IMREI SHEFER BY RABBI SHLOMO KLUGER
Acharei Mos
Imrei Shefer - Parshas Acharei Mos
   

What is the proof that the two sons of Aharon died because they drew near before Hashem, and not for another reason?

(16,1) “And Hashem spoke to Moshe after the death of the two sons of Aharon, when they drew near before Hashem and they died.”

It seems to me that the meaning of this posuk is that since Hashem is coming to warn Aharon not to come at all times to the Holy of Holies so that he should not die as his two sons did, it is possible that Aharon might question whether this is really the reason why they died. Perhaps they died only because Hashem said in Shemos 29:43 that the Mishkan “will be sanctified by my honoured ones”. As Moshe said to Aharon: I thought that the Mishkan would be sanctified either with me or with you, but now I see that that they (the two sons of Aharon) are greater than us.

But there is a proof that they did not die as a result of Hashem’s statement, because we see from Moshe’s words “either with me or with you” that the death of either Moshe or Aharon would have been sufficient to fulfil Hashem’s statement to sanctify the Mishkan with His honoured ones. And since Nadav and Avihu were greater than Moshe and Aharon, certainly it would have been sufficient if only one of them would have died. Therefore, since both of them died it is clear that it was because they “drew near to Hashem”, and thus their death served well as a warning to Aharon not to come at all times to the Holy.

This is the explanation of our posuk: “Hashem spoke to Moshe after the death of the two sons of Aharon”, that since both sons of Aharon died it was clear that it was because “they drew near to Hashem", and this is the reason that they died. Therefore, “speak to your brother Aharon, that he should not come at all times to the Holy…so that he should not die” the way his two sons did.

When was death decreed upon the two sons of Aharon?

(16,1) “And Hashem spoke to Moshe after the death of the two sons of Aharon, when they drew near before Hashem and they died.”

The words “and they died” appear to be superfluous, because since it already said “after the death of the two sons of Aharon”, it should have been sufficient just to say “when they drew near before Hashem” without repeating “and they died”.

But I wrote in parshas Shemini that death had actually already been decreed upon them because they had feasted their eyes on the Shechinah, as it says in Shemos 24:11 “And they saw G-d, and they ate and they drank”. Therefore, from that time they were already considered dead, but were not yet liable to be killed by burning until they offered the strange fire. This is what I wrote in parshas Shemini.

But now we will explain in more detail according to what I found in the responsa of the Maharil, Siman 23, who was asked about Chazal’s statement that Moshe died on Shabbos. But on that day he wrote thirteen Sifrei Torah - could it be that Moshe wrote sifrei Torah on Shabbos?! He answered according to the words of the Rokeach, that each person has a Mazal up above, and sometimes a person's Mazal dies some time before he himself dies. And from the time that his Mazal dies, even though he is still alive he is already considered as dead. This is what Chazal mean when they say that Moshe died on Shabbos - his Mazal died on Shabbos, but he remained alive.

What emerges from this is that if it has been decreed upon a person that he will die, even though he remains alive until a later time, he is nevertheless already called dead. So when the two sons of Aharon feasted their eyes on the Shechinah at Mount Sinai they were immediately liable to die, and had it not been that Hashem did not want to dampen the rejoicing of Klal Yisrael, they would have already died. But even though they did not actually die at that time, their Mazal had already died. Therefore, since they were considered as already dead they were no longer fitting to burn incense before Hashem because they were no longer Kohanim - as we wrote in parshas Shemini, “there is no ruling on the day of death”- and they were considered as strangers, and so it says “they offered a strange fire”. Therefore they were judged to die by burning, and thus did they die. But even had they not offered the incense they would have anyway died, but not by burning.

This is what our posuk is saying: “after the death of the two sons of Aharon when they drew near before Hashem” - after they had already died when they had drawn near to Hashem at Sinai and death had been decreed upon them they were consequently considered as dead, and so they were liable for punishment also for the offering of the incense since they were considered non-Kohanim. Thus they were punished at that time “and they died” in reality, by burning.

When would it be correct to serve Hashem because of fear of being punished?

(16,1) “And Hashem spoke to Moshe after the death of the two sons of Aharon, when they drew near before Hashem, and they died…Speak to your brother Aharon, that he should not come at all times to the Holy…so that he should not die.”

The Midrash says that our posuk can be explained by the posuk in Koheles 9:2 “the same thing happens to the righteous and the wicked”.

It seems to me that that Midrash is coming to explain why the Torah writes that the warning to Aharon not to come at all times to the Holy came after the death of his two sons. Because the explanation of a different Midrash which is brought by Rashi, that it is in order cause Aharon to fear dying like his two sons, is problematic. Because this type of fear, fear of punishment, is not fitting for someone on Aharon's level. Also, if he had not been warned until now, why were the two sons of Aharon punished? And if indeed there had already been a warning, why was there a need now to repeat the warning?

Therefore, this Midrash comes to explain that they certainly had already been warned not to come at all times to the Holy, and that if they did so they would die. And since the fear of Hashem should be primarily fear of His loftiness and not fear of punishment, as is written in many seforim including the Rambam in the laws of repentance - because fear of punishment is a very low level of Divine service fitting only for those on a low level, it would have been forbidden for Aharon to refrain from coming to the Holy because he was afraid of being punished.

However, sometimes it is permitted for even a person who is on a high level to obey Hashem because of fear of being punished, and that is in those sins which seem light in peoples’ eyes but so severe in the eyes of Hashem that one who transgresses them is liable to be very severely punished. And if he will be punished it will cause a profanation of Hashem's name (a chillul Hashem), because whenever a Tzaddik is punished it causes a chillul Hashem. As the Tanna says in Pirkei Avos 1:11 “Sages, be careful with your words, perhaps they will make you liable to be sent into exile and you will be exiled to a place of bad waters, and your students who will come after you will drink and die, and thus the name of Hashem will be profaned”. Therefore, if a person refrains from doing a sin lest he will be punished and cause a chillul Hashem, it is a permissible way to serve Hashem.

Thus, the Torah is saying here that before the death of the two sons of Aharon and there was not yet any indication that chillul Hashem was involved in the matter, it was forbidden for Aharon to refrain from coming to the Holy because of fear of being punished, but rather because of fear of Hashem’s loftiness, because He is the master and ruler. But now “after the death of the two sons of Aharon” everyone is astounded that “they drew near before Hashem, and they died” - they had intended to draw near for the sake of Heaven and for this they were punished with death?! Therefore, since it is now clear that the matter involves a chillul Hashem, Hashem told Moshe that now it is permissible for Aharon “that he should not come at all times to the Holy” for the reason “that he should not die”. He is now allowed to refrain from coming out of concern that he might die, because such an intention is also for the honour of Hashem, so that the name of Hashem should not be profaned through him.

This is why the Midrash brings the posuk from Koheles, “the same thing happens to the righteous and the wicked”, and since it amazes people that there should be one consequence for everybody and it is therefore a chillul Hashem, it is permissible to serve in this case from fear of being punished. Because by refraining from causing a chillul Hashem one is indeed serving Hashem.

What did Aharon need in order to enter the Holy?

(16,3) “With this shall Aharon enter the Holy: with a young bull for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering.”


Behold, the beginning of the posuk - "with this shall Aharon enter the Holy" - seems to imply that Aharon needs something else when he enters the Holy besides the young bull and the ram. And since it says in Tehillim 101:5 "haughty of eyes and proud of heart, him I will not suffer", and Chazal taught that Hashem says "Him and Me cannot dwell in one dwelling", we see that only one who is humble is fitting to enter the camp of the Shechinah. Like it says in Yeshayohu 57:15 "I dwell with him that is of a contrite and humble spirit". According to this, Aharon could not enter the Holy except with the attribute of humility.

And where do we see that he had the requisite humility? From the fact that the Torah introduced this section by mentioning that it was "after the death of the two sons of Aharon", and Rashi explained that this was a warning to Aharon not enter the Holy at all times so that he will not die in the way the his two sons did.

Now, Ben Zoma taught in Pirkei Avos: Who is wise? One who learns from everybody. I explained in my sefer Magen Avos that this means someone who learns correct ethical behaviour from what he sees happening to other people. He does not say: I do not have to learn from what happened to such-and-such a person because he is inferior to me and therefore he was punished for what he did, but if I do the same thing it will not be harmful. He does not say this but instead learns from everyone. This is a wise man.

So too we see with Aharon that he learned ethical behaviour from the punishment that was meted out to his two sons. Because if Aharon had been arrogant he would have reacted by saying: Why should I learn from what happened to my sons? My sons were inferior to me and therefore they were punished for coming at all times to the Holy, but I am greater and so I would not punished. And since Aharon did not respond thusly but rather accepted the reproof, it is clear that he was humble and learned from everybody, and in the merit of this humility he was fitting to come to the Holy.

This is what the Torah is saying: "After the death of the two sons of Aharon" and Aharon was warned not to come at all times to the Holy so that he would not die like his two sons, and Aharon accepted the reproof, this showed that he was exceedingly humble, and therefore "with this", with this merit, "Aharon shall come to the Holy", and draw near to the Shechinah, as it says "I dwell with him that is of a contrite and humble spirit".

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