Sedra Shorts

Ideas and commentaries on the weekly Torah readings.

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Location: Bet Shemesh, Israel

I taught Tanach in Immanuel College, London and in Hartman, Jerusalem. I was also an ATID fellow for 2 years. At present, I work for the Lookstein Center for Jewish Education in the Diaspora, in Bar-Ilan University, Israel. The purpose of this blog is to provide "sedra-shorts", short interesting ideas on the weekly Torah reading. Please feel free to use them and to send me your comments.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Parshat Shmini

Aharon's Two Other Sons

The day was meant to be Ahraon's finest hour; the day that the Mishkan would be consecrated and "the glory of the Lord would appear" (VaYikra 9:6). It would also show that Aharon was truly the one chosen by God to be His High Priest and that that he had been forgiven for the role he played in the apostasy of the Golden Calf.

These events occur, but Aharon pays a tragic price when two of his sons, Nadav and Avihu place an unauthorized fire on the fire pans and "died before the Lord" (ibid 10:2).

Moshe wants Aharon and his two remaining sons, Eleazar and Itamar, to carry on with day's ritual as if nothing had happened: "Moshe said to Aharon and to Eleazar and to Itamar, his sons, "Do not leave your heads unshorn, and do not rend your garments…" Take the meal offering that is left over from the Lord's fire offerings, and eat it as unleavened loaves beside the altar… (ibid 6 & 12-15).

Eleazar and Itamar, however, find it impossible to complete the ritual as Moshe had proscribed: "Moses thoroughly investigated concerning the sin offering he goat, and behold, it had been burnt! So he was angry with Eleazar and Ithamar, Aaron's surviving sons, saying, Why did you not eat the sin offering in the holy place? …so you should have surely eaten it within holy [precincts], as I commanded (ibid 16-18)."

Up until now, even at the death of his two sons, Aharon had been silent. However, when his surviving two sons are reproached by Moshe for not completing the ritual, i.e. eating the sin offerings, he finally speaks up:

"But today, did they offer up their sin offering and their burnt offering before the Lord? But [if tragic events] like these had befallen me, and if I had eaten a sin offering today, would it have pleased the Lord?" (ibid 19).

Essentially, Aharon rationalizes their actions saying that they are grief stricken and so God would not be pleased with them continuing with the normal fashion and so they burned the sin offerings instead of eating them, as the eating of the sin offering would have been a joyous act.

How does Moshe react to this defense? Let us first look at he Hebrew and then examine two different translations: וַיִּשְׁמַע מֹשֶׁה וַיִּיטַב בְּעֵינָיו

Translation 1: Moshe listened and it was good in his eyes.

This is the standard translation, that Moshe accepted Aharon's response. However, this is strange for surely Moshe understood this argument beforehand and that is why he stressed to them the importance that despite their grief, they must continue with the ritual.

Therefore, we can give a different translation.

Translation 2: Moshe listened [and responded] "It would have been good in His eyes".

Aharon asks under these circumstances whether it would have been good in God's eyes to continue as normal. Moshe responds that indeed, it would have been.

Which interpretation is correct? We can never know. However, it is only when we study the text in its Hebrew original that we can fully appreciate the different dimensions that it has to offer.

Last year's Sedra Short on Parshat Shemini, entitled: "Aharon's Shame" appears at

Another Sedra Short on Parshat Shemini, entitled: "Aharon's Four Sons" appears at

Another Sedra Short on Parshat Shemini, entitled: "How They Died" appears at

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