Parshas Shemini/Parah - Keeping the Faith

By Rabbi Zvi Teichman

Posted on 03/28/19

Parshas HaShavua Divrei Torah sponsored by
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In the face of the sudden and tragic death of his children, Aharon remains silent.

When Moshe wrathfully confronts Elazar and Isamar, taking them to task for not having consumed the Rosh Chodesh offering and burning it instead, they remain silent despite having ample reason for their decision. Their father, Aharon, approaches Moshe explaining the justification for their action and Moshe quickly concedes that he erred.

We are taught that in the merit of their having all equally remained silent, accepting the Omnipresent’s decree with love, they would all serve as the messengers in conveying the laws of kashrus to the nation. (רש"י)

Is there something related to the ability to remain silent that deserves specifically the teaching of the laws governing the identification of kosher and non-kosher species? Or was this just the next lesson in line that conveniently happened at this juncture?

The famed Rav of Brezhan, Rav Sholom Mordechai HaKohen Shvadron, quotes from the Baal HaAkeidah:

There are four strata of life forms: דומם - mineral, צומח - vegetable, חי - animal, and מדבר - speaker/man.

Each level is subservient to the one immediately above it.

Earth produces vegetation that serves the animal who feeds off it, who in turn is served up on the plate of man for his nutritional consumption.

Each level enjoys a layer of sophistication more complex from that which precedes it.

Man, though must exhibit a character that makes him indeed worthier than animal, thus deserving of to utilize as fodder for his elevated sustenance.  

It is for this reason, the Rav suggests, the Torah begins the discussion with first listing what is permitted to eat prior to outlining what is prohibited, so that man may realize that one must be first worthy of consuming even that which is permitted to him perforce his maintaining his lofty stance on earth by the righteousness of his character and deed.

The Tolna Rebbe adds that with this notion we can now understand the correlation between man’s ability to control one’s mouth by remaining silent and the privilege to relate the teachings that govern man’s right to partake from the strata of life beneath him.

When man displays his nobility in controlling the instinctive expressions of anger, frustration, hatred and disgust, he proves his stature as a dignified human, by not reacting as merely an expressive animal, and thereby entitled to consume animals.

This appellation of honor conferred on man is that of מדבר, literally a talker or speaker. Does that define him properly? Aren’t his actions louder than any words he could elegantly utter? Why do we focus specifically on that quality? True it is the faculty of speech that is unique to man, but more so is his ability to make choices exercising his free-will that ultimately determines more accurately his greatness. Speech is merely a tool that displays the underlying character, not the defining quality itself.

Even more perplexing is the accenting of this trait here by Aharon and his sons not as much by what was ‘spoken’ but by what was squelched.

The exact depiction here is וידם אהרן, and Aharon was silent.

A similar use of this term is found in Eichah.

ישב בדד וידם כי נטל עליו (איכה ג כח), Let one sit in solitude and be silent, for He has laid it upon him.

Ostensibly this verse describes one who has met misfortune who silently sits alone bemoaning the fate that has befallen him.

This verse though is interpreted in Pirkei Avos as referring to an individual who is bereft of a partner to study Torah with, who despite his isolation nevertheless devotes himself to thoughtful meditation and is promised a reward that ‘He has laid upon him’.(אבות ג ג)

The Chosid Yaavetz expands the understanding of this in a most profound way.

This is not simply a promise of reward.

Studying the verses preceding, the prophet extols the great kindness of  G-d that never cease, renewing them each day. This, he avers, refers to a society who devote themselves to striving for perfection collectively, supporting one another in that goal.

But then the verse transitions to one who finds himself alone and isolated, discouraged in his ability to accomplish his noble goals solo.

To him the prophet encourages, “God is good to those who place trust in Him. Even when you feel dejected and lonely know that in your devoted silence you will persevere.”

The prophet emphasizes, כי נטל עליו, “be ennobled by the fact that the mission is placed upon you, G-d knows that you are capable and is counting on you to achieve your destined greatness.”

The Holy Baal HaTanya interprets the term מדבר, not as one who speaks, but rather in the spirit of the root 'דבר' which means to ‘lead’, accentuating a person who ‘leads the entire universe by his credo and deed’.

In the face of tragedy, especially loss, one often gets discouraged, forgetting one’s mission in life, mistakenly assuming one can’t do it alone. The greatness of Aharon wasn’t that he felt no pain, but that he maintained his momentum in knowing that each one of us alone is responsible for our fate, to elevate the universe towards devotion to that One above that beckons us towards personal greatness.

In the silent marching forward, tackling the tasks at hand with a resolve that despite our losses we can each bring the world to its purpose, even alone, lays our greatness that gives us the right, nay the privilege, to utilize the strata beneath us in bringing us closer to G-d.

We must stay on track no matter what comes our way, knowing the He has faith in us to accomplish our goals, and may we never lapse in faith in ourselves.


צבי יהודה טייכמאן