Rabbi Frand on Parshas Shemini
These divrei Torah were adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissocher
Frand's Commuter Chavrusah Tapes on the weekly portion: Tape # 368, Don't Drink And Daven. Good Shabbos!
Humility Does Not Mean Believing Oneself To Be A Nothing
After the deaths of the two sons of Aaron, Moshe told Aaron: "Of this did
HaShem speak saying 'I will be sanctified through those who are close to Me
and I will be honored before the entire people.'" Aaron's reaction was
silence. [Vayikra 10:3]
Rashi quotes the source [based on Zevachim 115b] for Moshe's assertion that
G-d would be sanctified through those who were closest to him. The pasuk
[verse] says, "I shall meet with the Children of Israel, and it shall be
sanctified through My honor (v'nikdash b'kvodi)" [Shmos 29:43]. According to
the homiletic interpretation of the pasuk, the word b'kvodi is not read as
it is vowelized - "b'kvodi - through My honor". Rather, it is read as if it
were vowelized b'kvoday (through those who honor Me).
The Gemara there elaborates. Moshe consoled Aaron by saying "I knew that
this Mishkan [Tabernacle] was going to be sanctified through the death of
someone close to G-d. I thought that it would be either you or me. I now see
that they (Nadav and Avihu) were greater than either of us".
At first blush this seems very strange. Who said "I thought it would be
either you or me, because we are the holiest ones here"? That is Moshe
Rabbeinu talking -- the most humble of all men. How could the most humble
person in the whole world say about himself, that he (or his brother) were
the holiest persons in the entire congregation?
Rav Leib Chassman points out that if we think this statement is a
contradiction to Moshe's humility, we are making a terrible mistake as to
the definition of humility. If someone denies who he is, that is not modesty
- that is foolishness!
A person who denies his own identity and talents is not humble. He is
deceiving himself. An 'anav' [humble person] can know precisely who he is.
There is a famous story which illustrates this point. Rav Chatzkel Abramsky,
zt"l, once needed to testify in a case in which the Beis Din of London was
sued by a shochet [ritual slaughterer] who had been fired. As the head of
the Beis Din, Rav Abramsky had no choice, but to testify in secular court.
His attorney asked him to state his name and his position. The attorney then
asked, "Is it true that you are the greatest living halachic authority on
the European continent?" Rav Abramsky said, "Yes. That is true."
At that point the judge interjected and said, "Rabbi Abramsky, is that not
rather haughty on your part? I thought that your laws and ethics teach you
to be humble." Without any hesitation, Rav Abramsky responded, "I know we
are taught to be humble. But I am under oath."
The point of this story is that Rav Chatzkel Abramsky was aware that he was
the greatest living halachic authority on the European continent.
Recognition of his true status was not haughtiness.
Rav Moshe Feinstein did not consider himself "an ignoramus". He knew that
he was the posek [halachik authority] of his generation. Nevertheless, he
was an extremely humble person.
What then is the key to humility? The key to humility is to remember that
whatever a person has and is, is a gift from Heaven. "It is not my strength
and the power of my hand that has wrought me this great wealth" It is not my
brains. It is not my talents. It is not innate. It is all a blessing from
G-d." A person remains humble by realizing and remembering that all of his
achievements in this world are only through the good graces of G-d, and that
he can lose them at any minute, G-d forbid.
There is a famous Mishneh at the end of Maseches Sotah that states that when
Rebbi (Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi, the editor of the Mishneh) died, humility
ceased. Rav Yosef in the Gemara questions this Mishneh and says that it
could not possibly be accurate "For I am here". This comment of Rav Yosef
begs for clarification.
I once heard a beautiful homiletic interpretation of this Talmudic passage.
Rav Yosef was not saying, "I am humble. Therefore there are humble people
around." He was saying something else. We learn elsewhere that Rav Yosef
became blind. When he became blind, he forgot all his learning. This great
Amora, Rav Yosef, whose opinion is found on so many folio of Shas, who
learned so much, who taught so much -- this same Rav Yosef forgot it all
after his illness.
Rav Yosef is saying is the following: Do not say that there cannot be humble
people around anymore -- because I am around. As long as I am around, people
can look at me and see what can happen to a person. Let them see that a
person can be an Amora, know all of the Mishnayos, have hundreds of students
and yet forget it all. If people bear that in mind, then there can still be
humble people. For the key to humility is realizing that everything is a
gift that can be lost at any time.
n The Way A Person Wishes To Go, That Is How G-d Will Lead Him
There is an interesting Medrash on the pasuk "Wine and strong beverage do
not drink" [Vayikra 10:9]. The Medrash cites an incident involving an
alcoholic. His addiction was so bad that he would sell everything he owned
to support his habit. He ultimately even sold his own furniture and
household utensils in order to buy wine. When his children saw what was
happening, they decided that they had to do something dramatic to
demonstrate to their father the destructiveness of his behavior.
When he was totally drunk, they tied him up and carried him out to the
cemetery and left him there. They figured that he would sleep off his
drunken stupor there, and upon waking in the morning, would see where he
was, and become shocked by the fact that he found himself in a graveyard.
Hopefully, he would thereby get the message that alcohol was killing him and
would stop drinking.
The Medrash says that while he slept, a caravan containing barrels of wine
passed by. Suddenly pirates approached to descend upon the caravan. The
caravan had to speed away at a fast speed. In their haste, they allowed a
barrel of wine to bounce off a wagon. It rolled into the cemetery and
landed right near the head of the sleeping drunk father.
When their father awoke the next morning, he saw the barrel of wine next
to his head and started drinking all over again until he was stone drunk
once more. The children arrived at the cemetery the next morning and saw
the situation. Frustrated, they said, "Even here, G-d does not allow you
to break your habit. Since He gives it to you, we do not know what to do
to counteract the Will of G-d." In other words "This is fate. G-d wants
you to be a drunkard and there is nothing we can do about it."
What is the point of this Medrash? What is it trying to tell us with this
Rav Eliyahu Dessler writes that the lesson of the Medrash is that G-d helps
a person do whatever he wants to do. In the way a person desires to go, that
his how he is directed from above. If one wishes to become a righteous
person, G-d will help him to become a righteous person. If one wishes to be
an evil person, He will find ways to let you be an evil person. If one
wishes to be a drunkard, G-d will provide him with a barrel of wine right
next to his head.
But one might ask - don't we all want to be righteous people? Who does not
want to be a Tzadik? Don't we all want to be Torah scholars? And yet we
see that G-d does not make it so easy for us! So, Rav Dessler asks, what
is the difference between the drunkard and us? G-d provided the barrel of
wine to the drunkard, but we are not so easily provided with what we need
to become righteous and scholarly. We sometimes find it so difficult to
sit down and learn. We find it so difficult to daven (pray) with proper
intent. We find that so many things that we want to do are so difficult
for us to achieve!
The difference, Rav Dessler said, is that the drunkard was willing to sell
his furniture, willing to sell every last thing he had for another drink.
When the will is that strong, it indicates that the person REALLY wants
something. When someone REALLY wants something, G-d makes it easy for him to
acquire it. Unfortunately, many times, our desire to do the right thing --
to learn, to pray, whatever it may be -- is not as strong as the will for
the alcoholic to have their next drink.
This write-up was adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissocher
Frand's Commuter Chavrusah Torah Tape series on the weekly Torah portion.
The complete list of halachic topics covered in this series for Parshas
Shemini are provided below:
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.