Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

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19 Adar II 5765 - March 30, 2005 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Shema Yisrael Torah Network

Opinion & Comment
I Shall Be Sanctified Through Those Who Approach Me

by Moshe Ben Shmuel

"And Moshe said to Aharon: This is what Hashem spoke . . . "

"I will be sanctified through those who draw near Me, and before all the people shall I be glorified."

Rashi comments: "Moshe said to Aharon: Aharon, my brother, I knew that the House [Mishkon] would be sanctified through someone close to Hashem. I thought it would be either you or me, since it is written, `And it will be sanctified with My glory.' Do not read bichvodi but bimechubodai.' Now I see that they [Nodov and Avihu] are greater than either you or I."

Very enigmatic. Moshe Rabbenu knew that there was a master design that called for the sudden, stormy demise of one of the figures who were in the forefront, one of the leaders of the people. We naively think that Nodov and Avihu brought `Foreign Fire' to the mizbeiach which, in apposition to all the activity of the joyous event of the Mishkon's dedication, injected sadness into the celebration. In other words, that the punishment came as a total surprise.

Rashi teaches us from the Midrash that the eish zoroh was merely a pretext, and that these two were specifically chosen to execute the master plan which had been already defined: "I shall be sanctified through those close to Me."

The question arises why this injection of sadness was particularly necessary at such a momentous, dramatic event as the erection of the Mishkon which riveted the attention and the focus of all Israel.

According to Moshe Rabbenu, he was to have been the object of this turn of events. Moshe, who was closest to Hashem, would become the focus. An awesome thought, for it was Moshe who led the people, step by step, beginning from the plagues and the exodus and continuing through the Giving of the Torah and the subsequent reposition of the Shechina and the atonement for the sin of the Eigel. The moment of climax, "the day of his wedding, the day when his heart rejoiced," when the "one small compartment" which Hashem had requested that His sons build Him, was fully completed and ready to be the abode of the Shechina, of the King — at that momentous occasion when the faithful shepherd could finally rejoice with the accomplishment — was this the time when the rejoicing would be turned to lamentation? Our mortal minds are too puny to embrace this thought.

On the other hand, Aharon was also a chosen servant of Hashem. He was also a candidate for "Bikrovai ekodesh," sanctifying Hashem's Name as a trusted servant. He had been selected to stand and attend before Hashem in the great and holy sanctuary that was now being inaugurated. Was he then, the person designated to be removed from this world at the very occasion of the dedication? It was either Moshe or Aharon, in Moshe's eyes. But Providence instead focused on Nodov and Avihu as the figures to be the object of this destiny and designation.

A most enigmatic event, but a parallel can be drawn to it in the chapter of the giving of the Torah. The fact that they are so similar eases the comparison and highlights their common denominators, enabling us to more clearly understand the puzzle.

Right before the Giving of the Torah, Moshe was told to convey stringent warnings to the people. "Descend and charge the people lest they break through to Hashem to gaze, and many of them perish. And let the priests also, who come near to Hashem, sanctify themselves lest Hashem break forth upon them" (Shemos 19:21). Hashem was approaching nearer and nearer, but at the same time He had to warn the people from losing themselves and straining to draw near. The danger was that "lest many of them perish."

Amazingly, the Giving of the Torah might easily be accompanied by a mass destruction or disaster. Even the kohanim, those who were closest to the source of holiness, had to be warned not to make a single move beyond what was permitted. They too could perish from trying to come too close. It was a relentless warning of dire consequences. Closeness to Hashem and love for Him can in no way compromise or diminish the fear of Heaven.

We would assume then that, primarily and necessarily, it was the greater proximity which called for the establishment of boundaries, safeguards. Up till here, and no more. Do not dare presume to come on a more equal footing, like "chavrusa-partners with Heaven."

Closeness to Hashem requires an even more stringent caution, heed, reverence — a fear that increases with growing closeness. One can never feel heimish or buddy-buddy: an awe of respectful distance was a prerequisite, and the closer one got, the more `distance of awe' was required.

And thus it was with the dedication of the Mishkon. "And I will dwell in their midst." This alone is a necessary reason for the need of, "I shall be sanctified through those who come near Me." This is essential so that, "Before the entire nation will I be honored." For "when Hashem dispenses justice with the righteous, He becomes more greatly feared. And if this is so regarding the righteous, how much more so in connection with the wicked." This is a necessary reminder, a warning preceding the momentous occasion of the reposing of the Shechina in the midst of Israel.


"And I shall walk in your midst and I shall be unto you as your G-d." I shall walk with you in Gan Eden like one of you. Is it possible that you will not be afraid of Me? Therefore is it said, "And I shall be unto you as your G-d". (Rashi, Bechukosai: "I shall stroll with you in Gan Eden: this is the ultimate degree of Divine proximity, where the righteous sit and bask blissfully in the aura of the Shechina. Is it possible that you will no longer fear Me? Perhaps the closeness and love will be at the expense of G-d-fear? Therefore is it written: `And I shall be unto you as your G-d.'"

The Rogatchover asks in Shem MiShmuel: "I asked my father regarding the words of the prayer: `And all [the angels] accept upon themselves the yoke of Heaven, one from the other' — but how can we ascribe a yoke to angels? Their Divine service is pleasant and desirable to them; they yearn for it. And he replied: Their yoke or restraint constitutes the requirement not to go beyond their bounds, despite their great yearning to do so" (Ki Siso).

Our Sages noted that the commandment of ve'ohavto, loving Hashem our G-d, is written preceded with the word ess, to denote an addition — the commandment includes Torah scholars. We find the same idea as we have been developing also with regard to closeness to Torah scholars. The Rambam comments on: "`And warm yourselves by the light of the scholars.' When you draw close to the Sages and men of elite character, draw near only when they befriend you, but do not overstep the familiarity towards them beyond what they allow . . . This can be likened to one who warms himself by a fire. If he keeps his distance, he will benefit from the heat but if he draws too close, he will be burned! Bikrovai ekodesh."

All closeness obligates holiness, separation, and fearful reverence.

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