Pigs and bird 520.
(photo credit: Israel Weiss)
‘And Aaron was silent’ (Leviticus 10:3)
I am writing at the time of the funeral
of the family from Itamar, where two-legged beasts took the lives of a couple
and their three young children on Shabbat.
May the Almighty avenge the
innocent blood of Udi, Ruti, Yoav, Elad and Hadas Fogel.
It was in the
midst of the joyous celebration dedicating the desert Sanctuary that “fire came
out from before the Lord and devoured” Nadab and Abihu, sons of Aaron, the High
Priest. “And Moses said to Aaron, ‘that is what the Lord has said, saying that
through those closest to Me shall I be sanctified…’” (Lev.10:3).
brings the following additional words: “Moses said to Aaron, ‘Aaron my brother,
I know that this Temple Sanctuary will have to be sanctified by beloved friends
of the divine, and I thought it would be either through you or through me. Now I
see that they [Nadab and Abihu] were greater than me and than you….’” According
to this view, Nadab and Abihu were saintly individuals, worthy of being
sacrificed on the altar of the desert Sanctuary, “Vayidom Aaron,” and Aaron
silently acquiesced to God’s will.
But why did the desert Sanctuary, and
by extension any great advance of the Jewish nation, have to be marked by the
deaths of great Jews? Why must the pages of our history be drenched in the blood
of holy martyrs and soaked by the tears of mourners? The only answer I can give
is the one-word answer that our Sabra children like to give when we ask
“why...?’ – “kacha,” that’s how it is.
Why must sacrifice be necessary
for redemption? The pattern may begin to be discerned as far back as the
Covenant between the Parts, in which God guarantees Abram eternal seed (Genesis
15:1-6) and the Land of Israel (15:7).
After this, a great fear descends
upon Abram: His seed will be strangers in a strange land where they will be
enslaved. And then they will leave, freed and enriched.
God then commands
Abram to circumcise himself and his entire male household; the blood of the
covenant is therefore built into the very male organ of propagation (Genesis
17); the price of nationhood is blood sacrifice and affliction.
our Pessah Seder, we retell the tale of our march from servitude to freedom in
the words of the fully liberated Jew bringing his first fruits to the Holy
Temple in Jerusalem: “My father, [Jacob], was almost destroyed by the Aramean
[Laban], and he went down to Egypt, and he became there a great mighty and
populous [rav] nation” (Deuteronomy 26:5).
The author of the Haggada then
explicates the text with the description presented by the prophet Ezekiel
(16:7): “I caused you to be populous [revava] even as the vegetation of the
field, and you did increase and grow up and you came to excellent beauty. Your
breasts were fashioned and your hair was grown – yet you were naked and
The Hebrews in Egypt were numerous and powerful, but without true
character and courage. They had to go through the suffering of Egyptian
enslavement, the sacrifice of having their male infants cast into the
They had to place their lives on the line by sacrificing the god of
the Egyptians to the God of Israel, displaying the god’s blood on their
doorposts. They had to undergo circumcision, demonstrating their readiness to
shed blood for freedom, for their right to worship God in their own way. Hence
the author of the Haggada returns to Ezekiel (16:6): “And I passed over you, and
saw that you were rooted in your blood, and I say to you by that blood shall you
live [the blood of circumcision].” It is your willingness to sacrifice for your
ideals that makes you worthy of emulation, that made you a special and “chosen”
people! And so the Haggada returns to describing Hebrew suffering in Egypt – a
suffering intended to teach us to “love the stranger, because you were strangers
in the land of Egypt.”
This Shabbat, known as Parashat Para, is the
Shabbat of purification for the paschal sacrifice. Rav Yisrael Prager tells how
a murderous Nazi guard in the Vilna ghetto interrupted a secret, nocturnal matza
baking, causing the blood of the Jewish victims to mix with the dough of the
matzot. The rabbi cried out: “Behold we are prepared and ready to perform the
commandment of the blood of the paschal sacrifice, the blood of the matzot which
symbolizes the paschal sacrifice!” As he concluded his blessing, his blood too
was mixed with the baking matzot.
Lama? Why such necessary sacrifice?
Kacha, because so it is, because such is the inscrutable will of the Almighty.
And “happy is the nation that can say kacha,” happy is the nation which
understands that its sacrifices are for the sake of the Almighty, for the
purification of their nation, for the message that freedom and the absolute
value of every human being are values worth fighting for.
May it be God’s
will that this be the last sacrifice for our freedom in Israel, for a world free
of terrorism.The writer is the founder and chancellor of Ohr Torah Stone
Colleges and Graduate Programs, and chief rabbi of Efrat.