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We hope you enjoy this selection of short divrei Torah, presented to family and guests at our Shabbos table as a springboard for discussion. Each one is followed by a question. The responses shared at our table are enlightening, entertaining, and always thought-provoking.

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Parshas Shemini #1

On the Eighth Day

“And a fire emerged from before Hashem and consumed them, and they died before Hashem. And Moshe said to Aharon, ‘This is as Hashem spoke, saying, through those close to Me, I will be sanctified, and before the entire nation, I will be honored. And Aharon was silent” (Vayikra 10:3).

The eighth day of the dedication of the Mishkan would be the first time Aharon and his sons served as Kohanim, unaided by Moshe. This was a momentous occasion for the Jewish people, because when Aharon brought the korbanos, the Shechinah would come to rest upon the Mishkan. Tragically, the joy of this great day was marred by the death of Aharon’s sons, Nadav and Avihu. Rather than waiting for Heavenly fire to consume the ketores (incense), as it had for the other sacrifices (Vayikra 9:24), they decided to place a fire of their own upon the Mizbeach. In punishment, a Heavenly fire emerged from the Kodesh Kodashim and consumed their souls (Sifra).

Aharon, their father, lost two children on the day that should have been the high point of his life. His reaction, recorded by the Torah for all time, has become the symbol of unquestioning acceptance of the ratzon Hashem, no matter how difficult: in the face of this painful double tragedy, “Aharon was silent.”

Aharon’s Silence

The commentaries provide insight into Aharon’s actions upon the death of his sons. The Ramban writes that he started crying aloud and then restrained himself, and was quiet.

HaKesav V’HaKabbalah cites the Ramban but disagrees with his explanation, based on the passuk’s use of the word vayidom, rather than vayishtok. Vayishtok would have implied a cessation of sound or speech, as the Ramban wrote: Aharon had wept aloud, and then stopped. Vayidom tells us that there was no sound – no crying or complaint – to begin with. Aharon never even complained, because he had immediately accepted Hashem’s judgment.

We all hope and pray to see only good in our lives, but everyone experiences their share of pain and loss. And yet, Chazal teach us, “man is obligated to make a brachah over the bad, just as he makes a brachah over the good” (Berachos 9:5); we should bless Hashem when we hear bad news, just as we do when we hear good news. The Rambam (Peirush HaMishnayos ibid.) explains that this is because in the long run, we really do not know what will be “good” and what will be “bad.” Events that appeared to be disastrous have turned out to be beneficial, while others that seemed promising and positive were ultimately far from good. We do not know – Hashem does. Tosfos Yom Tov (ibid.) adds that we should view trouble and hardship as atonement for our sins.

The Shulchan Aruch describes a high level of avodas Hashem which we should all strive for. We should bless Hashem for bad, knowingly and wholeheartedly, just as we bless Him joyfully for good. A servant of Hashem takes a positive view of the hardships he encounters, happy to serve Hashem by accepting His decree with joy (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 222:3).

Question for Discussion:

When did you accept a difficult event without complaint?

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Response:

I was privileged to be friends with Dovid Romanowsky, a”h. This brilliant young talmid chacham, a graduate of Stanford University at the age of nineteen, was diagnosed with a brain tumor when he was only twenty-nine. When I heard the news, I wanted to let him know that I was aware of the situation, and wish him a refuah sheleimah. One day on the way home from shul I said, “Dovid, I heard that you are not well.” At first, he did not even understand what I was talking about – as far as he was concerned, everything was fine. When he realized what I was getting at, he gave me a big, genuine smile, telling me without words that if this was what Hashem wanted, everything really was fine.

Over the next few years, as his health deteriorated, I spent a great deal of time with Dovid. These were years of terrible suffering for him, but Dovid never complained. When it became too difficult for him to daven by himself, I would say Kerias Shema with him. When even that was too much for him, he would listen, and at the sound of the words “Hashem Elokeichem Emes,” his face always lit up with a smile.

In his last year, he suffered from splitting headaches which made it difficult for him to concentrate. He would often ask, “What should I do now?” For Dovid, the real issue was not the excruciating pain, but the concern over whether it was time for him to daven, or if he needed to make a brachah. To the very end, he had no complaints.

Yehi zichro baruch.

Parshas Shemini # 2

Inside and Out

Every [animal] with [completely] split hooves…[and] that chews its cud, those animals, you will eat” (Vayikra 11:3).

Hashem instructed Moshe about which animals, fish, and birds we are permitted to eat, and which are forbidden. An animal with two distinctive physical characteristics is kosher. One is external – its hooves must be completely split. The other is internal – it must chew its cud. Either one of these signs on its own is not enough. The Torah goes on to list several animals which have only one sign, emphasizing that they are not kosher, and concludes with a warning not to eat their meat.

Rav Moshe Sternbuch points out the significance of the need for two signs of kashrus: kashrus requires both the internal and the external. The same, he writes, is true of us. We need to be pure and kosher on the inside as well as on the outside. Some people appear to be very righteous, but inside, they are far from Hashem. Others are servants of Hashem on the inside, but are afraid to let it show on the outside. For a Jew, one is not enough; we need to be Jews through and through, inside and out (Taam V’daas, Vayikra 11:3).

Some twenty-five years ago, Rav Zev Leff discussed this concept in a shiur on erev Yom Kippur. He said that the most frum location on earth is the dry cleaner’s. There are racks of beautiful, sparkling clean Shabbos outfits lined up on their hangers, with no one inside to ruin them… The outer trappings mean little without inner commitment to match.

Thinking Like a Jew

Rav Mordechai Willig recently spoke about the Rambam’s definition of what constitutes the Torah-ordained prohibition of Chukos HaGoyim, following in the ways of the non-Jews (Vayikra 18:3). The Rambam writes, “We do not follow in the ways of the non-Jews, and are not similar to them in dress and hairstyle… a Jew should be distinguished from them and recognizable in his dress and his other actions, just as he is distinguished from them in his outlook and character” (Hilchos Avodah Zarah 11:1).

In other words, Rav Willig said, it is a given that we should think like Jews. We need to view and understand the world through the prism of Torah, and not of secular society; this goes without saying. In addition, the Rambam teaches us that the same is true of our actions, dress, and the like – we need to both think like Jews, and act like Jews.

Question for Discussion:

What does it mean to be “frum on the inside,” and “frum on the outside”?

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