Parashas Acharei Mos – Kedoshim 5780 Self-Righteousness is the Enemy

The Parasha starts by reporting the death of Aaron’s sons: “And Hashem spoke to Moshe after the death of Aaron’s two sons, when they drew near before Hashem and they died.” (Leviticus, 16:1). However, the verse fails to mention what Hashem Told Moshe. Moreover, why does the verse states twice the death of Nadav and Avihu, “after the death” “and they died”? Rashi explains with a Midrash: Rabbi Eleazar ben Azariah illustrated with a parable of a patient, whom a physician came to visit. The physician instructed him, ‘Do not eat cold foods, and do not lie down in a cold or damp place.’ Then, another physician visited him, and advised him, ‘Do not eat cold foods and do not lie down in a cold or damp place, so that you will not die the way so-and-so died.’ This latter warned the patient more effectively than the former. Therefore, the Pasuk states, ‘after the death of Aaron’s two sons’ [i.e., Hashem effectively instructed Aaron, ‘Do not enter the Holy in a prohibited manner, so that you will not die as your sons died’]. The difficulty remains, as why mentioning their death twice in the same verse? The Or HaChayim Hakadosh states; we focus on the nature of Aaron’s sons’ deaths rather than on the purpose of their death. The Torah writes, “when they drew near before Hashem” to note that due to their love for Hashem they came too close to the Divine light which has a deadly effect on man. This is the mystical aspect of “death by Divine kiss.” The deaths of Nadav and Avihu were similar to the death of all other completely righteous men. The only difference was in the case of the deaths of Moshe and Aaron, the “kiss of death” of Hashem approaches them, whereas in this case Nadav and Avihu approached the “kiss of death”. This is the reason why the Verse repeated “and they died” as to allude to the fact that though these righteous people felt that they were approaching an area which would result in their “kiss of death,” they did not flinch and kept getting closer. The desire of their souls to fuse with the divine was so overpowering that they no longer made decisions in which their powers of conscious perception were involved. The startling question is that we are required to become Godly to resemble Hashem “You shall be holy, for I, Hashem your God, am holy.” (Leviticus 19:1) How can one expect a person at the climax of his spiritual bliss to want to return “back to earth” to his mundane life? If his love of Hashem is genuine, how can he hold himself back at the height of his arousal and re-immerse in the constraints of corporeal existence? How can a person acquire the vigilance not to go too far? The Lubavitcher Rebbe ZT”L replies; It depends on how a person starts his spiritual voyage. If he starts from a place of self-satisfaction, he will not want to turn back from his spiritual bliss to attend his mundane duties. Thus, if he wants to follow Hashem’s will, even at the high point of arousal, he will be willing to come back down to carry out the mission for which he was created, as Hashem “created the world not to be empty but rather to be inhabited.” (Isaiah 45:18) Every person, at times, encounters a spiritual awakening, which may be attributed to various reasons. Thus, it is critical that whatever he experiences during these special holy moments, to strategize how to take them back and how to integrate them in his everyday life. This spiritual arousal is a Divine call and must not be ignored or wasted without having a tangible improvement of his daily routines; it must be harnessed as a moment of truelasting inspiration that would enable him to make beneficial improvements to his life and get closer to Hashem. The Zohar asks a blatant question: the sons of Aaron had no equal in Israel, except for Moshe and Aaron. They were called “the nobles of the children of Israel” (Ex. 24:11) and they died because they erred before the Holy King. Did Hashem wish that they should perish? Did we not learn in the Mishna that Hashem does kindness with everyone, and even with evildoers? He does not wish to cause perish as stated it is not My desire that the wicked shall die, but that the wicked turn from his [evil] ways and live”? (Ezekiel 33:11) So would it enter your mind that these saintly ones, should perish? Where were their merits, the merits of their ancestors and the merit of Moshe? How could they have perished? The Midrash Tanchuma also question their death but from a different angle. When Titus the wicked entered the holy of holies and cut open the curtain, he entered in peace and came out in peace; but the sons of Aaron who entered to offer a sacrifice were immediately destroyed by the Divine fire, as it is stated “ they died in their approaching to Hashem”? The Midrash Tanchma proposes R. Berekhyah explanation; The Pasuk says “To punish the righteous is surely not right; or to smite the noble ones for uprightness.” (Proverbs 17:26) Hashem said; Although I punished Aaron for the golden calf by taking his two children from him, it is not right. It was only to flog the great ones for uprightness. This answer is for the least cryptic and obscure and requires ample clarification. Chazal explain that Hashem is reluctant to punish the wicked since he rationalizes his behavior and feels self-righteous. Chastising him will only get him angry and since he is so convinced to be virtuous, he is unable to justify the cause of his castigation. His bewilderment and rage will turn into hatred of the righteous, as according to him he is on the right path, not the righteous. Therefore, he will not miss an occasion to distress the righteous and even hurt him. Hence, Hashem punishes the righteous for the evildoings of the wicked to avoid him the hatred of the wicked. Despite that it is not right, it is easier for the Tzadik to be castigated by Hashem rather than by the wicked. Moreover, this will enhance his merits as atoned for the sins of the wicked. This is the reason why Aaron was punished instead of the wicked who did the golden calf. Self-righteousness is a lethal enemy!

By Rabbi Fridmann * rabbifridmann@badatzmiami.com * 305.985.3461

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