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Beit Midrash Torah Portion and Tanach Emor

Life must go on

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Sefer Vayikra, unlike the other books of Chumash, has very few stories or personality studies (in fact, our Sedra contains the name of the only woman mentioned in all of Sefer Vayikra!). But perhaps the most fascinating & dramatic personal account is that of Nadav & Avihu, the righteous sons of Ahron who suffered a tragic fate – becoming the only Tzadikim in the Torah to die before their time.

The legacy of Nadav & Avihu permeates the book of Vayikra. We first read of their deaths in parshat Shmini; we then allude to them in the twin parshiyot of Acharei Mot & Kedoshim (which means, literally, "after their death, they were known as ‘the holy ones’") & now, in our Sedra of Emor, they are implied in Hashem’s command, "I shall be sanctified among the Children of Israel."

Our Rabbis define this all-important Mitzva of Kiddush Hashem: One must be willing to give up his life rather than commit certain sins or commit a sin in public, which then results in the desecration of G-d’s name. We extend this exalted status to anyone who dies in order to avoid sinning, or to defend Hashem or His land, or simply because he is a Jew. Nadav & Avihu, who perished while bringing offerings to Hashem at the Mishkan’s consecration, also fall into this sainted category.

Numerous individuals are singled out by the Rabbis as having been martyrs to G-d: Daniel in the lion’s den; Chananya, Mishael & Azarya in the fiery furnace; Papus & Lulyanus & Rabi Akiva, at the hands of the Romans. Of course, they differ; the first four were saved at the last moment; the last three were murdered.

Whose was the greatest act of sanctifying G-d’s name?

Some say it was those who died, as they actually gave up their lives for Hashem. Yet others say that those who were rescued actually effected the greatest Kiddush Hashem, as G-d’s saving power was then put on display for all to see, adding to His glory.

But there is another possibility: That when the act of sacrifice is over, then G-d performs a miracle of a different type: He allows our nation to continue, despite the trauma. Thus, even after Nadav & Avihu died, the avoda of the Mishkan did not stop. And after Rabi Akiva was tortured & killed, we still continued in our pursuit of Torah learning.

We read these Parshiyot in the time of year when we remember the victims of the Shoa, the fallen soldiers of the IDF, & Rabi Akiva’s students. All martyrs, all tragic losses to Am Yisrael. And yet, despite our grief, WE GO ON! We push forward, grief and all. This resolve to persevere is OUR national act of Kiddush Hashem, & may actually be G-d’s greatest miracle of all.
Rabbi Stewart Weiss
Was ordained at the Hebrew Theological College in Skokie, Illinois, and led congregations in Chicago and Dallas prior to making Aliyah in 1992. He directs the Jewish Outreach Center in Ra'anana, helping to facilitate the spiritual absorption of new olim.
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