In the opening pasuk of the parsha we are presented with a reminder of the very tragic event of the death of the two sons of Aharon that we read about in Parshat Shmini. This very sad turn of events, at the most intense moment of Kedusha, must have been a devastating blow not only for Aharon but indeed for the entire nation. Having said that, it is still not at all clear what relevance this event has to our parsha, which opens with the procedure of the Avoda of the Kohen Gadol on Yom Kippur. Why does this topic serve as the preamble to the parsha?
The Mefarshim take different positions on this issue. Some use this as an indication as to the nature of the sin of Nadav and Avehu. In other words, if we are given such exact instructions as to how the Kohen Gadol should enter the Kodesh HaKodashim, and we are told that this has something to do with their death it is logical to assume that their sin was related to this issue.
The Ramban adopts a much more technical position. He claims that the reason for the introduction to this parsha specifically has to do with the fact that it is out of place chronologically. While in general the Torah follows a precise chronological order there are places in which there exceptions to the rule. As opposed to Rashi who employs the rule of “Ain mukdam umuchar ba torah”- There is no chronological order to the Torah- liberally, the Ramban believes it is rare, and in each instance the Torah clearly states this to be an exception. Therefore in our case this parsha was said on the day of their death and the interim parshoit were later which required the Torah to let us know that this piece is out of place.
The position of the Ramban , while explaining the need for the preamble still does not explain to us why it was that this parsha was said on that day specifically.
Rashi in his opening remarks on the parsha brings a famous parable of two doctors trying to convince their patients to abstain from certain foods. While the first attempts a simple speech as the possible damaging effect of the food the second employs an example of a known figure who had failed to heed the advice and subsequently died. The inference being that the “live” (or “dead”) example would be much more effective. So to in our case the Torah wanted to impress upon Aharon the severity of transgressing the rules and used his children as an example.
Whichever position we adopt I think an underlying principle in evident- context. The specific context in which a particular Mitzvah was given is meant to reflect upon both its details and our attitude towards the Mitzvah. The instructions regarding the Kohen Gadol are to be read in awe and reverence with the sobering images of Nadav and Avehu in the background. They are not simply a “laundry list” of do this and don’t do that but rather are integrated into a larger framework representing Dvar Hashem.
I believe that this an important thing to keep in mind while reading any part of the Torah. We must be tuned not only to the what of the Torah but as well to the why and how, to the context in which the information is given to us and to try to seek out the underlying goals of the Mitzvot.
This issue becomes all the more critical in the second half of our reading this Shabbat in parshat Kedoshim. Here we are presented with a very long “list” of Mitzvot that seem to be unrelated. It is of utmost importance to try to recognize patterns and groups of the Mitzvot in order to get a better grasp of what we are being asked to do. I will point to one seemingly obvious point and I’ll leave the rest for “home work”.
The title of this parsha is Kedoshim and the Torah tells us that the purpose of the various Mitzvat is to define us as “holy” people in an attempt to fulfill the edict requiring us to imitate God. We are to be holy because He is holy. With this in mind we begin our reading of the Parsha- we find, as would be expected issues having to do with idol worship and some issues of Korbanot. Along side these Mitzvot we find fearing one’s parents and caring for the poor, which are not obviously associated with our notion of “holy”. In this case, if we are reading with context in mind we must either redefine our understanding of “Kedusha” or our understanding of the Mitzvot or both!!
As I have said previously I wanted to raise the issue and would like to hear what you chevra can come up with out there on this parsha. Why is this mosaic of mitzvot together and what can be learned from the preamble of the parsha in regard to the specifics within?
Please write me email@example.com with your thoughts. I must warn you first that I will not reply right away, as I will be in Miluim for the next few weeks, but I will get back to you as soon as I can (“Yeah right” some of you are thinking based on my previous history of answering emails, give me a chance I’m getting better at this typing thing).