringing his first Karbanos, Aharon Hacohen blesses the people and the glory of Hashem descends on the nation. As promised in Parshas Terumah, the Jewish people built for Hashem a sanctuary and Hashem dwells with them. A fire descends from Hashem and consumes the Olah and fats. The people fall on their faces in awe. Nadav and Avihu, Aharon's elder sons, in a state of religious ecstasy take fire pans, put in them fire and incense, and bring them before G-d, a strange fire that had not been commanded to them. A fire comes out from Hashem, consuming them as they die before Hashem. What went wrong?

Rashi explains:
רש"י ויקרא פרק י
(ב) ותצא אש - רבי אליעזר אומר לא מתו בני אהרן אלא על ידי שהורו הלכה בפני משה רבן. רבי ישמעאל אומר שתויי יין נכנסו למקדש, תדע שאחר מיתתן הזהיר הנותרים שלא יכנסו שתויי יין למקדש. משל למלך, שהיה לו בן בית וכו', כדאיתא בויקרא רבה:
Verse 2: A fire came forth.
Rabbi Eliezer says: The sons of Aharon died only because they rendered halachic decisions in the presence of their master Moshe.33 Rabbi Yishmo'el says: Intoxicated with wine they entered the Sanctuary.34 You should know [that this is true], for after their death He warned the survivors not to enter the Sanctuary [while] intoxicated with wine. [This] may be compared to a king who had a [faithful] member of his household, etc. as it is [explained] in Vayikro Rabbo.35

The Lubavitcher Rebbe asks, why does Rashi provide these two reasons for the death of Nadav and Avihu and ignore the more simple pshat that they died because they brought an אֵשׁ זָרָה אֲשֶׁר לֹא צִוָּה אֹתָם, a foreign fire that God had not commanded.  He explains that in reality Nadav and Avihu died Midah Keneged Midah. They brought an אֵשׁ זָרָה, a foreign fire, and  וַתֵּצֵא אֵשׁ מִלִּפְנֵי יְקֹוָק וַתֹּאכַל אוֹתָם וַיָּמֻתוּ לִפְנֵי יְקֹוָק , a fire came from before God and consumed them and they died before God. However, Rashi wants to know how could a fire from Hashem be a vehicle of punishment if just 2 verses earlier it represented the apex of divine reward when it says  וַתֵּצֵא אֵשׁ מִלִּפְנֵי יְקֹוָק וַתֹּאכַל עַל הַמִּזְבֵּחַ אֶת הָעֹלָה וְאֶת הַחֲלָבִים וַיַּרְא כָּל הָעָם וַיָּרֹנּוּ וַיִּפְּלוּ עַל פְּנֵיהֶם: , a fuire came from before God and consumed the altar, the Olah, and the fats, and the nation saw and they sang and they fell on their faces. Therefore Rashi says that Nadav and Avihu did not die because of the act of Avodah itself which inherently was an act of Kedusha. Rather they died because they did not consult with Moshe Rabbenu.

But how did it enter their hearts to do such a thing? After weeks of Moshe Rabbenu's detailed presentation of every aspect of the Avodah, how could they fail to consult with him prior to offering their own innovation? To answer this, Rabbi Yaakov Kaminetzky explains, is the second peshat in Rashi. The root cause of their arrogance was the wine that they ingested. If one considers, this wine was not yet forbidden. Only after this unfortunate incident, does Hashem command, "No drinking and serving". On such a happy day as the dedication of the Temple it was understandable that Nadav and Avihu wished to celebrate with some wine. Does it not say in Tehillim in Barchei Nafshi that we recite on every Rosh Chodesh: (טו) וְיַיִן יְשַׂמַּח לְבַב אֱנוֹשׁ לְהַצְהִיל פָּנִים מִשָּׁמֶן וְלֶחֶם לְבַב אֱנוֹשׁ יִסְעָד:, wine makes the heart happy? But they should have realized that the awe with which one approaches the temple and the happiness one experiences with alcohol do not mix. When one drinks one's inhibitions go down and one often behaves in silly or inappropriate ways as the Gemara says in Eruvin נכנס יין יצא סוד when wine comes in the secrets come out.

But can't wine be a positive thing? I remember in Yeshiva on Purim that some of the Rebbeim would get drunk and the only secrets that would leave their mouths was Torah. So why would wine be condemned in Nadav and Avihu such holy people. The Sfas Emes looks at these verses metaphorically:

שפת אמת ספר ויקרא - פרשת שמיני - שנת [תרמ"ז[
בענין שאמחז"ל על נדב ואביהוא *שתויי* *יין* נכנסו למקדש. גם לפי פשוטו חלילה לומר שהיו מזלזלין ח"ו בעבודה. רק כענין שמצינו אגברי' חמרא לדרדקא כי היכי דלימרו מילי. ואיתא חמרי פקחין כו'. שהיין מעורר הלב כמ"ש ותירוש ינובב בתולות. אך הכהן שהוא שלוחו של מקום לא הי' רשאי להוסיף שום כח והתפעלות מצידו. וזה נקרא אשר לא צוה אותם שהי' צריך להיות כל העבודה רק בשליחות המקום ב"ה. והקב"ה מדקדק עם הצדיקים כחוט השערה:

Wine represents coming to do the Avodah with one's own wisdom and creativity. However, in the service of Hashem one must be totally subservient to God. This was the sin of Nadav and Avihu. Rather than using the Avodah to subjugate their will to the will of the one above, they created their own Avodah.

There is an old Minhag to fast on the Monday, Thursday, and Monday after Rosh Hodesh following Pesach and Sukkos. This is known as Taanis BehaB. I do not advocate this custom for any of you. But what is the idea behind it. That the celebration on Pesach and Sukkos can lead to over exuberance, too much eating and especially too much drinking and for this we need an atonement. This was the sin of Nadav and Avihu. How often do some of us follow this example? How many of us ingest too much drink at Simchas, Kiddushes, and Shalom Zachors? Even if we claim that secrets don't come out, what example does this provide to our children? Let us learn from Nadav and Avihu.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Megillat Esther and its Hidden Message

In honor of Purim, I am posting a PowerPoint presentation that I created based on the shiur by Rav Menachem Leibtag, Megillat Esther and its Hidden Message. This presentation illustrates how the visuals, text, and animations can enhance the understanding of an idea. In the future, I plan to post other PowerPoint and Smart Notebook presentations on Tanach. Purim Sameach!

Monday, March 7, 2011

Why we don't eat Chametz on Pesach

Freshly Baked Multi-Grain Loaves by Sifu Renka, November 8, 2008, via Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution.

The prohibition against Chametz on Pesach is one of the most unique in the Torah. The Torah in 3 separate places commands us to search out and destroy Seor (yeast) and Chametz, to not find Seor and Chametz and to not see Seor and Chametz in our homes.

We know that this prohibition also includes an Issur against getting hanaah from Chametz and even the smallest amount (a mashehu) of chametz is forbidden. Why is the Torah so much stricter by Chametz than by other Issurim?

In Parshat Vayikra, we find another prohibition by Chametz that applies throughout the year. The Torah tells us in Chapter 2 Verse 11 that we are forbidden to offer Seor as well as Devash (honey) on the altar as a sacrifice. What is the connection between the prohibition against Chametz on the altar and its proscription on Pesach?

In Rambam in Moreh Nevuchim gives an explanation for the prohibition against offering Chametz and Devash on the altar all year round. He says that the worshippers of idols would sacrifice Chametz and Devash on their altars so we reject their idolatrous practices by refraining from these items in our sacrifices. Furthermore, since idolators prohibited salt on any of their sacrifices we put salt on all of our sacrifices. The Rambam says he knows all of this from reading descriptions of the idolatrous practices.

This Rambam is based on a Yerushalmi. The Yerushalmi describes Yeravam Ben Navat’s plan to seduce people to worship idols. Yeravam’s slogan was “Come worship idols. Idol worship is easy!!”

Yeravam lists many examples where idol worship is easier than worshipping God. One example he brings is that while the Torah says that you cannot burn Chametz on the altar, idolatry says that you can burn Chametz on the altar. This is based on verses in Amos chapter 4 which clearly state that the Jews under Yeravam burned Chametz on the altar.

Perhaps one could say that the prohibition against Chametz on Pesach is similarly linked to idolatry. What item does the Torah command you to burn and prohibit you from seeing? If you guessed Chamez on Pesach you are wrong. (Sorry)

The correct answer is idols. Idols are also forbidden even in a masheu like Chametz. One must search for idols (in Israel) to destroy them and one cannot derive benefit from idols. In fact, the prohibitions against idols and Chametz on Pesach are almost identical. Why?

We know that one of the main themes of Pesach is rejecting the gods of Egypt in favor of the one and only God. This is the reason we slaughter the Karban Pesach. The lamb was an Egyptian god. By slaughtering it and offering it to Hashem the Jews actively repudiated the gods of Egypt.

One could argue that in Egypt, Chametz was also treated like a god and by refraining from Chametz we are rejecting Egyptian idolatry.

This Zohar illustrates this idea. He says that anyone who eats Chametz on Pesach it is as if he worships idols. The reverse of this is that by refraining from eating Chametz we are rejecting idols. How can we prove this connection?

In Breishit Chapter 39 Verse 6 the Torah says that when Joseph was a slave in Egypt in Potiphar’s house, Potiphar gave Joseph all that was his except for the bread that he (Potiphar) ate. Why did Potiphar deprive Joseph of his bread? Because Joseph was a slave and a foreigner and foreigners could not eat Egyptian bread.

Later in Breishit Chapter 43 Verse 32, this idea is stated in more detail. Joseph, who is now the prince of Egypt, his 11 brothers, and the Egyptians are feasting. Yet each group is eating separately. Why don’t the Egyptians eat with the Jews? Because it is a Toevah for the Egyptians to eat bread with the Jews. The word Toevea indicates a disgusting thing either for God or gods. (See Shemot Chpater 8 Verse 22 and Devarim Chapter 7 Verse 25-26.) It is a disgrace to the Egyptian gods for a foreigner to eat Egyptian bread.

What was so special about Egyptian bread? Encyclopedia Encarta notes the following:
Although people have been making bread for thousands of years, its exact origins are unknown. During the late Stone Age, nomadic tribes probably made a thick gruel from wild grain and baked it into flat cakes on hot stones in their campfires….

Archaeological evidence suggests that yeast-risen wheat breads were developed in Egypt around 4000 years ago. The Egyptians are also believed to be the first to grind wheat flour in a process analogous to modern milling.

Technical advances continued to improve bread-making techniques, among them the use of the yeast-containing residue of the brewing process as a leavening agent. Bread bakers no longer had to rely on wild airborne yeast or sourdough starters, and by the 3rd century BC, yeast was manufactured commercially in Egypt.

The Egyptians invented yeast (Seor in Hebrew) that allows bread to rise. They guarded this secret formula from all foreigners. They considered yeast-risen bread to be a gift from the gods if not a god itself. This might be one reason that we refrain from Seor on Pesach. By destroying all Chametz, we reject the idolatrous practices of the Egyptians. Simultaneously, we eat Matza the same poor man’s bread our forefathers ate as foreigners enslaved in Egypt.

A funerary model of a bakery and brewery in Ancient Egypt, dating the 11th dynasty, circa 2009-1998 B.C. Painted and gessoed wood, originally from Thebes. Source:

A Sefaria source sheet for this post appears below.