Saturday, March 27, 2010

Parsha Shmini 5770 - In Front of God

Parsha Shmini 5770
Rabbi Ari Kahn

In Front of God

On the eighth day, all was prepared; the Mishkan was completed and ready for service. It was meant to be a glorious day. On this day a revelation was promised, a revelation that would convey a message of forgiveness to the entire nation, and most particularly to Aharon.[1]

ויקרא פרק ט, ו-ז
וַיֹּאמֶר מֹשֶׁה זֶה הַדָּבָר אֲשֶׁר צִוָּה ה’ תַּעֲשׂוּ וְיֵרָא אֲלֵיכֶם כְּבוֹד ה’: וַיֹּאמֶר מֹשֶׁה אֶל אַהֲרֹן קְרַב אֶל הַמִּזְבֵּחַ וַעֲשֵׂה אֶת חַטָּאתְךָ וְאֶת עֹלָתֶךָ וְכַפֵּר בַּעַדְךָ וּבְעַד הָעָם וַעֲשֵׂה אֶת קָרְבַּן הָעָם וְכַפֵּר בַּעֲדָם כַּאֲשֶׁר צִוָּה ה’:
And Moshe said, 'This is the thing which God commanded that you should do, and the glory of God shall appear to you." And Moshe said to Aharon, "Approach the altar, and offer your sin offering, and your burnt offering, and make atonement for yourself, and for the people; and bring the offering of the people, and make atonement for them, as God commanded." (Vayikra 9:6-7)

The promise came to fruition as Moshe and Aharon blessed the people; the result was revelation and ecstasy:

ויקרא פרק ט, כג-כד
וַיָּבֹא מֹשֶׁה וְאַהֲרֹן אֶל אֹהֶל מוֹעֵד וַיֵּצְאוּ וַיְבָרֲכוּ אֶת הָעָם וַיֵּרָא כְבוֹד ה’ אֶל כָּל הָעָם: וַתֵּצֵא אֵשׁ מִלִּפְנֵי ה’ וַתֹּאכַל עַל הַמִּזְבֵּחַ אֶת הָעֹלָה וְאֶת הַחֲלָבִים וַיַּרְא כָּל הָעָם וַיָּרֹנּוּ וַיִּפְּלוּ עַל פְּנֵיהֶם:
And Moshe and Aharon went into the Tent of Meeting, and came out, and blessed the people; and the glory of God appeared to all the people. And there came a fire out from before God, and consumed upon the altar the burnt offering and the fat; which when all the people saw, they said praise[2], and fell on their faces. (Vayikra 9:23-24)

Perhaps caught up in the holiness of the moment, Nadav and Avihu, two sons of Aharon, proceed to bring even more fire down from heaven:

ויקרא פרק י, א-ב
וַיִּקְחוּ בְנֵי אַהֲרֹן נָדָב וַאֲבִיהוּא אִישׁ מַחְתָּתוֹ וַיִּתְּנוּ בָהֵן אֵשׁ וַיָּשִׂימוּ עָלֶיהָ קְטֹרֶת וַיַּקְרִבוּ לִפְנֵי ה’ אֵשׁ זָרָה אֲשֶׁר לֹא צִוָּה אֹתָם: וַתֵּצֵא אֵשׁ מִלִּפְנֵי ה’ וַתֹּאכַל אוֹתָם וַיָּמֻתוּ לִפְנֵי ה’:
And Nadav and Avihu, the sons of Aharon, took each of them his censer, and put fire in it, and put incense on it, and offered strange fire before God, which he did not commanded them. And fire went out from before God and devoured them, and they died before God. (Vayikra 10:1-2)

Apparently, something went terribly wrong. In a stark reversal, the ecstasy turned to tears, the celebration to mourning, and the anticipated forgiveness to bitter punishment. Two of Aharon’s sons were suddenly dead. While the result of their actions is clear, the significance or cause of their demise is unclear: the Torah seems silent as to the cause of their sudden deaths. Rabbinic literature abounds with possible scenarios, each describing a different but equally terrible sin that was behind this punishment. From the verses themselves, we know that on a purely technical level they had brought an offering that was not called for; specifically, they offered incense which God had not instructed. Interestingly, the Midrash goes to great lengths to limit the scope of their guilt, stressing that their only indiscretion was the bringing of this incense:

מדרש רבה במדבר פרשה ב פסקה כד
בארבעה מקומות הוא מזכיר מיתתן של בני אהרן ומזכיר סורחנן וכל כך למה להודיעך שלא היה עון בידם אלא זה בלבד.
In four places Scripture records both the death of Aharon's sons and their offence as well. And why all this? To inform you that they had no other iniquity to their account except this one alone. (Bamidar Rabbah 2:24)

The Midrash notes that every time the deaths of Nadav and Avihu are mentioned, the Torah never makes a negative value judgment nor does it label them as sinners in a general sense. In fact, the Torah uses the same term, time and again, when describing their deaths: “in front of God”.

מדרש רבה במדבר פרשה ב פסקה כד
אמר רבי אלעזר המודעי צא וראה כמה היא קשה מיתתו של בני אהרן לפני הקב"ה שכל מקום שהוא מזכיר מיתתן מזכיר סורחנן כל כך למה כדי שלא יתן פתחון פה לבאי עולם שלא יהו הבריות אומרים מעשים מקולקלים היה להם בסתר שעל ידי כן מתו וימת נדב ואביהוא לפני ה' א"ר יוחנן וכי לפני ה' מתו אלא מלמד שקשה לפני הקב"ה בשעה שבניהם של צדיקים מסתלקים בחייהם דאביהם בהקריבם אש זרה לפני ה' ר' יוחנן דיפו בעא קומי ר' פנחס בר חמא בשם ר' סימון כאן את אמר לפני ה' לפני ה' ב' פעמים ולהלן את אמר על פני אהרן אביהם פעם אחד אלא מלמד שהוא קשה לפני הקב"ה כפליים מאביהם:
R. Elazar of Modiin said: 'Go forth and see how heavily the death of Aharon's sons weighed upon the Holy One, blessed be He; for on every occasion when He records their death He also records their offence. Why all this? So as not to afford any living being a pretext for maligning them, and so that people might not say that they had been secretly misconducting themselves and had died as a result of this.' "And Nadav and Avihu died before God:" Said R. Yohanan: 'Did they indeed die before God? No; but this teaches that the Holy One, blessed be He, is grieved when the children of the righteous depart from this world during the lifetime of their fathers.' "When they offered strange fire before God:" R. Yohanan of Jaffa inquired of R. Pinhas b. Hama, in the name of R. Simon: 'How is it that the phrase "before God" is used twice, while the phrase "before Aharon their father," which you find elsewhere, is used once? It teaches that the grief of the Holy One, blessed be He, was twice as keen as that of their father. (Bamidar Rabbah 2:24)

One of the most basic tenets of our belief is that all of mankind stands "in front of God" at all times: God is Omnipresent. Nonetheless, this phrase, used in this context, connotes a special proximity and intimacy with God. While death is tragic, to die "in front of God" sounds almost tantalizing.[3] And yet, it is this same description, “in front of God,” that caused the Midrash to admonish us to look no further, and not to ascribe any further indiscretion to these two sons of Aharon.[4]

We should note that this same phrase appears in the verses that immediately precede the tragedy; there, too a fire came "from in front of God" – to indicate God's acceptance of the offering.

ויקרא פרק ט, כד
וַתֵּצֵא אֵשׁ מִלִּפְנֵי ה’ וַתֹּאכַל עַל הַמִּזְבֵּחַ אֶת הָעֹלָה וְאֶת הַחֲלָבִים וַיַּרְא כָּל הָעָם וַיָּרֹנּוּ וַיִּפְּלוּ עַל פְּנֵיהֶם:
And there came a fire out from before God, and consumed upon the altar the burnt offering and the fat; which when all the people saw, they said praise[5], and fell on their faces. (Vayikra 9:24)

The Mei Shiloch says that their deaths came from an excess of love of God, from an uncontrolled desire for intimacy with God.[6] Rebbi Nachman is quoted as saying that they were carried away by the holiness of the moment: after experiencing the revelation at the convocation of the Mishkan they felt an intense desire to embrace and be consumed by the divine, even though death would surely be the result.[7]

This approach is reminiscent Rashi's explanation of the demise of Ben Azzai, one of the four great scholars who entered pardes. Pardes was a mystical journey undertaken by four of the greatest sages of their time:

עין יעקב על מסכת חגיגה אות יא
תנוּ רַבָּנָן, אַרְבָּעָה נִכְנְסוּ לְפַּרְדֵס, אֵלוּ הֵן, בֶּן עַזַאי, בֶּן זוֹמָא, וְאַחֵר, וְרַבִּי עֲקִיבָא. אָמַר לָהֶם רַבִּי עֲקִיבָא, כְּשֶׁתִּכָּנְסוּ אֵצֶל אַבְנֵי שַׁיִשׁ טָהוֹר, הִזָהֲרוּ שֶׁלֹּא תֹּאמְרוּ, מַיִם מַיִם. מִשּׁוּם דִּכְתִיב, (תהלים קא) "דּוֹבֵר שְׁקָרִים לֹא יִכּוֹן לְנֶגֶד עֵינָי". בֶּן עַזַאי - הִצִיץ וַמֵת, וְעָלָיו הָכָּתוּב אוֹמֵר, (תהלים קטז) "יָקָר בְּעֵינֵי ה' הַמַוְתָה לַחֲסִידָיו". בֶּן זוֹמָא - הִצִיץ וְנִפְגָע, עָלָיו הַכָּתוּב אוֹמֵר, (משלי כה) "דְּבַשׁ מָצָאתָ - אֶכוֹל דַּייךּ, פֶּן תִּשְׂבַּעֶנּוּ וַהֲקֵאֹתוֹ". אַחֵר - קִצֵץ בַּנְטִיעוֹת. רַבִּי עֲקִיבָא - [נִכְנָס בְּשָׁלוֹם וְ]יָצָא בָשָׁלוֹם.
Our Rabbis taught: Four men entered Pardes, namely, Ben Azzai and Ben Zoma, Aher, and R. Akiva. R. Akiva said to them: 'When you arrive at the stones of pure marble, do not say, "water, water!" For it is written [Tehilim 101]: "He that speaks falsehood can not be exist before me." Ben Azzai cast a look and died. Of him Scripture says [Tehilim 116]: "Precious in the sight of God is the death of His devout ones." Ben Zoma looked and was struck. Of him Scripture says [Mishlei 25]: "Have you found honey? Eat as much as is sufficient for you, lest you be filled with it, and vomit it." Aher mutilated the shoots. R. Akiva (entered unscathed and) departed unscathed.

Rashi explains the death of Ben Azzai:

רש"י חגיגה דף יד/ב
הציץ - לצד השכינה:
ויקר בעיני ה' המותה לחסידיו - הוקשה מיתתו לפניו לפי שמת בחור, ואף על פי כן אי אפשר שלא ימות משום שנאמר 'כי לא יראני האדם וחי' (שמות לג):
He looked – at the Schechina.
"Precious in the sight of God is the death of His devout ones" – His death was difficult before God, for he died young, nonetheless it was impossible that he not die, for it says [Shmot 33] “For man cannot see Me and live”. (Rashi Talmud Bavli Chagiga 14b)

The implication is that Ben Azzai looked and beheld the Divine Shechina and therefore died, for “man can not see Me and live” – and if he looks – he will die. Ben Azzai, like Nadav and Avihu, beheld the Shechina and could not return to a pedestrian life. The pull of the Divine was like a magnet, too inviting, too intense; return to earthly life from such a spiritual plane is impossible.[8] This was explained to Moshe by God Himself: in the aftermath of the Golden Calf debacle, it seemed that the magnitude of their transgression would lead to the demise of the entire nation, but Moshe implores God, and gains favor and forgiveness for the nation. When Moshe senses that this is a moment of mercy, he seizes the opportunity and asks God:

ספר שמות פרק לג, יח-כג
וַיֹּאמַר הַרְאֵנִי נָא אֶת כְּבֹדֶךָ: וַיֹּאמֶר אֲנִי אַעֲבִיר כָּל טוּבִי עַל פָּנֶיךָ וְקָרָאתִי בְשֵׁם ה’ לְפָנֶיךָ וְחַנֹּתִי אֶת אֲשֶׁר אָחֹן וְרִחַמְתִּי אֶת אֲשֶׁר אֲרַחֵם: וַיֹּאמֶר לֹא תוּכַל לִרְאֹת אֶת פָּנָי כִּי לֹא יִרְאַנִי הָאָדָם וָחָי: וַיֹּאמֶר ה’ הִנֵּה מָקוֹם אִתִּי וְנִצַּבְתָּ עַל הַצּוּר: וְהָיָה בַּעֲבֹר כְּבֹדִי וְשַׂמְתִּיךָ בְּנִקְרַת הַצּוּר וְשַׂכֹּתִי כַפִּי עָלֶיךָ עַד עָבְרִי: וַהֲסִרֹתִי אֶת כַּפִּי וְרָאִיתָ אֶת אֲחֹרָי וּפָנַי לֹא יֵרָאוּ:
And he said, 'I beg You, show me Your Glory.' And He said, 'I will make all My goodness pass before you, and I will proclaim the name of God before you; and will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.' And he said, 'You can not see My face; for no man shall see Me and live.' And God said, 'Behold, there is a place by Me, and you shall stand upon a rock; And it shall come to pass, while My glory passes by, that I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and will cover you with My hand while I pass by. And I will take away my hand, and you shall see My back; but My face shall not be seen.' (Shmot 33:18-23)

Moshe asks for a higher level of revelation, and is told it would always be incomplete; human beings cannot assimilate a face-to-face encounter with the Divine. Pure spirituality negates the human condition, makes it an impossibility. Moshe learns that there are limits, barriers that will always exist between God and man. But Nadav and Avihu, like Ben Azzai generations later, forge ahead; they seek a greater degree of encounter than is humanly possible. They attempt to see God, to engage God in an impossible rendezvous. They cause the fire to emerge and consume them. Already at Sinai we are told of a near catastrophe, for there were those who looked when they should have averted their eyes.

ספר שמות פרק כד, א; ט-י
וְאֶל משֶׁה אָמַר עֲלֵה אֶל ה’ אַתָּה וְאַהֲרֹן נָדָב וַאֲבִיהוּא וְשִׁבְעִים מִזִּקְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וְהִשְׁתַּחֲוִיתֶם מֵרָחֹק: ... וַיַּעַל משֶׁה וְאַהֲרֹן נָדָב וַאֲבִיהוּא וְשִׁבְעִים מִזִּקְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל: וַיִּרְאוּ אֵת אֱלֹהֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וְתַחַת רַגְלָיו כְּמַעֲשֵׂה לִבְנַת הַסַּפִּיר וּכְעֶצֶם הַשָּׁמַיִם לָטֹהַר: וְאֶל אֲצִילֵי בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל לֹא שָׁלַח יָדוֹ וַיֶּחֱזוּ אֶת הָאֱלֹהִים וַיֹּאכְלוּ וַיִּשְׁתּוּ:
And he said to Moshe, 'Come up to God, you, and Aharon, Nadav, and Avihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel; and worship from far away…' Then Moshe, and Aharon, Nadav, and Avihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel went up; And they saw the God of Israel; and there was under his feet a kind of paved work of a sapphire stone, like the very heaven for clearness. And upon the nobles of the people of Israel He laid not his hand; also they saw God, and ate and drank. (Shmot 24:1,9-11)

רש"י על שמות פרק כד, י
ויראו את אלהי ישראל - נסתכלו והציצו ונתחייבו מיתה אלא שלא רצה הקב"ה לערבב שמחת התורה והמתין לנדב ואביהוא עד יום חנוכת המשכן.
They looked and glanced[9] and were guilty of an offence requiring death, but God did not wish to combine (their deaths) with the joy of the Torah. He waited (to carry out punishment) on Nadav and Avihu until the day of the consecration of the Mishkan. (Rashi, Shmot 24:10)

Here, once again, one of our foremost sages finds that Nadav and Avihu were, in fact, guilty of other transgressions. In this instance, this may be seen not as an additional, unrelated “sin”, but as an earlier incidence of the same transgression: Both at the foot of Mount Sinai and on the day of the consecration of the Mishkan, Nadav and Avihu attempted to see what they should not have seen, boldly going forward when they should have obeyed the boundaries of human experience.

What made them so bold? The details of their biographies may hold the answer. They were scions of an illustrious family, as we know: Their paternal grandparents, Amram and Yocheved, were leaders of the Jewish People in Egypt, and those leadership qualities were passed on to their father's generation, to Moshe, Miriam and Aharon. Their maternal ancestry was also quite impressive: Aharon's wife, Nadav and Avihu's mother, was a woman named Elisheva, and when her marriage to Aharon is recorded, the Torah shares some information that at first glance seems superfluous:

ספר שמות פרק ו, כג
וַיִּקַּח אַהֲרֹן אֶת אֱלִישֶׁבַע בַּת עַמִּינָדָב אֲחוֹת נַחְשׁוֹן לוֹ לְאִשָּׁה וַתֵּלֶד לוֹ אֶת נָדָב וְאֶת אֲבִיהוּא אֶת אֶלְעָזָר וְאֶת אִיתָמָר:
And Aharon took Elisheva, daughter of Aminadav, sister of Nachshon, for his wife; and she bore him Nadav, and Avihu, Elazar, and Itamar. (Shmot 6:23)

Elisheva is described not only as her father's daughter but also as her brother's sister. Why is her brother's identity significant? Rashi, who was clearly perturbed by this oddity, illuminates the lesson we learn from this anomaly:

רש"י על שמות פרק ו, כג
אחות נחשון - מכאן למדנו הנושא אשה צריך לבדוק באחיה:
Sister of Nachshon – from here we learn that one who weds a woman should scrutinize (the character) of her brothers. (Rashi, Shmot 6:23)

Nachson was a leading member of the tribe of Yehudah.[10] But he is remembered primarily for boldly jumping into the sea as the Egyptians pursued them, and act which precipitated the splitting of the sea:

תלמוד בבלי מסכת סוטה דף לז עמוד א
אמר לו רבי יהודה: לא כך היה מעשה, אלא זה אומר אין אני יורד תחילה לים וזה אומר אין אני יורד תחילה לים, קפץ נחשון בן עמינדב וירד לים תחילה, שנאמר: )הושע יב) סבבוני בכחש אפרים ובמרמה בית ישראל ויהודה עוד רד עם אל.
R. Yehuda said to [R. Meir]: That is not what happened; but each tribe was unwilling to be the first to enter the sea. Then Nahshon the son of Amminadav sprang forward and descended first into the sea; as it is said (Hoshea 12): "Ephraim encompasses me about with falsehood, and the house of Israel with deceit; but Yehudah yet rules (or, descends) with God." (Talmud Bavli Sotah 37a)

When all the others were afraid to jump into the water, Nachshon had no fear. He was brave and bold, and his faith in God was complete; into the water he leaped. To reward him for his unflinching faith and courage, he was the first tribe leader to bring an offering on the day the Mishkan was consecrated.[11] He was first to step up to the challenge of faith at the banks of the sea, and first to consecrate the Mishkan, first to bring a sacrifice and draw closer to God. Nadav and Avihu, nephews of Nachshon, were no less bold. They, too, hoped to forge ahead, to blaze a new trail to God. At the foot of Mount Sinai, they did not turn away from the Shechina. Once again, on the eighth day of the consecration of the Mishkan, they seek out the Shechina, leaping forward rather than obeying the natural lines of human experience, bringing incense that was not prescribed. They turn toward the Schechina; as a result, God embraces them. They leave behind their human limitations and form, and God takes them.

As readers, we are numb; if all they wanted was spirituality, proximity, intimacy with the Divine, then they got exactly what they wanted. Nonetheless, the result seems somehow unfair, unjust. Their "sin" was that they wanted to engage God, to be in front of God – to grasp the mystery.

And yet, even Moshe, the human being who above all others enjoyed such intimacy and proximity, was denied the very thing Nadav and Avihu sought to take by force. Even Moshe, the greatest prophet of the Jewish People, the man who stood with God for forty days and forty nights, who stepped outside of the physical limitations of the human form – even Moshe accepted the spiritual limitations that are part and parcel of humanity: It is impossible for man to see God’s "face"; humans may see God's “back”. Jewish tradition has always understood this limitation as anthropomorphism, as a metaphor that establishes and elucidates much deeper philosophical truths about human understanding, human experience and spirituality. According to the Talmud[12], what Moshe asked for was an explanation of theodicy, an answer to the age old question of why bad things happen to good people. Clearly, this would require a type of prescience and omniscience that is beyond human abilities – even for Moshe: the “face”, the entire, all-encompassing countenance of the future that provides a unified rationale for all of human history, cannot be seen; all we can see is the “back”. We have the ability to see God's attributes as we look back on human history and understand that God's Hand guided all the seemingly random events of the past.

The Talmud extends this metaphor, connecting it with another mystery of Jewish life: When Moshe saw "God's back", what he saw was the “knot of the tefillin” on the “back of God’s head.”

תלמוד בבלי מסכת ברכות דף ז עמוד א
והסרתי את כפי וראית את אחרי - אמר רב חנא בר ביזנא אמר רבי שמעון חסידא: מלמד שהראה הקדוש ברוך הוא למשה קשר של תפילין.
"And I will take away My hand, and you shall see My back." R. Hama b. Bizna said in the name of R. Simon the Pious: 'This teaches us that the Holy One, blessed be He, showed Moshe the knot of the tefillin.' (Talmud Bavli Brachot 7a)

While this seems quite fanciful, a profound lesson lies beneath the surface of the text. tefillin are worn high on the forehead behind the hairline; two straps lie on the chest, one near the right arm, and the other near the left. To the casual observer, it appears that the right side, identified with compassion, and left side, associated with judgment,[13] are independent. This is what might be learned regarding God's attributes if one were to see "God's face": The God of Compassion and the God of Judgment at odds with one another, as it were. Only when we see the knot of the tefillin, on the back of the head, do we realize that what seem to be two distinct attributes, the right and left, compassion and judgment, come from the same place. Although often seemingly independent, presented on two sides, they share a common origin, and are in fact one.[14] Similarly, while we may see Jewish history as a series of random events, while we may be unable to understand the wisdom of God's judgment, while we may not discern the connection between our personal or national history and God's trait of Compassion, this is because we are unable, as limited human beings, to comprehend "God's face." We are, as Jews, given the spiritual capacity to understand "God's back." We are reminded each day, by the knot of the tefillin, that all of God's attributes are a unified whole, and all of human history is guided by His wisdom.

Nadav and Avihu die, as they must. But is this a harsh and exacting judgment? They die precisely where they want to be: in front of God. They are taken – with a kiss and an embrace. Truly, God is one, and his Compassion and Judgment are one; they are intertwined and united.

[1] See Toldot Yitzchak, Vayikra 9:22.
תולדות יצחק ויקרא פרק ט פסוק כד
ותצא אש מלפני יי' ותאכל על המזבח את העולה, ביום השמיני שנתחנך המשכן בקרבנות שבאו לכפר על מעשה העגל, ירדה אש מן השמים לקבל אותם.
[2] Rashi directs us to the Targum who translates vayaronu as praise. The Recanati renders vayaronu "with songs (or praise) like the Levites."
ריקאנטי ויקרא פרק ט פסוק כד
וטעם וירא כל העם וירונו, בשירת הלוים, ועל כן תקנו [במנחה לשבת] יצחק ירנן.    
[3] The Megaleh Amukot, Parshat Vetchanan, aspect 90, says that they died "by God's kiss"; this description also highlights their proximity and intimacy with God at the moment of their death.
ספר מגלה עמוקות על ואתחנן - אופן צ
נדב ואביהו מתו בנשיקה, בסוד וימותו לפני ה'.
[4] Presumably those commentaries who take this Midrash into account yet nonetheless point to any number of shortcomings as the reasons for the deaths of Nadav and Avihu, are trying to explain the underlying cause that led them to bring the "foreign fire".
[5] Rashi directs us to the Targum who translates vayaronu as praise. The Recanati says with songs (or praise) like the Levites.
ריקאנטי ויקרא פרק ט פסוק כד
וטעם וירא כל העם וירונו, בשירת הלוים, ועל כן תקנו [במנחה לשבת] יצחק ירנן.    
[6] Mei Shiloch Acharei Mot.
ספר מי השילוח - פרשת אחרי
ויהי אחרי מות שני בני אהרן כו', דבר אל אהרן ואל יבא בכל עת כו', פי' בכל עת כמו בכל אוות נפשיך, היינו אחר שראית כי כל קדושת נדב ואביהו לא הצילם מגוון חטא בקרבתם לפני ה' כי הי' בעומקם תגבורת אהבה יותר מיראה,

[7] Likutei Halachot Hilchot nitilat yadayim l’seuda law 6.
ספר ליקוטי הלכות - הלכות נטילת ידים לסעודה ובציעת הפת הלכה ו
 אבל אף - על - פי שקטרת גבה כל כך גם בו סם המות נתון בתוכו שבו נשרפו נדב ואביהוא שפגמו גם - כן בכלליות הזה מרבוי קדשתם העצומה מאד. בחינת בקרבתם לפני ה' וימתו. אבל אף - על - פי - כן פגמו מאד, כי עלו למעלה מעלה שלא ברשות ולא רצו להוריד עצמן למטה להמשיך הדעת מדור לדור. בבחינת חליפות הנ"ל. שזהו בחינת בגין דלא אנסיבו. וכמו שכתוב, ובנים לא היה להם. כי עקר ההתקשרות הנ"ל. הוא בסוד יחוד איש ואשה בקדשה שמשם המשכת כל הדורות שהם החליפות. והם סברו שיכולין להקטיר קטרת בלא תקון וכו'. על - כן מתו.

[8] The comments of the Maharsha to Chagiga 14b explain how Ben Azzai was enticed to proceed further than the others, yet he stops short of saying that Ben Azzai actually beheld the Shechina; that would imply that Ben Azzai was on a greater level than Moshe.
מהרש"א על חגיגה דף יד/ב
ובספר ישן מצאתי וז"ל נכנסו לפרדס החכמה והיא חכמת אלהות בן עזאי הציץ ומת מתוך שדבקה נפשו באהבה רבה דבקות אמתי בדברים עליונים שהם יסודה והציץ באור הזהיר נתפרדה מן הגוף ונתפשטה מכל מקרי הגוף באותה שעה ראתה מנוחה כי טוב ולא שבה עוד למקומה וזו מעלה גדולה ע"כ נאמר יקר בעיני ה' גו' ולא כדברי המפרשים שראה שכינה ומת שנאמר כי לא יראני האדם וחי דאם כן עשיתם בן עזאי גדול ממשה רבינו עליו השלום.
[9] The word hititz is also found regarding Ben Azzai see Liquity Halachat Hichot Nedarim law 3.
ספר ליקוטי הלכות - הלכות נדרים הלכה ג
ובן עזאי ובן זומא היו צדיקים נוראים גדולים במעלה מאד, אבל פגמו בענין זה איזה שגיאה כל שהוא. ועל - כן זה הציץ ונפגע וזה הציץ ומת. ולשון הציץ הוא שהסתכלו יותר מדאי שזהו בחינת פגם נדב ואביהוא שנאמר בהם, בקרבתם לפני ה' וכו', שרצו להתקרב יותר מדאי ועברו על פן יהרסו וכו' כנ"ל. וזה שאמרו רבותינו זכרונם לברכה שהפגם של נדב ואביהוא וכן של בן עזאי ובן זומא היה שלא היו נשואים נשים, דהינו שלא רצו להשתדל לעסק בישוב העולם להשאיר דעתם הנורא למטה, כי סברו שצריכין להיות רק למעלה, אבל באמת אינו כן כנ"ל.:

[10] Bamidbar 1:7, 7:12, 10:14, Ruth 4:20.
[11] See Bamidbar 7:12, andRashi Vayikra 10:16,
במדבר פרק ז, יב
וַיְהִי הַמַּקְרִיב בַּיּוֹם הָרִאשׁוֹן אֶת קָרְבָּנוֹ נַחְשׁוֹן בֶּן עַמִּינָדָב לְמַטֵּה יְהוּדָה:
רש"י ויקרא פרק י, טז
שעיר החטאת - שעיר מוספי ראש חודש. ושלשה שעירי חטאות קרבו בו ביום שעיר עזים, ושעיר נחשון ושעיר ראש חודש, ומכולן לא נשרף אלא זה. ונחלקו בדבר חכמי ישראל יש אומרים, מפני הטומאה שנגעה בו נשרף. ויש אומרים, מפני אנינות נשרף, לפי שהוא קדשי דורות, אבל בקדשי שעה סמכו על משה שאמר להם במנחה (פסוק יב) ואכלוה מצות:
[12] Talmud Bavli Brachot 7a. The Talmud debates weather this request was granted.
[13] See Mishna Breurah 4:22.
משנה ברורה סימן ד, כב
ונותנו - כדי שיתגבר ימין שהוא חסד על שמאל שהוא דין.
[14] See Pri Etz Chaim, Shaar Tefilin chapter 2.
ספר פרי עץ חיים - שער התפילין - פרק ב
הנה אח"כ נמשכין ממנה ב' רצועות, והם ח"ג, ומקיפין הראש, ונמשכין עד אחורי הראש, ושם אנו עושין קשר א', שהוא סוד התפארת, כי בו הוא קשור הכל כנודע, ואז נרשמת בו המלכות.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Parshat Tzav 5770 - No Hesitation

Parshat Tzav 5770
Rabbi Ari Kahn

No Hesitation

With the Mishkan completed and the laws of the offerings taught, the final step toward making the Mishkan operational could finally be taken. Now the star of the show, the central performer, would need to be introduced: Moshe is instructed to take his brother Aharon and prepare him to serve as Kohen Gadol, and Aharon’s children as kohanim. The chain of succession is established; one day, one of Aharon’s children would inherit the exalted position of Kohen Gadol.

ויקרא פרק ח, א-י
וַיְדַבֵּר ה’ אֶל מֹשֶׁה לֵּאמֹר: קַח אֶת אַהֲרֹן וְאֶת בָּנָיו אִתּוֹ וְאֵת הַבְּגָדִים וְאֵת שֶׁמֶן הַמִּשְׁחָה וְאֵת פַּר הַחַטָּאת וְאֵת שְׁנֵי הָאֵילִים וְאֵת סַל הַמַּצּוֹת: וְאֵת כָּל הָעֵדָה הַקְהֵל אֶל פֶּתַח אֹהֶל מוֹעֵד: וַיַּעַשׂ מֹשֶׁה כַּאֲשֶׁר צִוָּה ה’ אֹתוֹ וַתִּקָּהֵל הָעֵדָה אֶל פֶּתַח אֹהֶל מוֹעֵד: וַיֹּאמֶר מֹשֶׁה אֶל הָעֵדָה זֶה הַדָּבָר אֲשֶׁר צִוָּה ה’ לַעֲשׂוֹת: וַיַּקְרֵב מֹשֶׁה אֶת אַהֲרֹן וְאֶת בָּנָיו וַיִּרְחַץ אֹתָם בַּמָּיִם: וַיִּתֵּן עָלָיו אֶת הַכֻּתֹּנֶת וַיַּחְגֹּר אֹתוֹ בָּאַבְנֵט וַיַּלְבֵּשׁ אֹתוֹ אֶת הַמְּעִיל וַיִּתֵּן עָלָיו אֶת הָאֵפֹד וַיַּחְגֹּר אֹתוֹ בְּחֵשֶׁב הָאֵפֹד וַיֶּאְפֹּד לוֹ בּוֹ: וַיָּשֶׂם עָלָיו אֶת הַחֹשֶׁן וַיִּתֵּן אֶל הַחֹשֶׁן אֶת הָאוּרִים וְאֶת הַתֻּמִּים: וַיָּשֶׂם אֶת הַמִּצְנֶפֶת עַל רֹאשׁוֹ וַיָּשֶׂם עַל הַמִּצְנֶפֶת אֶל מוּל פָּנָיו אֵת צִיץ הַזָּהָב נֵזֶר הַקֹּדֶשׁ כַּאֲשֶׁר צִוָּה ה’ אֶת מֹשֶׁה: וַיִּקַּח מֹשֶׁה אֶת שֶׁמֶן הַמִּשְׁחָה וַיִּמְשַׁח אֶת הַמִּשְׁכָּן וְאֶת כָּל אֲשֶׁר בּוֹ וַיְקַדֵּשׁ אֹתָם:
And God spoke to Moshe, saying, 'Take Aharon and, along with him, his sons, and the garments, and the anointing oil, and the bull for the sin offering, and the two rams, and the basket of matzot (unleavened bread); And gather all the congregation together to the door of the Tent of Meeting.' And Moshe did as God commanded him; and the assembly was gathered together to the door of the Tent of Meeting. And Moshe said to the congregation, 'This is the thing which God commanded to be done.' And Moshe brought Aharon and his sons, and washed them with water. And he put on him the coat, and girded him with the girdle, and clothed him with the robe, and put the ephod upon him, and he girded him with the finely done girdle of the ephod, and bound it to him with it. And he put the breastplate on him; also he put on the breastplate the Urim and the Tummim. And he put the mitre upon his head; also upon the mitre, upon its front, he put the golden plate, the holy crown; as God commanded Moshe. And Moshe took the anointing oil, and anointed the Mishkan and all that was in it, and sanctified them. (Vayikra 8:1-10)

How Moshe may have felt about this news seems impossible to discern from the text. In sight of the assembled nation the holy finery to be worn by the Kohen Gadol is placed upon Aharon. Did Moshe feel displaced or rejected? Was he surprised? Was he disappointed? The text is silent. However the Midrash addresses some of these issues:

ויקרא רבה (וילנא) פרשת שמיני פרשה יא סימן ו
ר' תנחום בשם ר' יודן תני כל שבעת ימי המילואים היה משה משמש בכהונה גדולה ולא שרתה שכינה על ידו הה"ד (ויקרא ט) וירא כל העם וירונו ויפלו על פניהם...
R. Tanhum taught in the name of R. Judan: All the seven days of consecration Moshe ministered in the office of High Priest, but the Shechinah did not take up its abode through his ministration, (but when Aharon put on the High Priest's robes and ministered, the Shechinah took its abode through his ministrations, as it is said, For to-day the Lord appears to you  [Vayikra 9, 4])  [And the glory of God appeared unto all the people...] And when all the people saw it, they shouted, and fell on their faces [Vayikra 9, 23]. (Vayikra Rabbah 11:6)

For the seven days of consecration Moshe did function as the Kohen Gadol,[1] but there seems to have been some sort of problem. Moshe's service did not have the desired impact: the Shechina did not descend. It seems that Moshe was not destined to be a kohen. The Midrash continues and explains why this was so:

ויקרא רבה (וילנא) פרשת שמיני פרשה יא סימן ו
אמר רב שמואל בר נחמן כל שבעת ימי הסנה היה הקב"ה מפתה את משה שילך בשליחותו למצרים הה"ד (שמות ד) גם מתמול גם משלשום גם מאז דברך אל עבדך הרי ששה ובשביעי אמר לו שלח נא ביד תשלח אמר לו הקב"ה משה את אומר שלח נא ביד תשלח חייך שאני צוררה לך בכנפיך אימתי פרע לו רבי ברכיה אמר ר' לוי ור' חלבו, ר' לוי אמר כל ז' ימי אדר היה משה מבקש תפלה ותחנונים שיכנס לא"י ובשביעי אמר לו (דברים ג) כי לא תעבור את הירדן הזה ר' חלבו אמר כל ז' ימי המילואים היה משמש בכהונה גדולה וכסבור שלו היא, בז' אמר לו לא שלך היא אלא של אהרן אחיך היא הה"ד ויהי ביום השמיני.
R. Samuel b. Nahman said: All the seven days of the [burning] bush, the Holy One, blessed be He, was trying to persuade Moshe to go on His mission to Egypt. This is [indicated by] what is written, 'Also from yesterday, also from the day before, also since You have spoken to your servant (Shmot 4:10), which makes six days; and on the seventh day he said to Him, 'Send, I pray Thee, by the hand of whomever You will send (Shmot 4:13).' Said the Holy One, blessed be He, to Moshe: ‘As you live, I shall tie this in thy skirts. When did He repay him? R. Berekiah gave answers in the name of R. Levi and of R. Helbo. R. Levi said: The [first] seven days of Adar Moshe was offering prayer and supplication that he might enter the Land of Israel, and on the seventh, He said to him: 'You shall not go over this Jordan.' R. Helbo said: All the seven days of consecration Moshe ministered in the office of Kohen Gadol, and he imagined it was his. On the seventh day He said to him: ‘It belongs not to you but to your brother Aharon.’ This is [indicated by] what is written, "And it came to pass on the eighth day, that Moshe called Aharon and his sons and the elders of Israel, and he said unto Aharon…" (Vayikra Rabbah 11:6)

The Midrash parallels the seven days that Moshe served in the Mishkan with the seven days that Moshe stood at the Burning Bush as God cajoled Moshe, trying to convince Moshe to go to Egypt and lead the Jews to liberation. One interesting aspect of this parallel is the fact that the narrative offers no time frame for Moshe's encounter at the Burning Bush. From the text of the Torah, we do not know how long Moshe spent at the Burning Bush. The midrash seems intent on creating this parallel in order to emphasize a deeper thematic connection: when Moshe declines to lead the people little does he know that he has at that moment declined the role of kohen as well.

According to the Midrash, Moshe ministers for seven days only to be told that in fact it is Aharon and his descendants who will serve as kohanim.[2] While the text does not reveal Moshe’s feelings there are those who believe they can nonetheless discern his emotional state from the text: The Torah has been transmitted with not only letters and words; our tradition also includes Ta'amei haMikra, cantillation symbols or musical instructions (trup) which tell us how to read the text. Among the rarest of these musical notes that accompany the Torah text is the shalshelet. It is used only four times in the Torah, and there are those who believe it indicates hesitation, conflict or ambivalence.[3] The shalshelet is found three times prior to this week’s parsha:

בראשית פרק יט פסוק טז
וַיִּתְמַהְמָהּ וַיַּחֲזִיקוּ הָאֲנָשִׁים בְּיָדוֹ וּבְיַד־אִשְׁתוֹ וּבְיַד שְׁתֵּי בְנֹתָיו בְּחֶמְלַת ה' עָלָיו וַיּֽצִאֻהוּ וַיַּנִּחֻהוּ מִחוּץ לָעִיר׃
But he lingered; and the men laid hold upon his hand, and upon the hand of his wife, and upon the hand of his two daughters; God's mercy was upon him. And they brought him forth, and set him outside the city. (Bereishit 19:16)

בראשית פרק כד פסוק יב
וַיֹּאמַר  ה' אֱלֹקי אֲדֹנִי אַבְרָהָם הַקְרֵה־נָא לְפָנַי הַיוֹם וַעֲשֵׂה־חֶסֶד עִם אֲדֹנִי אַבְרָהָֽם׃
And he said: 'Almighty God, the God of my master Avraham, please send me good speed this day, and show kindness unto my master Avraham. (Bereishit 24:12)

בראשית פרק לט פסוק ח
וַיְמָאֵן וַיאמֶר אֶל־אֵשֶׁת אֲדֹנָיו הֵן אֲדֹנִי לֹֽא־יָדַע אִתִּי מַה־בַּבָּיִת וְכל אֲשֶׁר־יֶשׁ־לוֹ נָתַן בְּיָדִי׃
But he refused, and said to his master's wife: 'Behold, my master, having me, knows not what is in the house, and he has put all that he has into my hand. (Bereishit 39:8)

The fourth appearance of the shalshelet is in this week’s parsha:

ויקרא פרק ח פסוק כג
וַיִּשְׁחָט  וַיִּקּח מֹשֶׁה מִדָּמוֹ וַיִּתֵּן עַל־תְּנוּךְ אֹֽזֶן־אַהֲרן הַיְמָנִית וְעַל־בֹּהֶן יָדוֹ הַיְמָנִית וְעַל־בֹּהֶן רַגְלוֹ הַיְמָנִית׃
And he slaughtered [it]; and Moshe took of its blood, and put it upon the tip of Aharon's right ear, and upon the thumb of his right hand, and upon the great toe of his right foot. Vayikra 8:23

The shalshelet, which is a long, drawn-out sound, intuitively suggests hesitation; this intuition is supported by the very first use, which describes Lot’s hesitation, and it is in fact found on the word vayitmahmah, which means "he procrastinated" or "he tarried."

However only in the case of Lot is the meaning of this musical instruction clear; only in this case is ambivalence suggested, and it may be more a function of the word, than the sound with which it is sung. In the other cases we have no evidence of hesitation from the text, and it is only the shalshelet which suggests to us any type of ambivalence. [4] Nevertheless, many commentaries suggest that the shelshelet is an indication of Moshe’s own internal ambivalence, due to his sadness over the loss of the role of kohen. But was Moshe sad? Or did he take pleasure in his brother’s success?

Out of Character
On the one hand, we find that Moshe had no interest in a leadership position. He made excuses, he stalled, he argued; Moshe certainly did not jump to seize the opportunity to lead when it was presented to him by God. Why, then, should we suspect that he would be sad or feel anything but relief when he is instructed to cede one aspect of leadership to Aharon? Moshe was certainly not territorial or jealous regarding his relationship with God: when he is told that there are others prophesying in the camp, rather than becoming agitated or apprehensive about the possible loss of his "monopoly" on spirituality, Moshe responds:

במדבר פרק יא, כט
וַיֹּאמֶר לוֹ מֹשֶׁה הַמְקַנֵּא אַתָּה לִי וּמִי יִתֵּן כָּל עַם ה’ נְבִיאִים כִּי יִתֵּן ה’ אֶת רוּחוֹ עֲלֵיהֶם:
And Moshe said to him, 'Are you jealous for my sake? If only all God's people were prophets, and that God would endow them with His Spirit!' (Bamidbar 11:29)

If, despite everything we know about Moshe's character, we say that in this particular instance Moshe was saddened by the loss of the priesthood, then the textual evidence of Moshe's hesitation should have been recorded earlier – either when Moshe initially heard the news, or when he first began the procedure of bestowing the priesthood on Aharon. But the shalshelet is found later in the narrative, after the public announcement, after the gathering of the trappings and tools of the Kohen Gadol; only as Moshe slaughtered the sacrifice is the symbol of hesitation attached to the word vayishchat, “And he slaughtered”. Why here? Why now?

There are several interesting points that arise precisely because the symbol of hesitation, the shalshelet, is connected with this particular word: First and foremost to consider is the juxtaposition of hesitation with ritual slaughter. One of the most basic laws of shehitah is that the act itself must be carried out in one continuous, uninterrupted movement. Any hesitation renders the slaughtered animal unkosher. Had Moshe physically hesitated as he performed the act of shehitah, he would have rendered the animal unsuitable for service and unfit for consumption (unkosher). Moreover, the claim that Moshe's hopes and expectations were somehow built up by the fact that he was commanded to perform the shechitah seems unlikely; this element of the sacrifice can be performed by any Jewish male, kohen or non-kohen. Why would this particular activity give Moshe pause or induce melancholy?[5]

According to many rabbinic commentaries, Moshe was in fact a kohen, and he never lost that status.

תהלים פרק צט, ו
מֹשֶׁה וְאַהֲרֹן בְּכֹהֲנָיו וּשְׁמוּאֵל בְּקֹרְאֵי שְׁמוֹ קֹרִאים אֶל ה’ וְהוּא יַעֲנֵם:
Moshe and Aharon were among his kohanim, and Shmuel was among those who called upon His Name; they called out to God, and He answered them. (Tehilim 99:6)

Here, Moshe is called a kohen by no less an authority than King David. In fact, the Talmud discusses Moshe’s status and suggests that Moshe was Kohen Gadol;[6] along these same lines, the Radak explains that Moshe and Aharon were both High Priests.[7] Rav Yitzchak of Karlin, in his commentary Keren Orah, opines that Moshe was a Kohen Gadol – and never lost that status: he could have taken up active service at any juncture, as is the prerogative of the Kohen Gadol, over the next forty years.[8]

Moshe was worthy to be kohen and had the status of kohen; on the other hand, Moshe was busy with other spiritual responsibilities. Unlike Moshe, whose incredible modesty caused him to recoil from the spotlight and from the top position at the pinnacle of influence and attention, Aharon accepted the challenge. Aharon never avoided or shirked leadership; he embraced it, and he became kohen, even though his selection could have been challenged in light of his own failings. People make mistakes; at times, leaders make mistakes, and Aharon is a prime example: when the people sense a crisis or vacuum of leadership, due to Moshe’s ostensible "disappearance", Aharon leads the people – directly toward the Golden Calf. For this he will need forgiveness. Moshe prays for his brother, and is so successful that not only is Aharon's life spared, he is catapulted to the position of Kohen Gadol.[9]

There is only one area in which Aharon seems to have an advantage over his brother Moshe: regarding his children. Aharon’s children inherited the priesthood; Moshe’s children did not inherit their father's status.[10] But it was probably not status or “perks” that concerned Moshe; his main occupation was holiness. If Moshe did feel a twinge of regret, if anything gave him reason to pause and reflect, perhaps it was not the passing of the kehuna to Aharon. The hesitation was not about the slaughter of the animal, but about what came next:

ספר ויקרא פרק ח, כג
וַיִּשְׁחָט וַיִּקַּח משֶׁה מִדָּמוֹ וַיִּתֵּן עַל תְּנוּךְ אֹזֶן אַהֲרֹן הַיְמָנִית וְעַל בֹּהֶן יָדוֹ הַיְמָנִית וְעַל בֹּהֶן רַגְלוֹ הַיְמָנִית:
Moshe took of the blood thereof, and put it upon the tip of Aharon's right ear, and upon the thumb of his right hand, and upon the great toe of his right foot. (Vayikra 8:23)

From head to toe, Aharon would be consumed with holiness. If the shalshelet does indicate some reticence on Moshe's part, some hesitation, perhaps it was for the lost opportunity of complete holiness - and not for himself, but for his children.[11]

Moshe’s children never do make a mark; they are subsumed in the same category as thousands of other students of Moshe. They do not stand out; they enjoy no special status. Aharon’s children are like Aharon: they embody holiness, but they also embody leadership. Tragically, these very qualities combine when two of Aharon's sons forge ahead in their quest for greater spirituality, rather than waiting for instruction from Moshe.

Moshe’s sons do not take center stage at any point in the narrative. They blend in with the masses; unlike Aharon's sons, they are not leaders - but in their anonymity, they live. We never hear any complaints from Moshe’s children, unlike other members of Moshe's family, such as his cousin Korach, who were driven by jealousy and a false sense of entitlement. Moshe’s children never express any claims to inherit the right to lead as king or kohen. Perhaps they did inherit one important trait from their father: modesty.

[1] Whether Moshe did, in fact, lose the status of kohen is subject to debate – or even if Moshe had the status of kohen even temporarily. What is certain is that Moshe’s children were not kohanim; they were generic members of the tribe of Levi. See Maskil l’David Vayikra 21:22, who suggests that Moshe was not a kohen, yet functioned like a kohen for seven days.
ספר משכיל לדוד על ויקרא פרק כא פסוק כב
מקדשי הקדשים וכו' שאכל משה וכו'. אף על גב דבפ' טבול יום דף ק"א מסיק דלאו ממשה גמרינן אלא מבמה שהיחיד היה אוכל קדשי קדשים כמ"ד יש מנחה בבמה אבל חזה ושוק לא היה נוהג שם מ"מ לא אמרו כן אלא לתרץ אליביה דרב דסבר כי"א דברייתא דהתם דמשה רבינו עליו השלום כ"ג היה וחולק בקדשי שמים והילכך ליכא למילף מיניה. אבל רש"י נסיב לה אליבא דרבנן דברייתא דסברי לא נתכהן משה אלא ז' ימי המילואים בלבד ואין הכוונה לומר שאותן הימים מיהא הוה כהן אלא כלומר שהותר לו לשמש כאילו היה כהן אבל לעולם זר הוה ושפיר ילפינן מיניה

[2] Based on earlier sections in the Torah (for example Shmot chapter 29,30,31,35,39) it is impossible to say that Moshe had no idea that Aharon was meant to be kohen. Perhaps the meaning of the Midrash is that Moshe knew that Aharon would be kohen, while Moshe would remain Kohen Gadol, or vice versa.
[3] Mois A. Navon "The Shalshelet: Mark Of Ambivalence," in Jewish Thought: OU Publications, Vol.4, Num.1 (5755-6)

[4] For other suggestions regarding the use of the shalshelet see Rabbi Josh Waxman,
[5] See Malbim, Vayikra 8:15; Haamek Davar, Shmot 29:11.
מלבים על ויקרא פרק ח פסוק טו
וישחט ויקח משה מן הדם. כבר בארנו (ריש ויקרא) שמחוקי הלשון כשיבא פועל אחד על שני פעלים יבא שם הפועל באמצע. ולפ"ז היה ראוי שיאמר וישחט משה ויקח מן הדם. ואין לומר פה דוישחט הוא פעל סתמי ששחט אחר, כמו שפי' על ושחט את בן הבקר. דהא אמר בצואה ושחטת את הפר. ופי' חז"ל משום דפה קמ"ל רבותא שמשה עשה עבודת הכהונה. ובשחיטה אין זה רבותא כי שחיטה כשרה בזר, רק בלקיחת הדם, ואמרו דלכן שמש משה בז' ימי המלואים כדי שילמד אהרן מעשה העבודות:
העמק דבר על שמות פרק כט פסוק יא
ושחטת את הפר. פי' הראב"ע שמשה בעצמו נתחייב לשחוט. ואינו כן שהרי במעשה כתיב וישחט ויקח משה את הדם. ולמדנו מזה שנקבלה ואילך היתה מצותו של משה וכמו שלמדין בפ"ב דזבחים דמדכתיב וזרקו בני אהרן מכלל דמקבלה ואילך מצות כהונה. וה"נ מדכתיב ויקח משה מכלל דשחיטה כשרה בכל אדם. אלא הא דכתיב ושחטת נראה משום דבכל הקרבנות היה מצוה בבעלים ושלחוט כדאיתא ריש מס' פסחים ד"ז ב' פסח וקדשים מא"ל ופרש"י הבעלים נצטוו לשחוט. אבל כאן שהיה קרבן של צבור בשביל אהרן ובניו. אם כן שייך מצות השחיטה לכל ישראל שהמה הבעלים. וזהו שאמר הכתוב ושחטת. שגם אתה כשר לכתחלה לשחוט. ומה שסמכו עליו אהרן ובניו משום שהכפרה היתה רק עליהם:
[6] See Talmud Bavli Zevachim 101b-102a.
תלמוד בבלי מסכת זבחים דף קא עמוד ב
אמר רב: משה רבינו כהן גדול וחולק בקדשי שמים היה, שנאמר: +ויקרא ח+ מאיל המלואים למשה היה למנה. מיתיבי: והלא פינחס היה עמהן; ואם איתא, לימא: והלא משה רבינו היה עמהן! דילמא שאני משה, דטריד בשכינה, ]זבחים דף קב עמוד א[ מיתיבי, חמש שמחות היתה אלישבע יתירה על בנות ישראל: יבמה מלך, אישה כהן גדול, בנה סגן, בן בנה משוח מלחמה, ואחיה נשיא שבט, ואבילה על שני בניה; קתני מיהת: יבמה מלך, מלך אין, כ"ג לא! אימא: אף מלך.
Rav said: Our teacher Moshe was a Kohen Gadol, and received a share of the holy sacrifices, as it is said, 'It was Moshe’s portion of the ram of consecration.' An objection is raised: ‘But was not Pinhas with them?’ Now if this is correct, let them argue, "But was not our teacher Moshe with them?" Perhaps Moshe was different, because he was engaged by the Shechinah, for a master said: Moshe ascended early in the morning and descended early in the morning….  An objection is raised: Elisheva had five joys more than the other daughters of Israel: her brother-in-law [Moshe] was a king, her husband was a Kohen Gadol, her son [Eleazar] was Segan [deputy Kohen Gadol], her grandson [Pinhas] was anointed for battle, and her brother [Nahshon] was the prince of his tribe; yet she was bereaved of her two sons. At all events he teaches, Her brother-in-law was a king: thus he was a king, but not a Kohen Gadol?  Rather, we may say that he was also a king.
[7] Radak, Tehilim 99:6.
רד"ק תהלים פרק צט פסוק ו
משה ואהרן בכהניו, משה ואהרן שהיו הכהנים הגדולים בכהניו.
[8] Keren Orah, Zevachim 101b.
קרן אורה על מסכת זבחים דף קא/ב
גמרא אמר רב משה רבינו כ"ג הי' וחולק בקדשי שמים כו'. יש לדקדק מנ"ל דכהן גדול הי' נהי דילפינן מהאי קרא דהי' אוכל בקדשי שמים אבל כה"ג מנ"ל וכן בפרשה נאמר כל עבודות כה"ג לאהרן לבד וי"ל דמסברא אומר כן כיון דבז' ימי המילואים הי' משה משמש לבד מסתברא שלא ירד ממעלתו וברצונו הי' תלוי אם הי' רצונו הי' יכול לשמש בכהונה גדולה כל מ' שנה בח' בגדים אלא משום דטריד בשכינה הניח לאהרן הכהונה גדולה כי מעלת משה הי' יותר גדולה כמבואר בדברי הזוה"ק משה שושבינא דמלכא כו' וכש"כ שלא נגרע מאתו מעלת אהרן ג"כ והיינו דמשני לקמן אימא אף מלך וכה"כ כמ"ג. ועיין במדרש קרח שאמר להם משה אנו אין לנו אלא ה' אחד ותורה אחת וכה"ג אחד כו' היינו משום דאע"פ שהי' למשה רבינו קדושת כהונה גדולה עכ"ז לא נשתמש בה והניחה לאהרן ע"פ הדיבור:
[9] See Kli Yakar Shmot 28:1.
כלי יקר על שמות פרק כח פסוק א
ואתה הקרב אליך את אהרן אחיך מתוך בני ישראל. הוסיף כאן לשון ואתה לומר לך שמצד מעשה העגל נתרחק אהרן כמו שנפסלו בכורי ישראל ומשה קרבו בתפלתו כמ"ש (דברים ט כ) ובאהרן התאנף ה' מאד להשמידו ואתפלל גם בעד אהרן בעת ההיא. וענין תפלו, זו שתלה משה בעצמו לאמר הלא אחי ובשרי הוא והשמדתו כאילו נאכל חצי בשרי כדרך שהתפלל על מרים, נמצא שבעבור שקרבו משה אליו ע"כ נבחר בזכות משה אע"פ שגם הוא היה בתוך בני ישראל עובדי העגל מ"מ קרבו מתוך בני ישראל העובדים והכל בעבורך לכך נאמר ואתה הקרב אליך את אהרן מתוך בני ישראל:

[10] My son Hillel suggested that perhaps this was due to the fact that Moshe’s wife Ziporah was not born Jewish – and therefore could not be the mother of a kohen.
[11] See Toldot Yitchak, Vayikra 8:23, also see the Seforno, Bamidbar 16:3.
ספר תולדות יצחק על ויקרא פרק ח פסוק כג
וישחט ויקח משה מדמו ויתן על תנוך אוזן אהרן הימנית ועל בוהן ידו הימנית ועל בוהן רגלו הימנית:
הטעם שנתן הדם באלו האיברים, יש אומרים לפי שהמשכן כולל צורתו שלשה עולמות, כנגד עולם המלאכים לפנים מן הפרוכת, וכנגד עולם הגלגלים מחוץ לפרוכת שהוא אהל מועד, וכנגד זה העולם חצר המשכן, וזה גם כן באדם הראש כנגד עולם המלאכים, והלב כנגד הגלגלים שהוא בעל התנועה, וממתניו ולמטה כנגד העולם השפל, וצריך שיהיה במשכן אדם המכיר כל זה והוא הכהן הגדול, ולכן נתן הדם שהוא כפרת הנפש בשלשה איברים הללו של הכהן המכפר, על תנוך אוזן אהרן הימנית שהאוזן בראש, ועל בוהן ידו שהוא אמצע הגוף, ועל בוהן רגלו שהוא סוף הגוף:
ספורנו במדבר פרק טז פסוק ג
כלם קדושים. מכף רגל ועד ראש כמו שאמר והייתם קדושים לאלהיכם: