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‘Cat’s in the Cradle’ Parashat Tezaveh 5782

After G-d provides detailed instructions for building the Tabernacle (Mishkan), He announces who will officiate in it. It is here where Moshe undergoes a life-altering experience. G-d tells him [Shemot 28:1] “You shall bring forward your brother Aaron, with his sons, from among the Israelites, to serve Me as priests: Aaron, Nadav and Avihu, Elazar and Itamar, the sons of Aaron.” G-d tells Moshe that his brother, Aaron, will become the High Priest (Kohen Gadol) and that Aaron’s sons will become ordinary priests (Kohanim). They, and not Moshe, will officiate in the Mishkan whose construction Moshe will oversee. The most holy would forever remain off limits to him. G-d’s Words must have felt like a Divine kick in the gut. What made Moshe unworthy to become the Kohen Gadol?

Rabbi Abraham ibn Ezra, who lived in Spain in the twelfth century, suggests that there was a practical reason: Moshe did not have adequate time to serve as the Kohen Gadol. He already held down two jobs that forced him to work twenty-five hours a day, eight days a week. On the one hand, he was responsible for transmitting the Torah to the Jewish People and on the other hand, he was responsible for adjudicating the most difficult legal cases in the highest court. His day consisted of a series of mad dashes between the House of Study (Beit HaMidrash) to the courthouse and back again. And, oh, by the way, he also served as the political leader of the Jewish People. He was the King, the Chief Rabbi, and the Chief Justice, all rolled up into one person. Moshe simply did not have the bandwidth to serve as the Kohen Gadol. He would have been crushed underneath the weight.

Rabbi Chaim ibn Attar, known as the Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh, who lived in Morocco in the first half of the eighteenth century, takes a less pragmatic approach. He directs our attention to the Talmud in Tractate Zevachim [102a] that teaches that when G-d appeared to Moshe at the burning bush in order to appoint him as His emissary, Moshe repeatedly refused His request. Moshe tells G-d [Shemot 4:1] “They will not believe me, and they will not heed my voice.” As a result of Moshe’s lack of faith [Shemot 4:14], “G-d became angry with Moshe, and He said, ‘There is your brother Aaron the Levite. He, I know, speaks readily.’” The Talmud explains that whenever G-d becomes angry, bad things happen. When Moshe provoked G-d’s ire this time, G-d informed him that He had originally planned for Aaron to remain a Levite while Moshe would serve as the Kohen Gadol. But because of Moshe’s repeated refusal, their roles would now be reversed. Aaron would officiate in the Mishkan while Moshe would remain just another Levite. The Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh writes, “G-d told Moshe that he had to make his own contribution to [Aaron’s consecration] ceremony so that he would not be perceived as begrudging Aaron an office which had originally been intended for him. In fact, the appointment of Aaron to this position would serve as atonement for Moshe, who had resisted G-d’s invitation to become leader of the Jewish people”. When G-d tells Moshe “hak’rev elecha” – translated above as “bring forward” – He is telling Moshe that his appointing of Aaron as the Kohen Gadol will be considered a penitential sacrifice (korban) and only thusly can he receive atonement for his sin.

With all due respect, G-d’s choice of punishment for Moshe seems somewhat arbitrary. Our Sages teach that G-d always tries to find a punishment that fits the crime (mida k’neged mida), and where possible, a punishment that remedies the crime (tikkun ha’chet). How does denying Moshe spiritual leadership of the Jewish people fit his crime of refusal of accepting G-d’s mission? How does it rectify his sin?

To answer this question, we turn to Rabbi Avraham Shmuel Binyamin Sofer, known as he “Ktav Sofer”, who lived in the nineteenth century in Pressburg (modern day Bratislava), Slovakia, succeeded his father, Rabbi Moshe Sofer, known as the “Hatam Sofer”, as the Headmaster of the prestigious Pressburg Yeshiva. After the Mishkan has been completed, on the eighth day of the consecration ceremony of Aaron and his sons, tragedy strikes. Aaron’s sons Nadav and Avihu offer [Vayikra 10:1] “a strange fire” before G-d and they are struck dead. The Ktav Sofer analyses the essence of their crime[1]. Quoting from our Sages in the Midrash, he brings two seemingly extraneous crimes because of which Nadav and Avihu were given a death sentence: [1] They did not have any children and [2] they were overheard saying “When will these two old men [i.e. Moshe and Aharon] die and we will take their places as leaders of the congregation?” What, if any, is the connection between the two crimes? Further, how could the sons of Aaron, who was one of the most righteous and selfless people ever to live, make such an outrageously arrogant statement?

The Ktav Sofer begins his answer with Moshe’s two sons, Gershom and Eliezer. Aside from noting their births, the Torah mentions nothing about them. Rabbi Eliyahu Zinni once told us that the Torah prefers to remain silent when it has nothing good to say. Gershom and Eliezer did not follow the path that Moshe blazed. Indeed, our Sages in the Midrash teach that Gershom’s son, Micah, eventually became a pagan priest[2]. Nadav and Avihu attributed the fate of Moshe’s sons to Moshe’s inaccessibility, to his failure to spend quality time with them. He was always busy ruling, teaching, and adjudicating. In the haunting words of Harry Chapin, “When you coming home, Dad? I don’t know when. We’ll get together then. You know we’ll have a good time then!” Without a father figure in the home, Moshe’s sons went “off the derech”. Nadav and Avihu were concerned that if they succeeded their father, they would have to choose between their jobs and their families. When they asked, “When will these two old men die and we will [be forced to] take their places as leaders?”, they asked not out of ambition but, rather, out of fear. The only way to prevent their own children from suffering the same fate was not to have children at all. This would free them to give all of their time and energy to the Almighty. Nevertheless, they had no business concerning themselves with Divine calculations[3]. They ended up giving to G-d everything they had, including their very lives.

I’d like to go farther than the Ktav Sofer. Nadav and Avihu were not merely butting into someone else’s business. Not only was it not their choice to make – it was the wrong choice. Why did G-d choose Abraham? It was not because Abraham was the first monotheist. According to our Sages in the Midrash, Abraham was preceded by other monotheists such as Shem, Ever, and Methuselah. It was not because he broke his father’s idols. The Torah does not even mention this episode. G-d is completely clear about the reason He chose Abraham [Bereishit 18:19]: “For I have singled him out, that he may instruct his children and his posterity to keep the way of G-d by doing what is just and right.” G-d chose Abraham not because his children would keep “the way of G-d” but because Abraham would instruct them to do so. Abraham had infinite faith in the children that he did not yet have that they would one day comply with “the way of G-d”. Nadav and Avihu did not share Abraham’s faith and so they were punished. Now we can understand Moshe’s punishment: He lacked faith in his children – in the Jewish People – and so he was incapable of serving as their spiritual leader.

People sometimes ask for our secret to raising children. I tell them that you cannot take the child by the hand and lead him. You can only point him in the direction you want him to go. If you do this, you can be fairly certain that he will go in that direction, plus or minus one hundred and eighty degrees. A parent must have infinite faith, both in his child and in G-d. That, plus whole lot of prayer.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ari Sacher, Moreshet, 5782

Please daven for a Refu’a Shelema for Yechiel ben Shprintza, Eli bat Ilana, and Geisha bat Sara.

[1] While the Torah explicitly mentions the reason they were killed, many of the commentators dig deeper in an attempt to identify an underlying cause.

[2] The Jerusalem Talmud, in the tenth chapter of Tractate Sanhedrin, teaches that Micah did not actually believe in the power of idolatry. He was only in it for the money. Nevertheless, his profession was not the preferred trade for a good Jewish boy.

[3] King Hezekiah made the same mistake. When he was told by Isaiah that he would have an idolatrous son, he vowed never to have children at all. He nearly paid for this error with his life.

About the Author
Ari Sacher is a Rocket Scientist, and has worked in the design and development of missiles for over thirty years. He has briefed hundreds of US Congressmen on Israeli Missile Defense, including three briefings on Capitol Hill at the invitation of House Majority Leader. Ari is a highly requested speaker, enabling even the layman to understand the "rocket science". Ari has also been a scholar in residence in numerous synagogues in the USA, Canada, UK, South Africa, and Australia. He is a riveting speaker, using his experience in the defense industry to explain the Torah in a way that is simultaneously enlightening and entertaining. Ari came on aliya from the USA in 1982. He studied at Yeshivat Kerem B’Yavneh, and then spent seven years studying at the Technion. Since 2001 he has published a weekly parasha shiur that is read around the world. Ari lives in Moreshet in the Western Galil along with his wife and eight children.
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