This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
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Parshat Shemini (5760)
This week we read of how G-d punishes Nadav and Avihu, the sons of Aaron the High Priest, for improperly entering the Holy of Holies, and how Moses …..praises them!
This seems to be very confusing. First of all, why did G-d kill them; what did they do that was so bad? Second, why did Moses praise them; what did they do that was so great? And it seems that Moses agreed that they for some reason, deserved death… so why did he praise them?
The first Rebbe of Chabad, Rabbi Shneur Zalman, was a giant in Torah, when he was the age of thirteen there was no page of Talmud or commentary that he did not know by heart and just a few years later he had mastered all the works of Jewish Mysticism.
Yet when he would pray he would be completely removed from the world in a manner very similar to the longing of the two above-mentioned sons of Aaron; with Joy, weeping, and ecstatic longing saying “G-d, I don’t want your heaven, I don’t want your spiritual rewards or revelations… I just want….You!”.
His prayer was so fiery and emotional he would often roll uncontrollably on the ground, and his pupils even had to put cushions on the walls around him, to prevent him from injuring himself.
This was how the Rebbe prayed on an ordinary weekday. You can just imagine how out of the world he was in the prayers of the holiest day of the year, Yom Kippur (when every Jew, like the High Priest in the time of the Bait HaMikdash, can spiritually enter the Holy of Holies.)!
Never the less, one year, in the middle of the holy Yom Kippur prayers, the Rebbe suddenly became silent, closed his prayer book, walked down the isle toward the exit, oblivious of all the hundreds of Chassidim, and out of the Synagogue into the cold Russian night.
The Chassidim, although surprised, didn’t question the Rebbe’s unusual behavior, but some of the pupils couldn’t contain their curiosity, and followed him at a distance as he walked hurriedly down the road that led out of the village and into the nearby woods.
After several minutes they noticed that he was heading toward a small, what seemed to be, abandoned hut in the distance; there was no smoke coming from the chimney and no sign of life around.
They hid behind some trees and watched as the Rebbe approached the house, knocked on the door and when no one answered, turned the knob and pushed the door open. Suddenly they heard the unmistakable cry of a baby from within the house and then the faint sound of a woman’s voice.
The Rebbe entered, and a minute later exited with an ax in hand! He proceeded around the side of the house to the log pile, removed a few logs, placed them on the ground, mightily raised the ax and in moments he was carrying a pile of firewood back into the house.
Ten minutes later a thin stream of smoke was rising out of the chimney and shortly thereafter a faint smell of porridge cut through the cold winter air.
In the hut a young woman had given birth alone the day before and did not have the energy to rekindle the fire that went out…the Rebbe came to save their lives.
The question here is, how did the Rebbe know that they were in need?
The answer is, that on this Holiest day, when the Rebbe could have been soaring in the spiritual realms with ‘mesirut nefesh’, he instead turned his thoughts to fixing this physical world.
Something like what it says about Rabbi Akiva who, the Talmud explains (Chagiga 14b), was able raise his consciousness out of this physical world to the highest of spiritual realms, a feat which caused others to their minds or even their lives, because “He went in ‘in peace’ and came out ‘in peace’ ”.
Namely, his intention when he was ‘going in’ was only to return to this world and correct it, while all the others, in the manner of Nadav and Avihu, wanted only to satisfy their longing for G-d, even if it meant leaving the world, and therefore the results were disastrous.
In simple words…certainly the purpose of the Holy Temple was to inspire spiritual surrender and ‘mesirut nefesh’, as the two sons of Aaron revealed.
But even more important; the Holy Temple was meant to bring peace and happiness TO THIS WORLD.
And therefore Nadav and Avihu were punished. On one hand Moses and the Torah praises them highly; they were such holy people that they were willing to risk and even lose their lives in order to experience the source of all life, being and truth.
But on the other hand they couldn't bear to live in an imperfect world and perfect it gradually. They wanted all or nothing. That is why they died… they didn't really want to stay in the world.
We must learn from these holy Jew two powerful lessons.
First, each of us must try to inspire in his own soul a fiery longing and thirst to leave the world and cling only to the Oneness of G-d, especially at the time of prayer. Without this fire, Judaism is, at best, dull and lifeless and can even lead one to leave the Torah completely (G-d forbid).
But, even more important, one must use this enthusiasm to think constantly, ‘how can I make the world a better place, how can I help others, how can I make Moshiach arrive a bit sooner?”… and put these thoughts into action. That is what the Jews were chosen for.
As the Lubavitch Rebbe said: “Each of you must do everything you can to bring the Moshiach”
(Incidentally, the writings of the Chabad Rebbes, called ‘Chabad Chassidut’ are also called ‘Torat Ha Moshiach’ because they are designed to simultaneously inspire both of these seemingly opposing attitudes; unbounded enthusiasm and controlled productive action.)
Through our work, (much sooner than we think!), this physical world will be filled with the knowledge of G-d like an ocean is filled with water with the arrival of…
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