Shemini 5784: Strict Judgment vs. Rachamim

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The Setting: The Inauguration of the Mishkan

Parshas Shemini is broken up into two sugyos. Sugya number one is about the miluim. The parshah begins by relating what took place on the eighth day of the miluim, the inauguration of the Mishkan. You know when that was? Rosh Chodesh Nisan. There are actually a number of parshiyos in the Torah that discuss what transpired on Rosh Chodesh Nisan. More events transpired on Rosh Chodesh Nisan than any other day of the year. I’m not saying the biggest events but more things transpired on Rosh Chodesh Nisan than happened on any other day. Our parshah discusses the inauguration aspect of the Mishkan.

Take a look at the first passuk. ויהי ביום השמיני קרא משה לאהרן ולבניו, “On the eighth day, Moshe called to Aharon and his sons,” ולזקני ישראל, “and to the elders of Yisrael.” (Vayikra 9:1). Rashi says ויהי ביום השמיני, it was on the eighth day, למלואים, of the inauguration. הוא ראש חדש ניסן, that was Rosh Chodesh Nisan, שהוקם המשכן בו ביום, on which the Mishkan was erected. You have to know this in the kishkes. When you think of Rosh Chodesh Nisan, everybody has to think this is the final day of hakamas haMishkan. ונטל עשר עטרות, and that day received ten crowns. There’s no other day in the year that has so many crowns and so many things. It’s considered a rishon to ten different things.

And Moshe called out to the ziknei Yisrael. For what reason? להשמיעם, to let them hear, שעל פי הדיבור אהרן נכנס, that it’s based on Hakadosh Baruch Hu’s tzivui (command) that Aharon is entering the service of Kehuna Gedolah, ומשמש בכהונה גדולה ולא יאמרו, so that people should not say, מאליו נכנס, he went in on his own (Rashi ibid.).

Aharon wasn’t appointed by Moshe to be the Kohen Gadol. Aharon was appointed by Hakadosh Baruch Hu. Perek tes talks about that story. The perek concludes by saying, ‘ותצא אש מלפני ה, “a fire went out from before Hashem,” ותאכל על המזבח, “and it devoured on the mizbeach,” את העולה, “the oleh,” ואת החלבים, “and the chalavim,” וירא כל העם, “and the am saw,” וירנו, and they praised Hashem, “they said rinah,”ויפלו על פניהם, “and all the people fell on their faces” (v. 24).

The Event: Misas Bnei Aharon

Perek yud discusses the episode we’re going to discuss this year im yertzeh Hashem. I would like you to know this episode. ויקחו בני אהרן נדב ואביהו, “and the Bnei Aharon took” (Vayikra 10:1).  Who are the Bnei Aharon? Nadav and Avihu. What did they take? איש מחתתו, “each man took his machtah,” ויתנו בהן אש, “and they put in them a fire,” וישימו עליה קטרת, “and they placed on it ketores,” ‘ויקריבו לפני ה, “and they brought before Hashem,” אש זרה, “a strange fire.” They brought an אש זרה אשר לא צוה אתם, “a fire that Hashem had not commanded them.” And what happened? ‘ותצא אש מלפני ה, “a firewent out from before Hashem,” ותאכל אותם, “and devoured them,” ‘וימתו לפני ה, “and they died before Hashem” (ibid. 10:2)

Let’s take a look at Rashi. They brought an eish zarah, they offered up a strange eish, a foreign eish. Let’s take a look. רבי אליעזר אומר לא מתו בני אהרן אלא על ידי שהורו הלכה בפני משה רבן, Rabbi Eliezer said that the sons of Aharon died only because they paskened a halachah in front of Moshe their rebbi. They rendered a halachah in his presence. They paskened something. There was a shaylah and they paskened the shaylah in front of Moshe their rebbi. רבי ישמעאל אומר שתויי יין נכנסו למקדש, Rabbi Yishmael says they died because they entered the mikdash when they were shesuyei yayin, they had drank some wine. תדע, the proof to this pshat, שאחר מיתתן הזהיר הנותרים שלא יכנסו שתויי יין למקדש, after their death Moshe warned the remaining kohanim that they should not enter the mikdash after drinking wine Even if they just drank a revi’is.

ויאמר משה אל אהרן, Moshe turned to Aharon and said: הוא אשר דבר ה’ לי לאמר, “that is what Hashem spoke to me about,” saying, בקרבי אקדש, “with those that are close to Me, I shall be sanctified” (v. 3). Listen to this. Moshe turns to Aharon and he says to his brother, “This episode, what happened now with your kids, is what Hashem spoke to me about saying, ‘With those that are close to Me I will become sanctified, ועל פני כל העם אכבד, and in front of the nation I will become honored.’” וידם אהרן, “and Aharon was silent.”

Hashem’s Honored Yechidei Segula

Rashi says היכן דבר, where did Hashem speak to Moshe about this? Hashem spoke to Moshe before this event. And you know what He told Moshe? ונעדתי שמה לבני ישראל ונקדש בכבדי, “I will appear over there and have a meeting with the Bnei Yisrael and I will become nikdash, sanctified, in My glory” (Shemos 29:43). אל תקרי בִּכְבֹדִי אלא בִּמְכֻבָּדַי, don’t read it ‘in My honor’ but ‘through My honored ones.’ אמר לו משה לאהרן, Moshe said to Aharon, אהרן אחי יודע הייתי שיתקדש הבית במידעיו של מקום והייתי סבור או בי או בך עכשיו רואה אני שהם גדולים ממני וממך, Aharon my brother, I knew before this Mishkan was erected that this house was going to be sanctified with someone who was a meyuda’av, who was known, who was close to Hakadosh Baruch Hu. I thought either I was going to die today or you were going to die today. Now I see they are greater than me and you. וידם אהרן, “and Aharon was silent.” קבל שכר על שתיקתו, he was mekabel sechar for his silence. ומה שכר קבל, what was the sechar? שנתיחד עמו הדבור שנאמרה לו לבדו פרשת שתויי יין, Hashem spoke to him privately, when it was said to him alone the parshah of forbidding the service in the Mishkan after having drunk. ועל פני כל העם אכבד, Rashi says, כשהקב”ה עושה דין בצדיקים מתירא ומתעלה ומתקלס, when Hakadosh Baruch Hu does din with tzaddikim, Hashem becomes feared, He becomes elevated and He becomes praised. אם כן באלו כל שכן ברשעים, if this is how tzadikim are punished, then all the more so will reshaim be punished. וכן הוא אומר, that’s what it says in the passuk in Tehillim (68:36), נורא אלקים מִמִּקְדָּשֶׁיךָ, Hakadosh Baruch Hu’s middah of nora was demonstrated אל תקרי ממקדשיך אלא מִמְּקֻדָּשֶׁיךָ, from your holy ones.

Now, we have to realize that this parshah, this major episode, took place on the eighth day of the miluim. Nadav and Avihu brought an eish zarah, whatever that is, and they were killed for that, and Moshe Rabeinu told Aharon, “I knew this was going to happen. I thought it was going to be me or you. It was them. Obviously they’re greater than us.”

The Date: Rosh Chodesh Nisan

So we need to understand number one, why wasn’t Hakadosh Baruch Hu merachem on these great tzaddikim? If you’re going to tell me for some reason they weren’t zocheh to middas harachamim,but we learned this morning בגלל אבות תושיע בנים, Hakadosh Baruch Hu saves the children in the zechus of the fathers. So why weren’t they zocheh to have their lives spared in the zechus of Aharon Hakohen? He should lose two of his great children?! And also you have to understand why did Hashem pick davka this day? Hashem picked the day that Aharon is chosen and He picks the day that took asarah ataros, the day that took ten crowns. Ten crowns, I told you, means, ‘this is the rishon.’[i] You know what that means?!

It’s ראשון למעשה בראשית. This is the first day of creation! It’s the day of ma’aseh bereishis. It’s the first day for the nesi’im’s korbanos. It wasthe first day for the kehunah. It was the first day for the avodah. It was the first day an eish came down from Shamayim. It was the first day achilas kadshim were eaten in the Mishkan. It was the day the Shechinah came down. ראשון לברך את ישראל, the first time Hakadosh Baruch Hu blessed Yisrael! ראשון לאיסור במות, it was the first time bamos, private mizbeichos became asur. ראשון לחדשים, Rosh Chodesh of all months. It was very special. There was no yom simchah for Klal Yisrael like this day! The gemara (Megillah 10b) says: אותו היום היתה שמחה לפני הקדוש ברוך הוא כיום שנבראו בו שמים וארץ – “on that day there was joy before Hakodosh Boruch Hu similar to the joy that existed on the day on which the heavens and earth were created.”

That was the day Hakadosh Baruch Hu chose. A very special day. And Hakadosh Baruch Hu picks specifically this day to burn a fire in Klal Yisrael? What’s the pshat? Hakadosh Baruch Hu chooses this day? He couldn’t pick another day? Wait a couple of days. Wait until after the party to take them out? What’s the pshat? Why did He punish them on this day? Doesn’t that mess up the simchah? You want this eivel? Even by the eigel, they had time. Why not here?

We want to try to understand this sugya. This is a major sugya. This is a sugya in brias haolam. This is a sugya in understanding many things. The superficial understanding is that when a person receives a big onesh, that’s an indication that he is a shafel and a pachus, a nobody. Usually, you figure if the guy gets a good whack it’s a sign that the mentsch is a shafel. He’s a nobody. He’s a fallen down person. You figure he’s not zocheh to any ma’aseh of rachamim. But in the passuk you see just the opposite. The passuk says ‘הוא אשר דבר ה, Hashem – yud kay vav kay – told me. It doesn’t say Elokim. It says Hashem told me בקרבי אקדש, “I shall become sanctified through krovai.” What does krovai mean? Bechirai, My chosen ones. My chosen people. Rashi goes out of his way to explain it. Not just close. It’s bechirai. These are chosen people.

Lifnei Hashem – Attests to their Greatness

Listen to the words of Chazal (Vayikra Rabbah 20:8) on this passuk. אמר רבי אלעזר המודעי, בא וראה, come and see, כמה קשה מיתתן של בני אהרן לפני הקב”ה. You know how hard it was? Every place Hakadosh Baruch Hu mentions their misah He mentions their sirchonam, their aveirah. Every time in the Torah Hakadosh Baruch Hu mentions their misah He mentions what they did wrong. What’s the reason for that? שלא ליתן פתחון פה לכל באי עולם, so that people shouldn’t have what to say. What does that mean? שלא יאמרו שמעשים מקולקלים היה להם בסתר, they must have had some messed up ma’asim in secret and that’s what caused it. That’s the minhag haolam. When somebody dies a misah meshuneh so you say, “You never know what’s going on.” That’s why it says in the passuk ‘וימת נדב ואביהוא לפני ה. Their misah was lefnei Hashem. What does that mean? מלמד שהיה צער לפני המקום, there was tza’ar before Hashem. שהיו בני אהרן חביבים, that’swhy it says בקרבי אקדש.[ii]

The Medrash is teaching us an interesting thing. Sometimes an onesh chamur, a harsh punishment is an indication of a ma’alah and not a chisaron. You know where else we saw this? We had a gemara in Kesubos (8b). The gemara says Reish Lakish sent his spokesman, Yehuda bar Nachmani, to say tanchumim to Rabbi Chiya bar Abba who lost a child. You know what he told him? “Apparently,you and your son are very chashuv. You carry a lot of weight. Because the tza’ar that you were caused, and the tza’ar that your son left this world, is going to be mechaper on the sins of the generation.”[iii] It says (Shabbos 33b): בזמן שצדיקים בדור, צדיקים נתפסים על הדור – when tzadikim are ‘seized,’ i.e. when they are niftar, that is mechaper on the dor. So evidently,here too, Hashem chose you to suffer and your child to suffer because of who you are. The avonos of the dor are great and you’re going to be mechaper on them. In other words, sometimes a person’s greatness allows him to carry the generation.

Suffering for a Tzaddik – Why?

What’s the pshat? Lechorah,it doesn’t make sense. Logic would make us think that if a guy is a tzaddik, he’s chashuv, with him you should be noheg with middas harachamim. Why do we see that the middas hadin is pogea davka in gedolim and tzaddikim?

Now, we’ve told you many times, what’s the reason why Hakadosh Baruch Hu created the world? The tachlis of the briah is leheitiv. עולם חסד יבנה. Hakadosh Baruch Hu built the world to be megaleh to the world His chessed. So the kasha is, it says in the passuk just the opposite. It says, כִּי אֲנִי ה’ אֹהֵב מִשְׁפָּט (Yeshaya 61:8), and it saysוְעֹז מֶלֶךְ מִשְׁפָּט אָהֵב (Tehillim 91:4).We also say in Shemoneh Esreiמֶלֶךְ אוֹהֵב צְדָקָה וּמִשְׁפָּט. Hashem loves mishpat. What’s the pshat?

The teretz is it says in the Zohar the following words. It says ה’ אוהב משפט והוא רוצה שהעולם יתקיים בדין, He wants the world should be meskayem (sustained) bedin. And He wants people to know כי יש דין ויש דיין. What does that mean?

Din vs. Rachamim, Chessed vs. Emes

Everybody has to be familiar with the following gemara. There is a two line gemara in Rosh Hashanah (17b). It says like this. Ilfai asks a question. In one passuk it says, verav chessed, Hashem is rav chessed. In another passuk it says, Hashem is emes. Chessed means Hashem goes beyond the letter of the law. Emes means, that’s it. Hashem does the din, no vitur. No leeway.[iv]

The gemara answers like this. Betechilah ve’emes, it starts with emes, ulebasof, at the end it’s verav chessed. The hanhagah of Hakadosh Baruch Hu is betechilah emes. Now what does that mean to say? The Maharal in Nesiv Hateshuvah explains that this means that the ratzon of Hashem is to conduct Himself al pi middas ha’emes and al pi middas din. But if you can’t stand based on emes then Hakadosh Baruch Hu does chessed. And certainly, it’s much better if a person could stand mitzad the emes. ודברים גדולים הם אלו דברים למשכילים.[v] Middas hadin is not bedieved. Adaraba, punkt fakhert, it’s greater. The ikar point of Hakadosh Baruch Hu is to megaleh middas hadin. So we have to understand lechorah if Hashem wants to be meitiv how does the middas hadin show that? If He wants to be meitiv He wouldn’t do chessed. If al korchacha the purpose of Hakadosh Baruch Hu is to be meitiv, somehow by showing middas hadin that’s the way of being meitiv.

Rav Moshe Chaim Luzzato, the Ramchal, mentions this yesod in many places. He says as follows. You have to know that avada the reishis retzono of Hakadosh Baruch Hu is leheitiv. But in order to be meitiv a complete tovah,He has to make mishpat, in order that at the endthere should be sechar amiti, true sechar. It’s like a person who trains his son, to perfect his son in order to make tov with him in the end. Hakadosh Baruch Hu, he says, is tachlis hatov. But Hakadosh Baruch Hu realized that if a person is not going to have yagia kapav – if he’s not going to earn it – then he’s not going to be an “owner”on that tov, says Ramchal. And if you’re not an owner of that tov, you knowwhat’s going to happen he says? You’re going to end up being embarrassed. You’re going to feel like a baby.

Here is a kid who did something good. The father gave him $5. Pssshhh! He’s in seventh heaven. Wow! Someday he’ll look back and he’ll realize his father was making a joke. “He was making a fool out of me. He was making leitzanus. He was trying to motivate me.” That was chessed. The action I did really wasn’t worth a penny. A mentsch has to know you’ll have the same boshes hapanim like you’re mekabel tzedakah from somebody else.

He cites the Yerushalmi that says: מאן דאכיל דלאו דיליה, someone who eats what’s not his, בהית, he’s mevuyash, לאסתכולי באפיה, to look in the guy’s face.

So he says why does Hakadosh Baruch Hu wants to face the world bemiddas hadin, like it says betechilah ve’emes, and then the end is rav chessed? Because throughthe hanhagah of din in the world, a person lives and he’s able to be mekabel over his lifetime what he’s earned bedin. And then when he comes to the next world to mekabel his sechar, he’ll realize the emes in what he really earned. That he wasn’t mekabel matnas chinam. On the other hand, another guy goes through this world and he’s mekabel matnas chinam,and he begins to convince himself, “I’m a good man. I’m a big tzaddik. Hashem must like me. Look what I have. Rachamim, zechus avos. I have this. I have that.” There is no point in what he’s doing. 

I have met the biggest reshaim in the world and they thought about how they “beat the system.” They always find one good deed that they did, or they think they did, and then they blame Hakadosh Baruch Hu for anything they are missing. They think that one deed should earn them all the tov that they have. You have to realize all it is is just rachamim.

This rachamim sometimes becomes the biggest downfall for a person. Hashem withholds rachamim,in order to make you do teshuvah and wake up. You have to understand there are no free rides. That’s the biggest chessed.

Now, there’s a famous Chazal. Rashi in the first passuk in the chumash says בתחילה עלה במחשבה לברואתו במידת הדין, Hashem first had a machshavah to create the world with middas hadin and He saw that the world would not be meskayem.[vi] The world couldn’t exist. So what did He do? He was makdim middas harachamim and He partnered it with middas hadin. The question is, if Hashem didn’t like His original thought, what do we gain by the thought? כך עלה במחשבה. There are very many things that Chazal say like that. Remember that story of the asarah harugei malchus?So it says that the malachim came to Hashem and they said, “Hashem, זו תורה וזו שכרה?” You know what Hashem answered? כך עלה במחשבה. What kind of answer is that? You know what the machshavah is? This machshavah is the machshavah of middas hadin.

The tachlis that Hakadosh Baruch Hu wants from brias haolam is to run this world al pi middas hadin. When it says שבתחילה עלה במחשבה לברואתו במידת הדין it means that’s the main she’ifah (aspiration). Techilah means that’s the she’ifah. That’s the goal. Lebasof, Hashem wasn’t motzi min hakoach el hapoel 100%. He didn’t do it fully middas hadin because He saw the world couldn’t exist al pi middas hadin. So what did He do? He was meshatef middas hadin with middas harachamim.

Now, I told you this once before. Maybe many times. You’ve got to get this into your kishkes. There’s a famous Mesillas Yesharim in perek daled. He explains that there’s no contradiction between middas harachamim and middas hadin. Really, the world runs by middas hadin. Middas harachamim is not makchish the din legamrei. The partnership of middas harachamim with middas hadin is only to give a person the ability to make it al pi middas hadin. Hashem doesn’t do middas harachamim that contradicts the din.

‘Getting by’ With Middas HaRachamim

The Mesillas Yesharim says, let’s say for example, Hashem gives a guy some time. That’s not going against the din. Hashem’s just holding back the middas hadin for a while. It’s savlanus. Hashem is sovel. Hashem is patient. Middas harachamim buys the guy time. He says, if Hashem gives a guy tzaros instead of the hana’ah that he had from an aveirah, he says, all these things are called darkei chessed. They’re not mesnaged (going against)or makchish (contradicting) mamash middas hadin. He says, all the types of kindness that Hakadosh Baruch Hu does for a person, is all in order that he should be zocheh bedin. All the rachamim does is it enables the middas hadin to be manifest. Let’s say for example a guy is chayav misah so Hashem will do middas harachamim. He’ll make the guy an ani. Povertyis likened to death. That’s a chessed. But the guy shouldn’t think, “I should have died.” No, you died. Hashem says. You got the din by that. Hashem waits for a person with savlanus, to help him reach his true goal.

So it comes out that Hashem doesn’t run the world with strict din. That would mean the second you did something wrong, your hand would fall off. There is also middas harachamim and that enables the person to be zocheh bedin. That’s the yesod. The middas harachamim buys you time to betteryourself, to correct yourself.

Now, not everybody could be sovel the pure middas hadin. Only yechidei segulah are able to be meskayem bedin gamur and for those people, Hakadosh Baruch Hu is mesnaheg with them like it was בתחילה עלה במחשבה. You know why? Because if Hashem has to treat you with rachamim, that’s also babying you. Someday we’ll realize that the only reason we made it, is because Hashem was merachem.

Here is a guy that didn’t study during the semester and he flunks the course. So really he should be thrown out of the course to go work selling hamburgers. So what do we say? No. You can take summer school. Then he buckles down and does the job. You know what he thinks? “Ah! I’m a great guy.” No, you’re a failure, my friend! The only reason why you made it – is bemiddas harachamim. Or here is a guy that made it because he got a 66. The guy passed by the skin of his teeth. You’re going to compare him with the guy who got a 99?! Or to the guy who got 100?! He’s a failure. It’s the middas harachamim that allows him to get through at 66.

Middas HaDin – The High Road to Success

So Hakadosh Baruch Hu treats yechidei segulah, outstanding people, in a special manner, judging them with midas hadin. That’s the pshat in the famous gemara in Brachos (17b).The gemara says דאמר רב יהודה אמר רב בכל יום ויום בת קול יוצאת מהר חורב ואומרת, a bas kol goes out and says, כל העולם כולו נזונין בשביל חנינא בני, the whole world gets mezonos because of the Torah and ma’asim tovim of Chanina, My son. His dedication for Torah opens up the faucets and it feeds the whole world. But וחנינא בני די לו, you know what I give him? בקב חרובין מערב שבת לערב שבת. Kav charuvim is gornisht. He had a pile of charuvim, carobs, not a chashuve ma’achal. This is what he lived on. All the rishonim ask a kasha. Can’t he get a little bit more? Some dates maybe? Some oranges? Some grapefruit? What’s the pshat?

Because the pshat is Hakadosh Baruch Hu was leading him al pi din gamur. He cut him no slack. Like it says in the passuk regarding the mann in the midbar, עומר לגולגולת מספר נפשותיכם. When Hashem gave the mann, which was the symbol of themazon, everybody got a little portion. Everybody got exactly what they needed, no more, no less. This is how the world should ideally exist. Everybody should have the barest minimum and no one should have any more than the other guy. Everybody should take his pill in the morning, and that’s it. But when Hakadosh Baruch Hu sees people are not noheg like this because people can’t tolerate it so Hashem is meshatef the middas harachamim.

Now, it’s not the pshat that His machshavah rishonah was canceled or erased. It’s not the pshat that Hashem’s machshavah rishonah was to use midas hadin, and then He retracted, replacing it with midas harachamim. No. Hashem still runs the world with middas Hadin but complements it with middas Harachamim when necessary. It’s rachamim that Hakadosh Baruch Hu gives us.

Low Standards in Pre-War Europe

Now, we live today on a much higher level in quality of life than people lived in Europe or throughout history. Today, the biggest ani lives, relatively speaking, like an osher gadol. He lives like a melech. The greatest shnorer todayhas at least two pairs of shoes and two shirts. In Europe, that was unheard of! The average yeshivah bachur had nothing. My rebbi once explained to me, “You know what the big olam hazeh that a bachur had in Europe was? I remember seeing it with my own eyes with my father. It was the end of the day, late at night. They had finished learning a whole day. A minyan of bachurim got around and they had one cigarette.” The European cigarettes came with a filter that looked like a tube. There’s a little smoke over here on the bottom. It’s like a cardboard tube. He said, “The ten bachurim got around and they lit it. Each of them got one puff. That was olam hazeh. They slept on very thin mattresses or benches. They had nothing.

Rav Leizer Shach tells about how he grew up. He said his father sent him to yeshivah. There was no money. He had no income. He pashut had nothing. The bachurim lived at people’s houses. They used to go there for meals. People would shame them. They slept sitting up. Rav Leizer Shach says he didn’t even know when his bar mitzvah was! One day, he gets a little package in yeshivah. Just tefillin. No present. Just tefillin. His father told him, “Higia hazman, start putting on tefillin.” It’s amazing. He left the house with mamash zero. People lived like that. They lived like aniyim. But we don’t live like that now. You know why? It’s all rachamim, but you should know that we’re going to pay for it. We think, “Ahh, we’re tzaddikim, we have a better life, we have this, we have democracy, we have free will.” You know why? Because we look at the goyim. It’s all part of the challenge. You think, “I’m a little bit like a tzaddik. Baruch Hashem, I’m learning. I’m davening.” We’re zocheh to what Rav Chanina wasn’t zocheh to.

The truth is Hakadosh Baruch Hu is just treating us with rachamim gedolim umerubim. We’re living off the fat, off the ATM card. Someday, we’re going to find out we have mamash boshes panim, what a bizayon we’re having. And we don’t even say thank you to Hakadosh Baruch Hu. All we ask Hakadosh Baruch Hu is, “Why not more?!”

That’s the pshat in the gemara in Menachos (29b)that when Moshe Rabbeinu saw Rabbi Akiva being peeled with the iron combs, he said, Ribono Shel Olam, זו תורה וזו שכורה, and Hakadosh Baruch Hu said שתוק כך עלה במחשבה לפני, “Be silent; this intention arose before Me.” What does that mean? The teretz is Hashem told him, that’s middas hadin. Rabbi Akiva lives al pi middas hadin gamur. There’s no vitur. Rabbi Akiva lives without rachamim. He’s from the yechidei segulah. Yechidei segulah live al pi a hanhagah elyonah she’olsah be’machshavah because that’s the greatest hatavah for Rabbi Akiva. Right now you don’t see it, but when you’re going to come to the next world and you’re going to see Rabbi Akiva’s olam haba – you’re going to understand clearlyall this is just for his goodin the olam hanetzach.

At Least Show Appreciation

Today we’re not on that madreigah. But a person has to realize that every single day that you have $30 in your pocket, that’s rachamim. I talk to people from Europe sometimes and I ask them, “Could you find a guy in a shul who had fifty rubles in his pocket?” It wasn’t like that in Vilna before the war. What did you find? How many rubles? What was the average?

My zeida told me, “You have no idea.” He said about life in Europe before the war, “I came from America. I saw people walking, and carrying their shoes in their hands. I’m looking at a person thinking, why are you carrying your shoes in your hands? I mean what’s the purpose of shoes? To me, it was a very strange thing. People carrying their shoes in their hands! I couldn’t imagine it. You know why they did that? They didn’t want to ruin the shoes. If there was a puddle, you took your shoes off and you walked in your socks. Socks you could wash. Socks you could dry. Your pants you could wash. Your pants could dry.”

Some people barely had pants to wear. He told me that his clothes were very limited. He said, “In America I would have never done it, but when I went to Lita,” he said, “I wore my winter coat for most of the summers I was there. I wore a winter coat all summer long. You know why? Because my pants were completely ruined and my jacket was ruined. I didn’t have a penny.”  He said, “You know what I ate for Shabbos? There was no yeshivah on Shabbos. I ate two hard boiled eggs for seven years, on Shabbos. That was my chulent. Two hard boiled eggs. And I thought I was in Gan Eden. There was no one to turn to. The yeshivah was nice. The yeshivah even helped you out here and there a shtickel, but you know, everything costs money. Money was short. It was a different world.” He said, “I couldn’t believe it. I’m coming from America,” he said. “I would have felt funny wearing a coat in the summer. But over there I didn’t even feel funny,” he said. “ I wasn’t the only one doing it. Other people had the same problem. They had no pants. Where could you get a pair of pants? You go to some guy and say do you have a whole pair of pants? There was no such thing as a whole pair of pants in those days.”

My zeida said he remembers once he was walking and he saw a goy collecting. He went to a hut, a yiddishe hut that was a hovel and knocks on the door. What’s there to get from this Yid? He doesn’t have a penny to give. Then the goy walks out. “At first,” my zeida said, “I couldn’t even recognize what he was holding in his hand. He was holding this Yid’s worn out shoes in his hand! He came out of the house dancing. It was as if he had just won the sweepstakes.” From this alter poor Yid’s shmatta deluxe that had holes in every part of the shoe. My zeida said it looked to him like tattered leather. It wasn’t shayach to be worn anymore. And the goy was ecstatic! He said, “You walked in certain parts of Europe, not all over but certain parts, and people walked without shoes.” He never heard of such a thing. He came from America. He never saw that in America. Even in the early 1900s there was no such thing.

You have to know, the way we live today is mamash pure rachamim from Hashem. We have to remember it’s rachamim gedolim that Hakadosh Baruch Hu is doing with us and we don’t deserve this.[vii]

Aharon’s Comfort – His Sons were Truly Righteous

That’s the pshat in the story with Aharon Hakohen. Rashi (ibid.) says on the pasuk הוא אשר דבר ה׳ לאמר  בִּקְרֹבַי אקדש, Hashem told Moshe Rabeinu, בִּקְרֹבַי – בִּבְחִירַי, I’m going to be makedesh Myself through my chosen ones.  וְהָיִיתִי סָבוּר אוֹ בִי אוֹ בְךָ, עַכְשָׁיו רוֹאֶה אֲנִי שֶׁהֵם גְּדוֹלִים מִמֶּנִּי וּמִמְּךָ, they’re greater than you and me. וַיִּדֹּם אַהֲרֹן, and Aharon was silent. You know what Chazal say וַיִּדֹּם אַהֲרֹן means? Everybody thinks וַיִּדֹּם אַהֲרֹן means he was silent. He kept his mouth closed. That’s not what the pshat is. Listen to the language of Chazal. היה לו הדבר לנחמה, he was comforted. לכך נאמר, and that’s why it says שומר מצוה לא ידע דבר רע. He thought maybe his sons were reshaim. They made a big mistake. So Moshe Rabeinu was mechadesh to Aharon Hakohen that the middas hadin was pogea in his two sons and its shoresh was from that תחילה עלתה במחשבה. From the hanhagah that was kodem the middas harachamim. And this hanhagah of middas hadin was nekiyah, was clean and clear with no rachamim. And the only ones who are zocheh to this are kedoshei elyon. Moshe said, “Only the bechirai. I thought it was me. I thought it was you.” That’s how you get the full benefit from yegia kapav without any impression of what we call nehama dekesufa, bread of shame. Sechar yegia bedin gamur.

This yedia, this knowledge was what comforted Aharon. He understood. The onesh hachamor testified to their greatness!

So now we understand why Hashem didn’t have rachmanus on the sons of Aharon. Because it was a middas hadin. Hashem wanted them to be zocheh, to the highest magreiga. But the other shaylah we had was, why did Hashem have to do this davka on this great day of hakamas haMishkan? He couldn’t pick another day? Why did he have to do it on this great day of simchah in Klal Yisrael. We will discuss this point, iy”H, at a later time.

The Bottom Line

Hashem loves mishpat and He wants the world to be sustained through it; through mishpat people know that there’s a din and a Dayan. However, although the ratzon of Hashem is to conduct the affairs of the world al pi midas hadin – which is ultimately better for us – if we cannot withstand the din, Hashem employs the midah of chessed. On a deeper level, the hanhagah of Hashem really starts with the middah of emes and din, as the Maharal says, and the middah of chessed is employed when we cannot withstand the din.  If Hashem’s ultimate desire is to be meitiv to His creations, how does employing the middah of emes or din accomplish that? The answer, according to Ramchal, is that in order to bestow the most complete tov, Hashem has to employ a system of mishpat. Mishpat is the only mechanism that enables us to actually earn sechar for our actions based on our own efforts, and not be embarrassed with undeserving handouts of sechar based purely on chessed and rachamim. Incredibly, the patience that Hashem shows us with His chessed and rachamim is purposeful, as it enables us to withstand spiritual cleansing so that we can be zoicheh and yotze be’din! There are two ways to view sechar we wish to receive. One way is to acceptwhat we earn ba’din as the ultimate purpose of Creation, as depicted in the tragic deaths of Nadav and Avihu on the great day of hakamas haMishkan. Another way is to acknowledge the myriads of everyday rachamin and chessed from Hashem in our lives, and to understand them in the greater context of being yoitze be’din – because they give us a golden opportunity to correct ourselves in a manner that we can withstand. 

[i] אָמַר רַבִּי שְׁמוּאֵל בַּר אַמֵּי, מִתְּחִלַּת בְּרִיָּתוֹ שֶׁל עוֹלָם נִתְאַוֶּה הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא לַעֲשׂוֹת שֻׁתָּפוּת בַּתַּחְתּוֹנִים, מַה נַּפְשָׁךְ, אִם לְעִנְיַן הַחֶשְׁבּוֹן, לֹא הָיָה צָרִיךְ לְמֵימַר אֶלָּא אֶחָד, שְׁנַיִם, שְׁלֹשָׁה, אוֹ רִאשׁוֹן, שֵׁנִי, וּשְׁלִישִׁי. שֶׁמָּא אֶחָד, שֵׁנִי, שְׁלִישִׁי, אֶתְמְהָא. אֵימָתַי פָּרַע לָהֶם הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא, לְהַלָּן בַּהֲקָמַת הַמִּשְׁכָּן, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (במדבר ז, יב): וַיְהִי הַמַּקְרִיב בַּיּוֹם הָרִאשׁוֹן אֶת קָרְבָּנוֹ, רִאשׁוֹן לִבְרִיָּתוֹ שֶׁל עוֹלָם, אָמַר הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא כְּאִלּוּ בְּאוֹתוֹ יוֹם בָּרָאתִי אֶת עוֹלָמִי. תָּנֵי עֶשֶׂר עֲטָרוֹת נָטַל אוֹתוֹ הַיּוֹם, רִאשׁוֹן לְמַעֲשֵׂה בְרֵאשִׁית, רִאשׁוֹן לִמְלָכִים, רִאשׁוֹן לִנְשִׂיאִים, רִאשׁוֹן לִכְהֻנָּה, רִאשׁוֹן לַשְּׁכִינָה, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (שמות כה, ח): וְעָשׂוּ לִי מִקְדָּשׁ, רִאשׁוֹן לִבְרָכָה, רִאשׁוֹן לָעֲבוֹדָה, רִאשׁוֹן לְאִסּוּר הַבָּמָה, רִאשׁוֹן לִשְׁחִטָּה בַּצָּפוֹן, רִאשׁוֹן לִירִידַת הָאֵשׁ, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (ויקרא י, ב): וַתֵּצֵא אֵשׁ מִלִּפְנֵי ה’ וגו’ (בראשית רבה ג׳)

[ii] בַּר קַפָּרָא בְּשֵׁם רַבִּי יִרְמְיָה בֶּן אֶלְעָזָר אָמַר בִּשְׁבִיל אַרְבָּעָה דְבָרִים מֵתוּ בָּנָיו שֶׁל אַהֲרֹן, עַל הַקְרִיבָה, וְעַל הַקְרָבָה, עַל אֵשׁ זָרָה, וְעַל שֶׁלֹּא נָטְלוּ עֵצָה זֶה מִזֶּה. עַל הַקְרִיבָה, שֶׁנִּכְנְסוּ לִפְנַי וְלִפְנִים. וְעַל הַהַקְרָבָה, שֶׁהִקְרִיבוּ קָרְבָּן שֶׁלֹּא נִצְטַוּוּ. עַל אֵשׁ זָרָה, אֵשׁ מִבֵּית כִּירַיִם הִכְנִיסוּ. וְעַל שֶׁלֹּא נָטְלוּ עֵצָה זֶה מִזֶּה, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (ויקרא י, א): אִישׁ מַחְתָּתוֹ, אִישׁ מֵעַצְמוֹ עָשׂוּ שֶׁלֹּא נָטְלוּ עֵצָה זֶה מִזֶּה. אָמַר רַבִּי יִרְמְיָה בֶּן אֶלְעָזָר בְּאַרְבָּעָה מְקוֹמוֹת מַזְכִּיר מִיתָתָן שֶׁל בְּנֵי אַהֲרֹן וּבְכֻלָּן מַזְכִּיר סָרְחָנָן, כָּל כָּךְ לָמָּה, לְהוֹדִיעֲךָ שֶׁלֹּא הָיָה בְּיָדָם אֶלָּא עָוֹן זֶה בִּלְבָד. אָמַר רַבִּי אֶלְעָזָר הַמּוֹדָעִי בּוֹא וּרְאֵה כַּמָּה מִיתָתָן שֶׁל בְּנֵי אַהֲרֹן יְקָרָה לִפְנֵי הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא שֶׁכָּל מָקוֹם שֶׁמַּזְכִּיר מִיתָתָן מַזְכִּיר סָרְחָנָם, כָּל כָּךְ לָמָּה, לְהוֹדִיעֲךָ שֶׁלֹּא יְהֵא פִּתְחוֹן פֶּה לְבָאֵי עוֹלָם לוֹמַר מַעֲשִׂים מְקֻלְקָלִים הָיוּ בְּיָדָם בַּסֵּתֶר שֶׁעַל יְדֵי כֵן מֵתוּ.

[iii] חשיב את לאתפוסי אדרא – חשוב אתה למעלה לתופסך ואת בניך בעון הדור דקי”ל בזמן שצדיקים בדור צדיקים נתפסים על הדור שנאמר וממקדשי תחלו (יחזקאל ט) [רש”י שם]

[iv] אִילְפַי, וְאָמְרִי לַהּ אִילְפָא רָמֵי, כְּתִיב: ״וְרַב חֶסֶד״, וּכְתִיב: ״וֶאֱמֶת״. בַּתְּחִלָּה – ״וֶאֱמֶת״, וּלְבַסּוֹף – ״וְרַב חֶסֶד״.

[v] ובגמרא קאמר אילפא רמי כתיב ורב חסד וכתיב ואמת ומתרץ בתחלה ואמת ולבסוף ורב חסד, פי’ בודאי רצון הש”י שיהי’ נוהג על פי האמת ועל פי הדין ואם אינו יכול לעמוד מצד האמת אז הש”י עושה עמו חסד, ובודאי יותר טוב אם אפשר שיכול לעמוד מצד האמת, ודברים גדולים הם אלו דברים למשכילים, וכו’. (נתיבות עולם, נתיב התשובה ו׳)

[vi] ברא אלקים וְלֹא נֶאֱמַר בָּרָא ה’, שֶׁבַּתְּחִלָּה עָלָה בְמַחֲשָׁבָה לִבְרֹאתוֹ בְּמִדַּת הַדִּין, רָאָה שֶׁאֵין הָעוֹלָם מִתְקַיֵּם, הִקְדִּים מִדַּת רַחֲמִים וְשִׁתְּפָהּ לְמִהַ”דִּ, וְהַיְינוּ דִּכְתִיב בְּיוֹם עֲשׂוֹת ה’ אֱלֹקים אֶרֶץ וְשָׁמָיִם (רש”י)

[vii] Participant: What is the whole purpose of [making it this way?]  Answer: Because we live in a world that Hashem is trying to encourage us. That’s the reason Hakadosh Baruch Hu does it that way [and gives a big bounty of shefah]. Participant: Is this in order to make us show rachamim to someoe else? Answer: To show rachamim to someone else, [yes]. Also, Hakadosh Baruch Huis trying to make it easier for us, to encourage us to learn. Because today if we’re missing the basar shamein we could lose our minds already. We’re so spoiled. We need our steak. [We say,] “What kind of life is that? למה לי חיים! It’s not kedai anymore.”

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