Divrei Torah

PARSHAS SHMINI 5777

In this week’s Parsha we read about the tragic deaths of Nadav and Avihu - two of the sons of Aharon. The Torah states, “and the sons of Aharon, Nadav and Avihu, each took their pan and they placed a fire in them . . . and they brought before G-d a strange fire that He didn’t command them. A fire came from before G-d and consumed them - and they died.” The Yalkut Shimoni relates that this sin occurred because they did not consult with Moshe or with each other. 

Now, not consulting with Moshe is understandably a serious error. Moshe was the spiritual leader who had learned Torah directly from G-d. So, not consulting with Moshe can have serious consequences. But, did what Nadav and Avihu do wrong by not having a brain-storming session? After all, they each arrived at the same conclusion anyways! 

Rabbi Hanoch Teller quotes a solution that was offered by Rabbi Henoch Leibowitz, the late Rosh yeshiva of the Chafetz Chaim yeshiva in Forest Hills, NY. Rabbi Leibowitz explained that the Torah is teaching us the value of seeking advice and consulting with others. Even though Nadav and Avihu both opted for the same course of action, had they discussed it with each other, they might have challenged each other and avoided the mistake. Discussion resolves issues. What might seem obvious becomes subject to scrutiny, thus diminishing the likelihood of error. 

This idea is one of the most common practices in the Torah world - studying with a chevrusa - a study partner. Having a partner for the study of Torah - no matter what section of Torah study - is a key in the development of Torah knowledge. With a chevrusa, one can weed out ideas that might not fit the text being studied. It helps develop one’s mind and, most importantly, helps develop the Torah. Both sides grow from the interaction. Having a chevrusa keeps erroneous thoughts and practices away from our Jewish lifestyle.

The Gemara relates a powerful story about Rabbi Yochanan and Reish Lakish. Raish Lakish was originally a robber. One day he came to rob Rabbi Yochanan. Rabbi Yochanan saw that Raish Lakish had a certain charisma and potential to be a leading Torah scholar. So, he made Raish Lakish an offer - leave the life of crime, devote himself to the study of Torah and he could marry Rabbi Yochanan’s sister.  Raish Lakish agreed and became Rabbi Yochanan’s chevrusa. Rabbi Yochanan and Raish Lakish developed into one of the great pairs of rabbis in the Gemara - through discussion and weeding out foreign ideas.  After Raish Lakish died, Rabbi Yochanan tried other chevrusas unsuccessfully. They could not challenge him as Raish Lakish had.

Rabbi Yochonan complained of his new chavrusas, “When I say something, you bring 12 proofs that I am right. Reish Lakish would bring 12 proofs why I was wrong!” The back and forth interplay forced Rabbi Yochanan and Reish Lakish to greater heights than neither could have reached solo. 

There are two kinds of Mitzvos: Bein Adam Limakom - Those that are between man and G-d...and Bein Adam Lachaveiro - those that are between man to his friend. Judaism does not advocate solitude. We are not meant to be hermits. Human beings have a responsibility to interact and grow from one another. Questions . . . answers . . . discussion . . .  a good Chevrusa . . .  a good friend . . .  a good spouse . . . they steer us in the proper path. 

It is to help us with the challenges of life, how do we make the right decisions? All we can do is try, and we hope and pray that our interactions guide us in the proper path, a path that does not consume us in burning fire but which shines the world with light and understanding.