It came to pass on the eighth day (Leviticus 9:1)

That day took ten crowns: It was the first day of creation (i.e., a Sunday), the first for the offerings of the nesi’im (tribal heads), the first for the priesthood, the first for [public] sacrifice, the first for the fall of fire from heaven, the first for the eating of sacred food, the first for the dwelling of the Divine Presence in Israel, the first for the priestly blessing of Israel, the first day on which it was forbidden to sacrifice to G‑d anywhere but in the Sanctuary, and the first of months.

(Talmud, Shabbat 87b)

That day was as joyous to G‑d as the day on which heaven and earth were created.

(Talmud, Megillah 10b)


It came to pass on the eighth day (9:1)

The number seven represents the cycle of creation; the number eight represents the “circumference”—that which lies beyond the perimeter of time and space. This is why the Divine Presence came to dwell in the Israelite camp on the eighth day. This is also alluded to in the saying of our sages (Talmud, Erchin 13b) that “the lyre of Moshiach has eight strings.”

(Keli Yakar; Shaloh)

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It came to pass on the eighth day . . . he said to Aaron (9:1–2)

For seven days G‑d persuaded Moses at the burning bush to go on His mission to Egypt, as Moses refused. . . . Said G‑d to Moses: “By your life, I shall tie this in your skirts.” When did He repay him? . . . For all the seven days of inauguration Moses ministered in the office of high priest, and he imagined it was his. On the seventh day G‑d said to him: “It belongs not to you, but to your brother Aaron . . .”

(Midrash Rabbah)


Moses said: “This is the thing which G‑d commanded you to do; and the glory of G‑d shall appear to you” (9:6)

For the seven days of inauguration, during which Moses set up the Sanctuary, performed the service in it and dismantled it each day, the Divine Presence did not rest in it. The people of Israel were humiliated, and said to Moses: “Moses our teacher! All the toil that we toiled was only that the Divine Presence should dwell amongst us and we should know the sin of the [Golden] Calf was forgiven us!” Said Moses to them: “Aaron my brother is more worthy than I. Through his offerings and his service, the Divine Presence will rest upon you, and you will know that G‑d has chosen you.”

(Rashi)


Nadav and Avihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer . . . and they died before G‑d (10:1–2)

Bar Kappara said in the name of Rabbi Yirmiyah ben Elazar: Aaron’s sons died on account of four things: for drawing near, for offering, for the strange fire, and for not having taken counsel from each other. “For drawing near”—because they entered into the innermost precincts of the Sanctuary. “For offering”—because they offered a sacrifice which they had not been commanded to offer. “For the strange fire”—they brought in fire from the kitchen. “And for not having taken counsel from each other”—as it says, “Each took his censer,” implying that they acted each on his own initiative, not taking counsel from one another.

Rabbi Mani of Sha’av, Rabbi Yehoshua of Sichnin, and Rabbi Yochanan in the name of Rabbi Levi said: The sons of Aaron died on account of four things . . . : Because they had drunk wine, as it says [immediately following the incident], “Do not drink wine or strong drink . . . that you not die” (Leviticus 10:9). Because they served in the Sanctuary lacking the prescribed number of priestly garments (cf. Exodus 28:43). Because they entered the Sanctuary without washing their hands and feet (cf. Exodus 30:21). Because they had no children... as it says, “Nadav and Avihu died . . . and they had no children” (Numbers 3:4).

Abba Chanin says that it was because they had no wives, for it is written [regarding the high priest], “He shall make atonement for himself, and for his house” (Leviticus 16:6)—“his house” refers to his wife.

Rabbi Levi says that they were arrogant. Many women remained unmarried waiting for them. What did they say? Our father’s brother is a king, our mother’s brother is a prince [i.e., Nachshon, the head of the tribe of Judah], our father is a high priest, and we are both deputy high priests; what woman is worthy of us? . . . Moses and Aaron went first, Nadav and Avihu walked behind them, and all Israel followed, and Nadav and Avihu were saying: “When will these two old men die and we assume authority over the community?” Rabbi Yehudah in the name of Rabbi Aivu said that they uttered this to one another with their mouths, while Rabbi Pinchas said that they harbored the thought in their hearts.

Others say: They already deserved to die at Mount Sinai, when they callously feasted their eyes on the Divine (Exodus 24:9–11).

(Midrash Rabbah; Rashi)

Rabbi Eliezer ben Yaakov stated: The sons of Aaron died only because they gave a legal decision in the presence of their master Moses. What was the exposition they made? They interpreted the verse (Leviticus 1:7) “The sons of Aaron the priest shall put fire upon the altar.” This is to teach us, they said, that although fire came down from heaven, it is nevertheless a mitzvah to bring also ordinary fire. (This is indeed the law; their sin was that they rendered a halachic decision in the presence of their teacher.)

(Talmud, Eruvin 63a; Rashi)

Nadav and Avihu died because of Aaron’s making of the Golden Calf, as it is written: “Against Aaron was G‑d greatly enraged, to destroy him; and I prayed also for Aaron at that time” (Deuteronomy 9:20). “To destroy him” means the death of children, as it is written, “I destroyed his fruit from above” (Amos 2:9). Moses’ prayer was halfway effective, so that two died and two remained alive.

(Rashi, Deuteronomy 9:20)

“They came close to G‑d and died” (Leviticus 16:1)—they approached the supernal light out of their great love of the Holy, and thereby died. Thus they died by a “Divine kiss” such as experienced by the perfectly righteous; it is only that the righteous die when the Divine kiss approaches them, while they died by their approaching it. . . . Although they sensed their own demise, this did not prevent them from drawing near to G‑d in attachment, delight, delectability, fellowship, love, kissing and sweetness, to the point that their souls ceased from them.

(Ohr HaChaim)


A fire went out from G‑d and consumed them (10:2)

But subsequently it says that Moses instructed Mishael and Eltzafan, “Carry your brothers from before the Sanctuary,” and “they carried them out in their robes”? . . . G‑d sent forth two threads of fire into each one’s nostrils and consumed their souls, without touching their flesh and without touching their clothes.

(Midrash Tanchuma)


Moses said to Aaron: “This is what G‑d spoke, saying: I will be sanctified in those who are close to Me . . .” (10:3)

This was said to Moses at Sinai, but its meaning was not known to him until the occurrence happened, when Moses said to Aaron: “My brother! At Sinai, G‑d said to me: ‘I will sanctify this House, and through a great man I will sanctify it,’ and I thought that either through me or through you would this House be sanctified; but now I see that your two sons are greater than you or I.”

(Midrash Rabbah; Rashi)


Aaron was silent (10:3)

Because Aaron was silent, he was rewarded that G‑d spoke exclusively to him (see below, verses 8–11; ordinarily G‑d spoke to Aaron only in conjunction with—or through—Moses).

(Midrash Rabbah)

Said Rav Papa: The merit of attending a house of mourning lies in the silence observed.

(Talmud, Berachot 6b)

In youth, one learns to talk; in maturity, one learns to be silent. This is man’s problem: that he learns to talk before he learns to be silent.

(Rabbi Nachman of Breslov)

Speech signifies comprehensibility. Melody is beyond language, expressing moods which words cannot describe. Silence is yet higher.

The power to be silent at certain moments of life and of history is an important strength. It expresses the awareness that G‑d is infinite, and cannot be encapsulated in our human conceptions of what should take place.

The Talmud tells of an instance in which Moses himself was told by G‑d to be silent. G‑d showed him in a vision all future generations of the Jewish people, and the leaders of each generation. Moses was greatly impressed by the wisdom of Rabbi Akiva. Then he saw the way the Romans tortured him to death. “Is this the reward of his Torah knowledge?” Moses asked. G‑d answered: “Be silent. Thus it arose in My thought.”

This is not to say that the Torah advocates a fatalistic approach to life. Before the event, one must do everything possible to prevent tragedy. But once it has happened, G‑d forbid, through the acceptance and the silence we reach a special closeness to the Divine. Our sages tell us that because Aaron was silent, he was rewarded by G‑d speaking directly to him.

In our generation, too, there is a need for this power of silence. It is not a passive power, but one that leads to vigorous and joyous action. The Jewish response to the harrowing events of the Shoah is the determined and energetic action to rebuild Jewish family life and Jewish knowledge.

Through our power of silence we too, like Aaron, will merit Divine revelation. G‑d will bring the Messiah, rebuilding the Temple and bringing lasting peace to the world.

(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)


Do not drink wine or strong drink . . . when you enter the Tent of Meeting (10:9)

Though the vine is supported by straight reeds and forked reeds, these cannot stand up under the weight of the wine in the grapes. So if wine’s own mother cannot bear its burden, how then can you?

(Midrash Rabbah)


And that you differentiate between holy and the profane . . . and that you instruct the children of Israel (10:10–11)

This teaches us that one who has drunk wine is forbidden to render a ruling of Torah law.

(Rashi)


Moses diligently sought the goat of the sin offering, and behold, it was burnt . . . (10:16)

Three goats were brought that day as sin offerings: (1) the one that G‑d commanded Aaron to offer on the occasion of the eighth day; (2) the one brought by Nachshon, leader of the tribe of Judah, as the first in the series of offerings brought by the tribal heads in honor of the Sanctuary’s inauguration; (3) the goat offered every Rosh Chodesh (first of the month—that day was the first of Nissan).

The first two were not burnt, but eaten by Aaron and his sons as per Moses’ instructions. The Rosh Chodesh offering, however, Aaron burned, reasoning that if he was instructed to eat the meat of the day’s special offerings even though he is in mourning (contrary to the usual law), he should not deduce that the same applies to an offering that is not unique to this special occasion, but is part of the regularly scheduled offerings.

This distinction escaped Moses, who demanded of Aaron and his sons: Why did you burn this sin offering? And if you burned it because you are mourners, why did you eat the others? To which Aaron replied: “If you heard this instruction (that the offerings should be eaten even by mourners) regarding the offerings of the moment, you should not apply the same to the offerings for all times.”

(Talmud, Zevachim 101a; Rashi)

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[Moses] was angry (10:16)

Because he became angry, he forgot the law that a mourner is forbidden to eat from the meat of the offerings.

(Midrash Rabbah; Rashi)


He was angry with Elazar and Itamar (10:16)

In deference to Aaron’s honor, he directed his anger to Elazar and Itamar.

(Rashi)


Aaron replied to Moses (10:19)

If Moses spoke angrily to Elazar and Itamar, why did Aaron reply? This tells us that Moses spoke to them only in deference to Aaron. Thus they said: It is not appropriate that our father sits silently and we reply, nor is it appropriate that a student should correct his teacher. Perhaps it was because Elazar did not know how to answer? But the verse (Numbers 31:21) attests that when he desired, he spoke in the presence of Moses and the tribal leaders.

(Rashi)


Moses heard this, and it was favorable in his eyes (10:20)

Moses was not ashamed to admit his error; he did not say “I did not hear this,” but said, “I heard it and I forgot it.”

(Talmud; Rashi)

He issued a proclamation to all the camp, saying: “I made an error in regard to the law, and Aaron my brother came and taught it me.”

(Midrash Rabbah)

There are seven things that characterize a boor, and seven that characterize a wise man. A wise man does not speak before one who is greater than him in wisdom or age. He does not interrupt his fellow’s words. He does not hasten to answer. His questions are on the subject and his answers to the point. He responds to first things first and to latter things later. Concerning what he did not hear, he says “I did not hear.” He concedes to the truth. With the boor, the reverse of all these is the case.

“He does not interrupt his fellow’s words”—this is Aaron, who though he had an answer to Moses’ charge, waited in silence until Moses had concluded speaking. “He concedes to the truth”—this is Moses, who admitted that Aaron was in the right.

(Ethics of the Fathers; Avot d’Rabbi Natan)


These are the animals which you may eat . . . (11:2)

The birds and many of the mammals forbidden by the Torah are predators, while the permitted animals are not. We are commanded not to eat those animals possessive of a cruel nature, so that we should not absorb these qualities into ourselves.

(Nachmanides)

The great Kabbalist Rabbi Isaac Luria taught that every created thing possesses a “spark” of divine energy that constitutes its essence and soul. When a person utilizes something toward a G‑dly end, he brings to light this divine spark, manifesting and realizing the purpose for which it was created. In all physical substances, a material “husk” (kelipah) encases and conceals the divine spark at its core, necessitating great effort on the part of man to access the spark without becoming enmeshed in the surface materiality.

No existence is devoid of a divine spark—indeed, nothing can exist without the pinpoint of G‑dliness that imbues it with being and purpose. But not every spark can be actualized. There are certain “impregnable” elements whose sparks are inaccessible to us. The fact that something is forbidden by the Torah means that its husk cannot be penetrated, so that its spark remains locked within it and cannot be elevated.

Thus, one who eats a piece of kosher meat and then uses the energy gained from it to perform a mitzvah thereby elevates the spark of divinity that is the essence of the meat, freeing it of its mundane incarnation and raising it to a state of fulfilled spirituality. However, if one would do the same with a piece of non-kosher meat, no such “elevation” would take place. Even if he applied the energy to positive and G‑dly ends, this would not constitute a realization of the Divine purpose in the meat’s creation, since the consumption of the meat was an express violation of the Divine will.

This is the deeper significance of the Hebrew terms assur and mutar employed by Torah law for the forbidden and the permissible. Assur, commonly translated as “forbidden,” literally means “bound,” implying that these are things whose sparks the Torah has deemed bound and imprisoned in a shell of negativity and proscription. Mutar (“permitted”), which literally means “unbound,” is the term for those sparks which the Torah has empowered us to extricate from their mundane embodiment and actively involve in our positive endeavors.

The “bound” elements of creation also have a role in the realization of the Divine purpose outlined by the Torah. But theirs is a “negative” role—they exist so that we should achieve a conquest of self by resisting them. There is no Torah-authorized way in which they can actively be involved in our development of creation, no way in which they may themselves become part of the “dwelling for G‑d” that we are charged to make of our world. Of these elements it is said, “Their breaking is their rectification.” They exist to be rejected and defeated, and it is in their defeat and exclusion from our lives that their raison d’être is realized.

(The Chassidic Masters)


These are the animals which you shall eat among all the beasts that are upon the earth . . . of all that are in the waters . . . among the birds . . . (11:2, 9, 13)

Land animals, which were created from the soil, are rendered fit to eat by the severing of both vital passages (the windpipe and the gullet). Fish, which were created from the water, do not require any shechitah to render them fit to eat. Birds, which were created from a mixture of soil and water, are rendered fit to eat with the severing of either one of the two vital passages.

(Talmud, Chullin 27b)

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But these you shall not eat of those that chew the cud, or of those that divide the hoof . . . (11:4)

The Torah does not list the animals that have both kosher signs (and are thus kosher), nor does it list those which lack both (and are thus forbidden); but it does name the four animals—the camel, hyrax, hare and swine—that have one but not the other (making them, too, unfit for consumption for the Jew).

It is noteworthy that in the 33 centuries since G‑d communicated these laws to Moses, entire continents, replete with many “new” and unimagined species, have been discovered. A number of these hitherto unknown species possess both of the kosher signs, and many lack them both; but not a single one has been found with only one sign. The only such animals on earth are the four species enumerated by the Torah!


And the swine, though it divides the hoof and is cloven-footed, yet it does not chew the cud; it is unclean to you (11:7)

Just as the swine when reclining puts forth its hooves as if to say, “See that I am kosher,” so too does the empire of Rome boast as it commits violence and robbery under the guise of establishing a judicial tribunal. This may be compared to a governor who put to death the thieves, adulterers and sorcerers. He leaned over to a counselor and said: “I myself did these three things in one night.”

(Midrash Rabbah)


These you may eat of all that are in the waters: whatever has fins and scales (11:9)

All fish that have scales also have fins (and are thus kosher). But there are fish that have fins but do not have scales, and are thus impure. If so, the Torah could have written only “scales,” without having to also write “fins”? . . . Said Rabbi Abbahu, and so it was learned in the study house of Rabbi Yishmael: This is so that “Torah be increased and made great” (Isaiah 42:21).

(Talmud, Niddah 51b)

The student of Torah is comparable to a fish in water, as in Rabbi Akiva’s famous parable. His “fins” are the means by which he moves forward through the water—the intellect and study skills with which he advances in wisdom and increases the Torah and makes it great with his own contributions (chiddushim) to Torah learning. His “scales” are his protective armor against predators and adverse elements—his fear of heaven, which shields his learning from error and distortion.

One might think that the primary requirement for success in Torah is the “fins,” while the “scales” serve a secondary function. It is the fins that move the fish forward, while the scales merely preserve what is. After all, learning is an intellectual exercise; piety and fear of G‑d are lofty virtues, but are they any use in navigating the complexities of a difficult Tosafot?

In truth, however, the very opposite is the case. A scholar with “fins” but no “scales” is a non-kosher fish. He might swim and frolic with his talent and genius, but his learning is corrupt; it is not Torah, but his egoistic arrogation of the Divine wisdom. On the other hand, the Talmud tells us that while there are fish with fins and no scales, all fish with scales have fins. If a person approaches Torah with an awe of its Divine author and the commitment to serve Him, he will certainly succeed. Regardless of the degree of his intellectual prowess, he will find the “fins” with which to advance in his learning and contribute to the growth of Torah.

(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)


These are the ones which you consider an abomination among the birds . . . (11:13-19)

In Hebrew, the 20 non-kosher species of bird are: nesher, peres, ozniyah, daah, ayah, oreiv, bat yaanah, tachmas, shachaf, netz, kos, shalach, yanshuf, tinshemet, kaat, racham, chassidah, anafah, duchifat, atalef.

The commentaries differ as to the identity of many of these species, so that the above translation reflects but one of many interpretations. An alternate rendition, based on traditional commentaries as researched by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan in his Living Torah, is: “eagle, ossifrage, osprey, kite, vulture family, the entire raven family, ostrich, owl, gull, hawk family, falcon, cormorant, ibis, swan, pelican, magpie, stork, heron family, hoopoe and bat.”

Other interpretations include the following species in the list (while eliminating others): griffon vulture, albatross, woodpecker, goshawk, long-eared owl and/or capercaillie.

The Talmud offers a number of identifying markers that are common to kosher fowl, including the fact that they are not predators. In practice, Torah law rules that due to the many uncertainties as to the precise identity of the non-kosher birds listed by the Torah, only birds with a tradition of kashrut should be eaten.


Any earthen vessel into which any of them fall . . . shall be unclean (11:33)

If the source of impurity enters within the space of an earthen vessel—even without touching its walls—it becomes impure. If it did not enter into it, even if it touched it from the outside, it remains pure.

With all other utensils, the opposite is the case: entering within them alone does not make them impure, while touching any part of them does.

(Talmud, Chullin 24b; Rashi)

The worth of a utensil of wood or metal is not only in its function as a container—the material of which it is made also has value. So contact with any part of it, including its outside surface, affects its ritual state. On the other hand, an earthen utensil, whose body is mere earth, has value only as a container; accordingly it is affected only by what happens to its inside. Indeed, its inside is therefore even more susceptible to contamination than that of other utensils.

Man is an earthen vessel (“G‑d formed man out of the dust of the earth, and He blew into his nostril a living soul”—Genesis 2:7). His worth lies not in his material exterior, but in its content. He should therefore regard as significant only what pertains to his inner self.

(The Rebbe of Kotzk)


A wellspring or pool (mikvah) . . . shall be pure (11:36)

A wellspring purifies regardless of the amount of the water it contains, and also when flowing; a mikvah purifies only when stationary, and must contain 40 se’ah (approx. 87.5 gallons) of water.

(Torat Kohanim)

When a person endeavors to venture forth on his own, relying on his own intellect and feelings to guide him in the proper path, he had best be well equipped for the task. For he is then a mikvah, a pool of water no longer in direct contact with its source, which must possess a minimum of so many “gallons” of understanding and fortitude. Furthermore, he must be “stationary,” contained and delimited by walls outside of himself, for without such objective control he is susceptible to all sorts of distortions and corruptions. A mikvah that lacks these criteria not only fails to purify other things, but is also itself vulnerable to contamination.

On the other hand, one who is a “wellspring,” disavowing all pretensions of a “separate identity” from his Source, has no such limitations. His intellect may not be the deepest, his talents quite unspectacular, but the little he has can effectively take on the most challenging of tasks. Nor does he require any confining walls or “closed communities” to safeguard his integrity: wherever he goes and flows, he has a positive effect on his environment and is never negatively influenced by its imperfections. For no matter how scant his resources, and no matter where he ventures forth, he maintains an unbroken attachment to his Source.

(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)


To differentiate the pure and the impure, and between the animal that may be eaten and the animal that may not be eaten (11:47)

Need this be said regarding the difference between a donkey and a cow? . . . Rather, this is to tell us to differentiate between the animal which had half its windpipe cut [during the slaughtering] and the animal which had most of its windpipe cut. (According to the laws of shechitah, ritual slaughter, if a majority of the windpipe is not severed in an uninterrupted motion of the slaughterer’s knife, the animal is rendered tereifah and unfit for consumption.) . . .

Need this be said regarding the difference between a wild ass and a deer? Rather, this is to tell us to differentiate between an animal in which there developed a defect yet which remains fit to be eaten, and an animal in which there developed a defect which renders it unfit to be eaten.

(Torat Kohanim; Rashi)

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