This week’s Perashah is called "Ahare' Mot" and begins with the Pasuk, Vaydaber Hashem el Moshe ahare' mot sh'nei b'nei Aharon bekorbatam lifnei Hashem vayamutu. “Hashem spoke to Moshe after the death of Aharon's two sons, when they came close before Hashem, and they died".
This incident of Aharon’s two sons happened in Perashat Shemini, but I did not discuss this episode then because I wanted to focus on the Kashrut laws. So now that it is brought up again and is the title of this week’s Perashah I would like to point out some of the reasons that our Rabbi's teach us, about why Aharon’s sons had to tragically die before their time.
Nadab and Abihu were two great tzadikim, and according to Hazal, the sin they committed that caused their death was that they brought a foreign incense into the Mishkan without discussing it with each other, but more importantly without the consent of their Rabbi, Moshe Rabenu.
According to Rashbam, Moshe was waiting for the descent of the heavenly fire because he wanted the first incense to be kindled with Hashem's own fire to bring about a Kiddush Hashem! This teaches us an important lesson, that as much as we think we may know a certain Halachah, we should always consult with our Rabbis before we do something that could be questionable.
In addition, the obvious question is: Why is this Pasuk brought down here in this Perashah, when the sons of Aharon both died at an earlier time? The reason is answered when the Torah continues in the next Pasuk with a warning to Aharon: "And Hashem said to Moshe; speak to Aharon, your brother; he shall not come at all times into the Kodesh Kodashim, so that he should not die". Rashi explains this with a parable of a person who is sick and goes to the doctor.
The doctor warns his patient of certain bad practices at this time that he should stay away from. The doctor tells him to stay away from certain foods and that he should get the proper rest in order to recover quickly. But if the doctor scares the patient, telling him that he could die if he doesn't adhere to his instructions, the patient will be more likely to listen and follow the doctor’s orders.
Rabbi Twersky uses the example of a person who continues to abuse drugs until he's warned that if he doesn't stop taking drugs, the drugs could kill him the way they have killed many others that he may know personally.
The following question is raised: Why is the Torah compelled to use these strong words with Aharon, who was the Kohen Gadol and equal in spirituality to Moshe? Is there the slightest chance that Aharon would not obey Moshe's instructions, even without the reminder of Nadab and Abihu's death?
The Torah is teaching us an important lesson: As long as we inhabit our physical body, we will always have a drive to do something that cannot be prevented by a simple warning of the consequences alone! How much more so should we, who are at a much lower level of spirituality than Aharon, realize the danger of ignoring the consequences of prohibited acts.
This idea brings us to the end of this week’s Perashah, where Perek 18 opens with the introduction of the prohibition of immoral acts with the following Pesukim: "Hashem spoke to Moshe, saying: Speak to B’nei Yisrael and say to them: I am Hashem, your G-d. Do not perform the practice of the land of Egypt in which you dwelled; do not perform the practice of the land of Canaan to which I bring you, and do not follow their traditions. Carry on My laws and safeguard My decrees to follow them; I am Hashem, your G-d! You shall observe My decrees and My laws, which a man shall carry out and live by them – I am Hashem!”
When the Torah gives such a powerful introduction like the one above, we must take heed, because Hashem doesn't waste words, and we must be aware that what is to follow is of the utmost importance! The Torah mentions these two places, Egypt and Canaan, for a reason: they were both places of affluence.
Affluence leads to spare time, for when people have excess money and don't need to work so hard, they have free time, and free time most often will lead to sin. This can happen in many situations. When a person is working hard, there is no time to sin. For example, when people are unemployed either because there is an economic crisis, such as during the Great Depression, or during other times of great economic hardship, or because they choose not to work, they are much more likely to get into trouble.
When a person is employed, that person has more self-respect, a goal, a structure, a sense of responsibility and interaction with other responsible people. When people decide that it’s not worth their while to work, and they don’t even try to find a job because they prefer not to work and to depend on handouts, or if they can’t find work, studies show that they are much more likely to get into trouble, break the law, and so on.
The Perek then continues to list all the forbidden relationships that we must abstain from. The Torah goes on at some length, describing each one of these prohibited relationships that we must keep far away from. These specific practices are mentioned because they were common in Egypt, where the Israelites lived for 210 years, and it was important to specify that they must not be adopted by B’nei Yisrael.
Foreign attitudes and ideologies become deeply ingrained over a period of time when a people have resided in a land like Egypt for so many years. This is similar to what is going on in American society today. Ask your parents and grandparents what life was like in the old days. America had moral values, and the people of this country were much more modest, but over time those morals have eroded to what we are experiencing today.
We cannot be fooled into thinking that our environment doesn't have an affect on us because it definitely does affect us. As it's mentioned in the next parasha we read this week "Kedoshim" where the first pasuk opens with Hashem saying to Moshe, "Speak to the entire assembly of B'nei Yisrael and say to them: You shall be holy, for holy am I, Hashem your G-D". Kadosh means Holy or Separate, which is the reason that we must live within the confines of our communities, to make sure that our families are protected from the external foreign elements of today's society.
We must keep our families separate and away from a bad environment that may bring us down, Hass V'Shalom. In the same way, when B’nei Yisrael left the decadent society of Egypt, they had to shed the baggage they had, so it would not accompany as they headed to take up residence in their new homeland, Eretz Yisrael.
May we all realize our limitations as human beings and take heed of the warnings that the Torah spells out for us. May we also follow the laws and decrees that Hashem has given to us in our Torah and keep far away from the ways of the foreigners who surround us and their foreign, forbidden ways, because the advice that the Torah lays out for us is for our own well-being and the only true successful formula for life! Amen!