Shabbat-Table Talks: Shemini
Ralph Tawil <email@example.com>
week’s Table Talks is dedicated in memory of Miriam bat Rena, by her son David
Consoling the mourning and grieving.
Consoling a mourning person is a misva that is considered emulating God’s
compassionate behavior. Our Halakha offers guidance on how to carry out this
misva, which might appear very difficult at first. Helping our children
recognize this misva and fulfill it when the unfortunate occasion arises, can
develop their compassion and sensitivity to the plight of others.
This week’s perasha describes the tragic deaths of two of Israel’s elite,
Nadab and Abihu, Aharon’s sons. They were two of Israel’s first five kohanim.
They were killed on one of the most momentous days of Aharon’s life, the
inauguration of the Mishkan and the initiation of Aharon into being the Kohen
Gadol. On that day, his two sons decided to offer an incense offering, that God
had not commanded. The result was that they were killed by a fire that went out
from the Sanctuary.
Aharon’s sons Nadab and Abihu each took his fire pan, put fire in it, and laid
incense on it; and they offered before Hashem alien fire, which He had not
enjoined upon them. And fire came forth from Hashem and consumed them; thus they
died at the instance of Hashem. Then Moshe said to Aharon, “This is what
Hashem meant when He said: Through those near to Me I show Myself holy, and gain
glory before all the people. And Aharon was silent.
According to some commentators (Ramban)
that statement that “Aharon was silent” implies that he had been crying
previously, and that Moshe’s words comforted him.
Begin the discussion by asking if the children have learned the
perasha and do they know something sad that happened in it. If they have not
learned the perasha, ask them if they know what happened to Aharon’s two sons.
If they do, ask them to tell the story, if not tell the story yourself. At this
point focus on the peshat (straightforward explanation) of what happened, namely
that they died because they brought an offering that Hashem had not sanctioned.
(There are many midrashic reasons that are valuable in their own right, but they
are not the point of this discussion.) Read Moshe’s words to Aharon and
Aharon’s response. Ask: what does the fact that he turned silent imply about
what he was doing before? (that he was crying.)
What do you think was comforting in Moshe’s words?
comforting aspects of Moshe’s words are the fact that he called Aharon’s
sons “those near to” God, and that their death proves that they were in fact
very close to God.
the idea that their death led to a greater respect, distance and therefore
sanctity of the Mishkan. People would be more fearful of approaching the Mishkan
now that the two kohanim, Nadab and Abihu, died. In short, the second reason
implies that their death had a purpose and achieved something permanent in
would you say to Aharon?
One of the most compassionate aspects of Jewish communal life is the Jewish approach to death and mourning. When a member of the community is mourning the death of a relative, the whole community visits him while he “sits” for seven days (shiv’a). Halakha prescribes the visitor’s behavior. For example, the halakha is that upon visiting the mourner, one must not begin talking. Rather one must let the mourner acknowledge the visitor and begin. If the mourner does not feel like talking he must be allowed to remain silent. It is his decision to reenter into the common discourse with man. In the overwhelming majority of the cases the mourner does begin talking. Yet, the fact that it was his decision makes him aware that his reentry into the life of the community was his choice and that he was not coerced to do this. Instead he was protected by the halakha. Upon departing there are several customs regarding the farewell. One custom is to wish that the mourner be consoled from heaven (“min hashamayim tenuhhamu”). The visitor realizes that although he attempted to console the mourner, real consolation is only achievable through divine grace. This farewell is recognition of Man’s inability to truly console and a prayer that the Almighty would complete our meager attempts.
tradition has the visitor reciting that God should console the mourner amongst
all others who mourn for Zion and Jerusalem. This farewell reminds the mourner
that Jewish experience is filled with things to mourn. Just as Hashem will
console those who mourn for Jerusalem, so may the mourner be consoled. This
farewell allows the mourner to understand the broader context of his mourning
later verses (10:6-7) Moshe commanded Aharon and his remaining children not to
show the traditional external signs of the mourner. They were the
representatives of the service at the sanctuary; a service associated with
connection to God. It would be improper for them to show mourning. Communal
standing and the overall message must, at times, override personal emotions.
Even though they have suffered a tremendous loss, the remaining Kohanim had to
show that the service of God transcends their individual grief.
do you think the halakha states that if a person is within the seven days of
mourning and a yom tob comes, that his mourning is completed and he does not
resume sitting during of after the yom tob? (Yom tob commemorate the connection
to God that resulted in an event of national happiness. The national happiness
overrides the individual’s grief.)
To read last year's Table Talk click here.
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