Rabbi Frand on Parshas Shemini
These divrei Torah were adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissocher
Frand's Weekly Portion Torah Tapes: Tape # 234, Netilas Yadayim at
Breakfast: Is One "Washed Up" for the Day? Good Shabbos!
Holiness Impacts More Than Just the 'Man to G-d' Relationship
While the first reference to Kashrus [Kosher dietary] laws is contained in
Parshas Mishpatim [Shmos 22:30], the Torah actually enumerates and
identifies the Kosher species of animals, fish and birds here in Parshas
It is interesting to note the location where the Rambam lists the laws of
forbidden foods (within his 14 volume halachic Encyclopedia known as the
'Yad haChazakah'). Serious students of Rambam know that the location where
the Rambam categorizes a particular set of laws in and of itself provides
insight into the nature of those laws.
The Rambam places the laws of forbidden foods in his Sefer Kedusha [Book of
Holiness]. Sefer Kedusha contains the laws of forbidden foods as well as the
laws of forbidden sexual relationships. He indicates that observance of
the laws of Kashrus and the laws of sexual morality is what makes a person
There is a famous Rash"i on the pasuk [verse] "You shall be holy..."
[Vayikra 19:2] which interprets these words as "You shall be removed". The
Jewish definition of holiness is one who knows how to abstain, how to exert
self-control. A person who is not self-indulgent, is, by our definition, a
The very pasuk in Parshas Mishpatim [Shmos 22:30], which first introduces
the kashrus restrictions, begins with the words "You shall be a holy people
to me..." Holiness is what Kashrus is all about.
The Talmud [Yoma 82b] says that a certain pregnant woman smelled the aroma
of forbidden food and developed an uncontrollable urge to eat that food on
Yom Kippur. They brought her before Rebbi and he whispered in her ear (as if
to speak to the embryo) "It is Yom Kippur today". The woman's urge for food
then subsided. The Talmud states that this baby turned out to be Rabbi
The Talmud then relates an identical story except that the whispering did
not help and the mother had to eat on Yom Kippur (to save her life). The
Gemara mentions that this baby turned out to be a wicked person. The Gemara
identifies this wicked person as "Shabsai, the one who would hoard fruits"
(he cornered the market on a basic commodity, and then charged poor people
exorbitant prices for the food).
[Editor's note: In our times, when a pregnant woman must eat on Yom Kippur,
it is not an indication that she is going to have an evil child. Those times
were different. People were on a different madreiga (spiritual level). In
addition, we don't have the power of Amoraim whispering in our ears.]
Why should self-indulgence be related to a lack of holiness? This does not
appear to be a "holiness" problem. This seems to be a problem of one who is
not nice to his fellow man. What is the connection between that and the fact
that he was already a gluttonous embryo?
I saw the following explanation from Rav Neimen in his work Darchei Mussar:
The answer is because a person who is not holy is self-indulgent.
Eventually, self-indulgence affects not only one's relationship with G-d,
but one's relationship with his fellow man as well. If a person is self-
indulgent, he is focused on "My needs must be gratified". This is the
opposite of a holy person. Someone, who must always satisfy his needs and
his appetites, will eventually not be a nice person to his fellow man.
Holiness is not only a concept that exists between man and G-d. Holiness
also affects how we conduct our daily lives and how we interact with
society. Learning to control our urges and desires causes our dealings in
the marketplace and business world to be different as well.
The Ultimate Act of Faith: And Aharon Was Silent
Parshas Sh'mini contains one of the greatest exhibitions of faith in the
entire Torah. On a communal level, the greatest exhibition of faith was
after the splitting of the Red Sea, when the Jewish people "believed in G-d
and in Moshe his servant" [Shmos 14:31]. But this week's parsha contains --
on an individual level -- the greatest exhibition of total faith in G-d that
appears anywhere in the Torah. That act of total faith was Aharon HaKohen's
reaction to the death of his two sons.
Aharon had two sons who were tremendous individuals. They were literally
Tzadikim (truly righteous people). These were children who were worthy to
eventually be the leaders of the generation. These two children were taken
away from Aharon in the midst of what was supposed to be the joyous
celebration of the dedication of the Tabernacle.
What is Aharon's reaction? Silence, complete acceptance [Vayikra 10:3].
Aharon accomplished this because of his unshakable faith in G-d. A person
who can see the death of two of his children and react with silence and
acceptance provides the most eloquent and powerful exhibition of faith
The Ramba"n writes in Parshas Re'eh (on the pasuk "You are children to G-d,
do not tear your skin (as a sign of mourning)" [Devorim 14:1]) that the
Torah's restriction against self-destructive forms of mourning serves as a
testimony to our belief in the eternity of the soul. "Since you believe in
the Eternity of the soul and that ultimately what G-d does is never bad,
therefore do not mourn too much -- even in the face of tragic youthful
[Editor's Note: Mr. and Mrs. Israel Weinstein (who have themselves passed on
in the years since this shiur was delivered) lost two children in a terrible
car accident, on Erev Pesach, while travelling to Baltimore for the holiday.]
This week, some of us in this community saw an act of Faith reminiscent of
Aharon HaKohen's. Mr. Israel Weinstein and his wife suffered a tragedy of
terrible proportions with the loss of two children. I was not in the Yeshiva
[Ner Yisroel in Baltimore] for Pesach, as Mr. Weinstein was. Those people
who were there and saw how he reacted after he heard the terrible news were
amazed at the type of Faith he exhibited.
It is mind boggling to think of the specter of a Jew having heard on the
night of the Pesach Seder that he just lost two of his children. To come
back to the Seder and sit down under those circumstances and make a She-
hechiyanu (the blessing thanking G-d for sustaining our lives and bringing
us to this occasion) is unimaginable. To come into shul the next morning and
to daven and greet people with a "Gut Yom Tov" [traditional holiday
greeting] without exhibiting his emotions and dampening the spirit of the
holiday requires a special faith. That Pesach morning, a little boy walked
into the Yeshiva and walked down the aisle past the place where Mr.
Weinstein was sitting. Mr. Weinstein patted the boy on the cheek.
The boy's father visited Mr. Weinstein during Shiva [the one week mourning
period, following the burial] and asked Mr. Weinstein how he was able to
accomplish that feat. "How, in the moment of your ultimate grief, could you
still bend down to a child and pat him on the cheek?" Mr. Weinstein
responded that at that exact moment, he realized how precious every Jewish
child is. He felt he had to pat that little boy, because he realized how
special each and every one of our children are.
Sometimes we take our children for granted. Sometimes we become upset with
them too much. We do not realize sometimes how precious they are.
A person who, at the moment of great tragedy, demonstrates such faith and
can emulate "And Aharon was silent" can only be a person who recognizes that
there is a light on the other side of the world. May the family be comforted
amidst the other mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.
This week's write-up is adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissochar
Frand's Commuter Chavrusah Torah Tapes on the weekly Torah portion (#234).
The corresponding halachic portion for this tape is: Netilas Yadayim at
Breakfast: Is One "Washed Up" for the Day? The other halachic portions for
this parasha from the Commuter Chavrusah Series are:
Also Available: Mesorah / Artscroll has published a collection
of Rabbi Frand's essays. The book is entitled:
and is available through your local Hebrew book store or from
Project Genesis, 1-410-654-1799.