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Beit Midrash Torah Portion and Tanach Shmini

Hirsch At Your Table

Sanctifying God’s Name

A brief Dvar Torah on the Parsha, based on R. Samson Raphael Hirsch’s Torah Commentary
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ויאמר משה אל אהרן הוא אשר דבר ד’ לאמר בקרובי אקדש ועל פני כל העם אכבד וידום אהרן: (Lv 10:3)
After Aharon’s sons Nadav and Avihu perform the illegal קטורת ceremony, a fire descends from God and consumes them, killing them instantly. Moshe speaks to Aharon about God’s reason for the harsh punishment. Aharon listens, silently accepting the decision.

To understand the rationale for God’s punishment, it is necessary to analyze the phrase בקרובי אקדש (I will be sanctified by those close to Me) and to understand the dual concepts of קידוש השם (sanctifying God’s name) and חילול השם (desecrating God’s name).

The word קרבי is from the root ק-ר-ב "to come close." The role of the Kohen brings him close to God. The words אקדש, קידוש are from the root ק-ד-ש "to dedicate all resources" to a particular goal. God is elevated by the acts of service of those close to Him. The word חילול is from the root ח-ל-ל"to act against".

The term קידוש השם means that a person is willing to exert all his resources and sacrifice everything in order to fulfill God’s will. An individual who acts in accordance with God’s Torah demonstrates His dominance of the world. Conversely, when a person acts against the Torah, he is guilty of חילול ד' profaning the sanctity of God and undermining His role in the universe. The ultimate expression of קידוש השם is the readiness to sacrifice one’s life rather than commit a gross violation of God’s Torah.

Although every Jew is expected to work to enhance God’s role in society, those closest to God have a special obligation to do so. This is because their acts serve as examples for the general public to emulate. If the Kohanim, who are closest to God, demonstrate their total dedication to Divine service, they bring honor to God (מכובד) in the eyes of the entire nation (עם).

The word מכובד is from the root כ-ב-ד "to weigh." In attitudinal terms it refers to "honor" which reflects the "weight" that is given to a person who has achieved greatness. The word עם is from the root ע-מ-ם "to develop without outside interference" close social relationships.

If an ordinary person had committed this sin, it perhaps would have been a pardonable offense. However, for public figures, such as the sons of Aharon, it was a חילול ד'. In order for God’s position of כבוד to be maintained among the people (על פני כל העם), a severe punishment was required. Aharon understood the appropriateness of the punishment and remained silent (וידום) in the face of Moshe’s explanation.

The word פני is from the root פ-נ-ה "to focus". In our verse it refers to the faces of the people. The word וידום is from the root ד-מ-ם "to quiet".

This approach of holding public figures to higher standards stands in stark contrast to the mores of the non-Jewish world, where public figures are usually allowed greater latitude for lapses in morality.

This verse also provides a response to those who negate the existence of the Oral Law (תורה שבעל פה). In the middle of the verse the following phrase appears: הוא אשר דיבר ד' (this is what God said). Nowhere does the Torah mention that God made such a statement. The only possible explanation is that the concept of בקרבי אקדש must have been told to Moshe as part of the Torah that was not written down, that which was transmitted orally. The unfortunate death of the sons of Aharon prompted the mention of the concept in the written Torah. Otherwise, it would have remained exclusively in the Oral Law.

Copyright © 2014, Matityahu Clark. All Rights Reserved. This is an excerpt from the forthcoming Hirsch At Your Table, a collection of brief divrei torah based on R. Samson Raphael Hirsch’s Torah Commentary.
Rabbi Matityahu Clark
Served in principal/director positions throughout North America. One of the founders of the Educator's Council of America, and former president of the Council for Jewish Education. Former Director of the Board of Jewish Education of Greater Washington.
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