(Torah Portion Shemini) Role Models!
The Torah relates a tragic incident that occurred during the inauguration service of the Temple. Nadav and Avihu, two of Aaron’s sons, had their souls snuffed out by a heavenly fire for an infraction they committed in performing their service.
The Torah records their father Aaron accepted the Divine judgment without questioning G-d. In the words of the Torah, “Aaron was quiet.”
This episode occurred during the inauguration of the Temple and at this time Aaron and his four sons were inducted as Kohanim – priests.
Due to a Kohain’s holiness, he may not come into contact with a human corpse, except at the funeral of his seven closest relatives; his father, mother, brother, unmarried sister, wife, son and daughter.
A Kohain Godol – High Priest, due to his exalted holiness, may not come into contact with any human corpse even his seven closest relatives.
When Nadav and Avihu died in the Temple during the inauguration, one may wonder who was able to defile their holiness and carry the bodies out of the Temple.
Aaron could certainly not have done so since he was a Koahin Godol. But what about Nadav and Avihu’s brothers, Elozar and Isamar? They were regular Kohanim; perhaps they were able to perform this task.
While under normal circumstances they would have been able to do so, however, during this inaugural service, since they were just anointed with special anointing oil, they were considered as High Priests and were not permitted to touch the bodies of their brothers.
Moshe instructed two Levites, who were allowed to come into contact with a human corpse, to enter the Temple and remove the bodies of Nadav and Avihu. They were cousins with the names of Mishael and Eltzafon.
Interestingly, when the Torah mentions the cousins, Mishael and Eltzafon, it mentions their father’s name Uziel and points out that he was Aaron’s uncle.
A question raised is why is this information necessary to be written here? After all, we know this from previous verses in the Torah. In addition, Aaron had other uncles besides Uziel. Why were Uziel’s children chosen?
An answer given is that the Torah highlights Uziel’s name as the uncle of Aaron to teach us that he was Aaron’s teacher. The Talmud relates that Uziel excelled in the area of bringing Shalom – peace to others.
The Mishna relates that Aaron was also exceptional in this area and he was very creative in bringing harmony between feuding parties.
Aaron may have developed this skill because he had a good teacher and mentor, his uncle Uziel.
Hamek Davar explains that Uziel’s good character was not only evident and practiced by getting others to get along; he personally internalized it as well. When Aaron and his children were chosen by G-d to be the Kohanim, other family members, such as the rebellious Korach, were not so thrilled, for they saw themselves losing out on an opportunity. Therefore, even when Aaron lost his children, they were not completely saddened.
Uziel on the other hand was full heartedly happy for Aaron’s appointment. Because of his good nature, his children were honored to take out the bodies of their cousins.
Our Sages tell us that there are two people who are never envious of one who rises to a higher level; a father is not jealous of his child, nor is a Rebbe – teacher – jealous of his student.
Uziel, being Aaron’s Rebbe was not envious of Aaron’s level of prestige. Uziel passed this good trait to his children, for when the younger Eltzafon was appointed as a leader, his older brother Mishael held no grievance, for he understood that it was G-d’s will and accepted it.
We are all endowed with raw talents and abilities; it is just a matter of how we develop them. Often the mentor we have or choose teaches us how to use these talents.
This of course applies to relationships between parents, children and spouses. So too, teachers, doctors, lawyers, investors, craftsmen, businessmen or any trade or profession that one may pursue, the person they apprentice or look up to, generally shapes and impacts their manner and skill greatly.
We are inundated with media, personalities and stars, whose character, vision and spiritual outlook is not in line with our belief system and moral temperament.
We are fortunate to have the Torah and its teachings as our source which highlights the great personalities for us to follow as our ethical guide. We also have opportunities to observe, learn about and aspire to emulate great people throughout our history by their exemplary performance of our traditions, unbending belief and caring and sensitive ways they treat another.
The Mishna captures this notion and instructs us to be the disciples of Aaron by loving and pursuing peace, and loving people and bringing them closer to the Torah.
Wishing you a most enjoyable Shabbos!
Rabbi Dovid Saks