Larchmont Temple Chevra Torah

Questioning faith in the parsha


March 26, 2011/20 Adar II
Leviticus 10:1-7
Modern Author: Shalom Auslander
Somebody Up There Likes You

KOSHI: How do we understand death in relation to God’s Will? What is God’s role in “Who shall live and who shall die?” How does our faith figure in?

V.1       Now Aaron’s two sons, Nadav & Avihu….

RASHI…All Israel “fell on their faces” in prayer as God’s Presence appears…But Aaron’s two sons…”

TALMUD…Why would Aaron’s sons have entered such a sacred (forbidden) place?  They did so to have a clearer view of God’s Presence.  This is why they brought the special offering of incense, not commanded them, so as to have a reason for entering behind the curtain. [Yoma 53a]

CHIDUSHEI HaRIM…Nadav & Avihu were both holy men who performed the ritual with sincerity, yet they erred when offering incense which God had not commanded….Every blessing we recite before performing a commandment includes: “Who has sanctified us by Your commandments and commanded us” For the commandment of God is the fundamental force which hallows the ritual act, and not the other way around.  This is a sacred trust  which must not be broken.

V.3      Then Moses said to Aaron, This is what the Lord meant when He said:  “Through those near to me I show Myself holy, and gain glory before all the people.”…And Aaron was silent.

VaYIKRA RABBAH…Moses said to Aaron: “My brother, I knew that the Sanctuary would become sanctified through those truly intimate with God.  I always thought that would be either through you or through me.  Now I see that they are greater than the both of us!”

HERTZ“Vayidom Aharon”…Aaron found no answer in Moses’ words.  He was as one who is dumb after a blow, as Psalms 39:10 declares: “I cannot bear to open my mouth, seeing what lies before me.”

CHATAM SOFER…“Vayidom Aharon”…Aaron did not speak, but wept uncontrollably, for he blamed his own sins for the death of his two sons…

J.P.S“Vayidom Aharon”…Aaron accepts God’s harsh judgment and does not cry out and complain at his painful loss, consistent with the words of David: “Dom LaAdonai…Be silent before God and trust in Him.” [Ps 37:7]

KOTZKER“Vayidom Aharon”…Read Vayid’dom–Aaron’s blood boiled within him. Enraged, he could not speak.

SYMONS“Vayidom Aharon”…In the name of Rashi…From “dam—blood”  Understand, then, “And Aaron bled.”  The blood of life rushed from his body—for he too, in a way, had died.

R’DAVID BLUMENTHAL…Holiness and “personality” (that which conveys person-ness) are the Image of God in which human beings are created…It is what we and God have in common…what enables us to talk about, and with God…..So, we can ask…..Is abusiveness an attribute of God?…a quality without which we cannot understand the ultimate reality we call God?  Yes!…God is abusive, but not always…As portrayed in our holy sources and as experienced by humans throughout the ages, allowing the innocent at times to suffer greatly, God can only be characterized by the term “abusive”  When a perpetrator acts abusively, the victim is innocent; when an abuser abuses, what happens to the victim is not his or her fault…When God acts abusively, we are the victims.  When God acts abusively, we are the hurt party, and we are not responsible for God’s abuse.  Our sins—and we are always sinful, are in no proportion whatsoever to the punishment meted out…BUT, God is not always abusive.  God is often loving and fair, even kind and merciful….To have faith in a post-holocaust world is first, to know—to recognize and admit—that God is an abusing God, but not always.

R’ LAURA GELLER…”and they died lifnai Adonai—before God’s consciousness”   A tragic death is, as it were, before God’s consciousness, in God’s mind and heart, just as it is in ours.  We can never really know in this lifetime why innocent people suffer, but perhaps we can be comforting hoping that God suffers with us …..This week’s par’sha is the middle of the entire Torah.  Perhaps there is a hint here of “middle age.”  We are in the middle of the journey from slavery to the promised land, a promised place that none of this generation of the wilderness will enter,  Nadav & Avihu die, they are buried…and the people move on. 

Our people are grown ups now, people who have experienced real life joy and tragedy, birth and death, all the complex paradoxes of human existence…Like us, they know from experience that life is sometimes full of pain, and there are no easy answers…Not for us, and not even, perhaps, for God.


4 responses to “Sh’mini

  1. Bob Sklarew March 31, 2011 at 11:18 am

    Sh’mini . . . Leviticus 10:1-7 – expansion of comment by Bob Sklarew
    Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu, were consumed by flames in the tabernacle. I commented that their forbidden offering of fire might have triggered an explosion in the “Manna Machine”.”The Manna Machine” written in 1978 by George Sassoon and Rodney Dale (London: Sidgwick &Jackson, ISBN 028398435X) describes a fermentation apparatus for transforming algae into manna that was contained in the tabernacle and powered by the arc. The device is based upon their translation of a detailed account contained in the 13th century Zohar. A diagram listing the components of the machine is given at While the book is out of print and sells used for an astounding $300 a summary and amplification of the theory may be found in a book by Johannes and Peter Fiebag translated from the German at and These authors built a replica of the manna machine and claim that the manna wafers had the taste of honey. It’s interesting that in recent years NASA has tested similar devices for Chlorella algae fermentation to provide nourishment on the space shuttle.
    On a related topic, it that has been discussed that the Israelites followed a “pillar of smoke by day and fire by night”. The armies of that time marched in the desert behind two standards comprising either a long pike with a smoking torch by day or a higher pike with a flaming torch to lead them by night. This is illustrated in beautifully detailed reliefs of marching armies on the walls of pharaonic tombs ( i.e. Seti I).

  2. Michael Fineberg March 31, 2011 at 11:14 am

    Choices are made by men (and women) who cannot know in advance the consequences, which are dependent on other people’s choices as well as on external realities. But we may want to consider those choices to fit in with some larger design; alternatively, we may prefer not to. One of the striking aspects of Sh’mini – but also of much of the Torah – is that with one hand it seems to suggest such a higher meaning and with another hand it seems to leave the question open… or at least to offer the possibility of opposing interpretations. I guess that’s all part of the fun…

  3. IrvZuckerman March 29, 2011 at 1:36 pm

    Appointment in Samarra, December, 1944
    With apologies to God, John O’hara and Somerset Maughm,in that order.
    Twelve men are walking along a country road in France in the general direction of the cross-road city of Nantes. None of them are in that place of their own free will. How then did they come to be there? The answer is simple; their gods sent them.
    The god who commanded the Division planned to attack toward Nantes and wanted to know how well that road was defended, He asked the god of the Regiment that was chosen for the attack to find out. He, in turn, passed the request to the god of the First Battalion that was chosen to lead the attack. The Battalion god chose B Company to be the cutting edge of the attack. The god who commanded B Company chose the Second Platoon and the god of the Second Platoon chose the First Squad.. This was how, out of 30,000 men, the First Squad of the Second Platoon of B Company, First Battalion, etc. etc. wound up on that road to Nantes. However, one of the twelve, identity as yet unknown, was really on the road to Samarra.
    It had, of course, been snowing. France and snow go together as closely as any cliché of pairs you can think of. Snow on the ground made it impossible to spot the trip wires or freshly turned earth that meant the most frightening word that entered one’s mind with every step; mines. So they were careful to keep the interval – five yards apart – and step into the footprints of the man ahead. What the lead man was thinking was anybody’s guess.
    It was while everyone was concentrating on where to put their feet that they heard the noise. It wasn’t a rifle shot. It was the echo of a rifle shot. That meant a sniper with one of those high-powered jobs that could kill at a thousand yards – ten football fields. Hit the dirt! Eleven men fell to the ground. One already lay there.
    Who shall live and who shall die and who shall decide? The gods of command made choices among thousands. The sniper made a choice among just twelve. Yet each choice, in a manner of speaking, had the same value, since each choice led to the same end.

    • Emily Grotta March 29, 2011 at 4:56 pm

      I can’t help but remain convinced that the choices were made by men….not God. And by implication, so too were the choices made by Aaron’s sons.

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