Book Club with Rabbi Fohrman, Parshat Tzav
Book Club with Rabbi Fohrman
Rabbi David Fohrman
Founder and Lead Scholar
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Rabbi Fohrman: All right. Nice to see you all. Shoshana, nice to see you. Shoshana's working with me on this book in an editorial capacity. So she is in the upper left-hand corner of my screen. Shoshana do you just want to wave to everybody? That's Shoshana.
Shoshana: Hi everybody.
Rabbi Fohrman: Okay. How are you? And nice to see you all here and thanks for coming back. Okay. Shoshana did you get a chance to look at the essay yet?
Shoshana: I did. Honestly, I'm half-way through and I'm very, very excited about it.
Rabbi Fohrman: Okay. Good. I'm just going to actually pull it up here on my screen, so I've got a copy of it in front of me. I'll just say that this essay was down to the wire, actually. I finished my edits on it just minutes before it got sent over to you on Friday afternoon. And usually the way I do things is I get a chance to take two passes over an essay and then I would typically pass it on to Shoshana. She'd give her edits. Then we'd kind of go through it together. But in this case, I would have this session with you guys before that. But I only got a chance to take one pass over it, so it's not quite as edited as it might be. I didn't get a chance for my second pass over it.
But let me begin, if we could take a few minutes, I'm curious to hear from you before I jump in. I have one or two things to say about the essay. Then one or two things to say about stuff that I'm kind of leaving on the cutting room floor. Stuff that's -- I'm thinking about, but my thoughts are not completely settled on. I'll get to that in the second part of our time together.
Why don't we begin with you guys? Hopefully got a chance to read this through. This essay, I'd say, picked up as you saw, for those of you who read it, picked up on themes that I discussed in Parashat Vayikra. You don't have Parashat Vayikra yet because I'm still in the middle of editing that and I haven't given that to you yet. So you are basically -- you can either go back to a parashah video where I talked about things there, in Parashat Vayikra. Or you can just make do with this summary that I had as part of this.
So it kind of picks up on those themes over there. Why don't we just open with you. Have you guys had any thoughts, again just to reiterate the kinds of things that I’m looking for. I was actually chatting with Emu, Emanuel Shalev, last week and he gave me a suggestion, so I'll pass it along to you. One of the things he suggested asking you folks is not just cognitively what your comments are, but also at what point in the essay, kind of where in the essay you stopped. You either stopped to think about things or stopped because -- either for a good reason or a bad reason.
A good reason would be you thought a point hit home especially well, touched you, something like that, in some kind of way. Another reason for stopping is a bad reason. Not a bad reason, but it's a helpful reason to know, which is sometimes when an essay is not edited as well as it should be, not constructed as well as it should be, transitions are weak, things like that, you're brain -- we have a line for it in Aleph Beta. We call is your brain goes to fuzz. Where you find yourself spacing out. Then you have to reread things a couple of times and you say, oh I guess that's what he was saying, and then you move on. Right?
That's really helpful because it shows me what needs to get fixed here. So I'm also interested in any places where your brain just went to fuzz. Where it just felt like, I don't know what he's saying here but I guess more or less, whatever. That kind of thing. I'm just interested in any impressions you might have.
So we can go around the room. If anybody wants to start us off, I'd be curious to hear your thoughts. Anybody? Yes, David.
David: Okay. So, a couple of things. One thing that now what you mentioned it, kind of took me out of it a little bit, maybe if that's what you're talking about, where I paused. I hadn't thought about it until you asked it, but you brought up an interesting point about the laughter, in terms of characterizing Isaac. I didn't necessarily know if it was a complete follow-through on that. To the point, I was wondering a little bit more, what was -- you said maybe he was laughing on the way to the Akeidah. I was wondering a little bit more about, what does that mean?
Are you saying -- sometimes people laugh in a comfortable situation. It was a reaction to the difficult reality? Or was it some sort of therapeutic thing of being able to handle a difficult situation? Like some humor in some Holocaust movie, or something like that? I wasn't sure where you were going, then you, kind of, didn't come back to it. So it was tantalizing but I didn't feel necessarily there was the full follow-through in the laughter thing. I thought that was an interesting idea, but I wasn't sure where you were completely heading with that.
Rabbi Fohrman: Okay. So let me hold your other thoughts and let's actually go to that for a second. Just so you know, that was a late-stage addition into this essay. This essay is based upon some idea in a parashah video which we did on Parashat Shmini in which those ideas did not appear. But as I was writing I said, you know what? Maybe I should add that in. The real truth is, I kind of know knowing Shoshana who is serving as my editor over here. If I can channel my inner Shoshana as to what she would say about that section -- I don't know if you've gotten to it yet. She would say, Rabbi Fohrman, it's a really nice idea but if you want to put in anywhere it belongs in Parashat Vayikara, not here.
Which is that when you are initially making the argument about the way an olah works, that would be the place to bring it in, not here. So I can hear an argument for getting rid of it. But let me take you to that place. David is referring to Page 4, if I'm not mistaken. Where I said, the olah expresses the feeling -- here maybe I should just share my screen with you so you guys can see what I'm talking about.
"The olah expresses the feeling that there really no domain that's mine. At some level, that's just a laughable fiction, for everything is God's. A laughable fiction. Although that phrase just whimsically comes to mind as I put pen to paper. It really is quite apt, truth to tell. For one of the most famous antecedents of the olah in the Torah occurs when a person -- a person whose name just happens to mean 'laughter' -- is brought up to God atop a mountain, as a kind of olah. I refer, of course, to Isaac. Indeed what is the most special possession any of us have? The thing that feels, on some visceral level to be most ours in the world. That would be one's child. Abraham was ready to give back his child. God didn't take it In the end, but Abraham's willingness to give that child to God expressed what I described above. The feeling, or even the conviction, that in the presence of God, I must abandon all pretense of having any domain that's mine in the world at all.
Indeed, it's for this reason that it's apt that the person who is named Isaac was the first being that was offered as an olah to God. For Isaac, truth be told, is rather a funny name, is it not? Who outside of someone in an animated Disney movie would name their child "Laughy". But Isaac truly is laughter personified. Everything about him is essentially with laughter. The Torah suggests as much with all the verbs it constantly uses to describe his actions. His mother-to-be laughs when she hears he will be born. When he is finally born, Sarah explains, God has made something laughable for me. Anyone who hears what's happened will laugh at me.
Later his brother Ishma'el will laugh mockingly at him. Even Isaac's relationship with his own wife is described in terms of laughter.
If everything connected with Isaac is associated with laughter. One might wonder what was Isaac doing on his way up the mountain, walking to the side of the Akeidah along with his father. Perhaps he was laughing. And if he was laughing, wouldn't that somehow be apt? Tradition tell us that Isaac was no young child at the time of the Akeidah, he was actually 37 years old. A strapping 37-year-old upon seeing his father readying himself to sacrifice him could certainly have fought back. But Isaac never does. He is a willing companion to Abraham in this journey. And the question is. Why? What understanding did Isaac have of life that would allow him to so easily give it back?
The answer, perhaps, lies in his laughter. There's something basic that Isaac laughs at. -- perhaps the most basic thing of all the absurd notion that," So David, this is my point really. I realize it's long and coming but, "it's the absurd notion that we have a claim to make on our own right to live. The right to live seems intuitively like it should be the most 'yours' thing there is in the world but Isaac sees through this. He laughs perhaps at the joke, at the joke that we've done anything to deserve being alive. Life is a gift. And when the giver of the gift asks for it to be returned, there can be no holding back. At the end of the day there is the nothing that is mine in this world at all."
Yeah. So upon reading it through, as I mentioned to you, I didn't get a chance to do a second round edit in this. I think my conviction probably is that if this is there at all, it either belongs in an extended footnote or it probably belongs back in the Vayikra essay, in some way shape or form. Also the point at the end should be flushed up more here if it's going to make it into the essay.
The point I’m trying to make is, that if you think about what a joke is. Why do we laugh at anything? This is something which I needed to make clear and didn't because my digression was already long enough. So I just didn't get around to saying this but should have. But if you think about what a joke is, the best jokes, all jokes, are a response in some way to the unexpected. But what's the difference between a good joke and a bad joke? That's an interesting question to ask. What makes something a particularly good joke?
All jokes have something unexpected to them, but I would make the case that bad jokes are simply unexpected. So for example, slap-stick humor, or when watching a Daffy Duck cartoon, and the hero is running along a cliff and all of a sudden, the bad guy is running along the cliff and all of a sudden, the cliff ends, and he falls down. So if you don't have a very subtle sense of humor, you'll laugh at that. That's pretty basic humor. So why is that a bad joke? It's because the only thing it's got going for it is incongruity. I thought something was going to happen and something else happened, so sometimes the human response to incongruity can be laughter.
I would make the case that a good joke, trying to describe as wry humor, soul humor, or dry humor, has a double-edged quality to it which is really interesting. Which is at one level something very unexpected is happening. So there's that element of incongruity. But on the other level something very familiar is happening and at the end of the day you expected it to happen all along. So you realize both of these things at the same time. I'll give you an example of the good joke. In other words, where the incongruous thing happened that seemed absurd, but at the very moment that it seems absurd you realize that it's not absurd at all. And that the absurdity reflects the reality of the situation more truly than the reality does.
I think that's the quality of a very good joke. Try this some time. Go to a comedy club and ask yourself, who are the really good comedians? They'll have that quality to them. Alan Greenspan, who headed the Fed a while ago, he used to have a favorite joke. So I'll tell you Alan Greenspan's favorite joke. It goes like this. There were three people who were committed to a psychiatric hospital. Every year they would be a yearly review where they would decide whether the person has in fact been cured and is sane enough to be let back into the world. So there would be an appearance before, essentially, a parole board and they would ask these questions to see whether you were sane. So there was the first guy, the second guy and the third guy. They would just go one after another before the parole board. The parole folks, the people who ran the institution, would ask the same question to them all.
The question was, what is two plus two? So the first person goes before the parole board and he's certifiably insane. They ask him, two plus two? He thinks for a while. Then a light goes off in his head and he says five. He failed, so sorry, you have to go back to the institution. The next person says, the same question of two plus two. He thinks for a while and he says, Wednesday. So he fails. Third guy comes, he's the most certifiably insane of them all. They ask him, two plus two? He thinks for a while. A light goes off and he suddenly says, four. They're just astonished. He's the most insane guy of all and he says four. So they're about to let him go but they just asked him, can you just explain to us your logic? How did you come up with this answer that two plus two actually equals four. He says it was easy, I just added five plus Wednesday.
This is Alan Greenspan's favorite joke. So the idea here is that that answer strikes me as being two things at once. On the one hand, it's very unexpected so it's incongruous, right? But what makes it truly funny is the notion that, I think, there's some deep truth that that speaks to which is somehow more true than the thing at face value. Which is that the certifiably insane -- I'm not quite sure myself what the truth is but sometimes the people who are very insane, like the Talmud even says, there's a thin line between prophecy and insanity.
So there's some thin line between being completely insane and somehow, in your own crazy world, having some grasp on reality that reaches around the neck and somehow comes around there. Then you get to something true out of some sort of crazy calculus. Insanity is not a simple thing. It's not something that we think we really understand. There are many roots to truth. Some of them pass through these, sort of, seemingly insane-like territories.
If I just told that to you declaratively it wouldn't be funny. None of you are laughing as I give you that explanation because the same way that a joke can't be explained, if I have to explain a joke it's not funny. But if I don't explain the joke, and you just sort of intuit those two things. That, wow, that's crazy, but wow that's true at the same time, that's a good joke.
So the idea is, wouldn't the guy named, 'Laughy', Isaac, he's probably got the best sense of humor of all. Right? So the great moment in his life, in which everything comes to a head for him, is the Akeidah. If you think about it, here's this 37-year-old guy who willingly submits to his father. At some point he knows what he's going up the mountain for. At some point, when he's being bound, he understands what's happening and he willingly submits. You have to ask yourself, why are you willingly submitting?
The argument I was making there, but I made it too quickly, without -- I think the real reason why is, it's probably not the place for it. The real place for it is in an analysis of the Akeidah. You can sort of get away with it in Vayikra where I was talking about olah, but over here you can't really get away with it. So why don't we take it out of here and maybe see if I can put it in Vayikra.
The basic idea I was trying to get to is that if you had someone who's name 'Laughy", could it be that his laughter is that which allows him to submit at the Akeidah? So you say, how does he submit? That's a crazy thing to do. Why would he do that? You're going to let your father kill you because he thinks, like God said, that you should give your life back? How does his laughter help him go along with what his father's doing?
The idea is that maybe he sees life as the most hilarious joke of all. That there's something absurd, there's a joke going on with life. There's an absurdity which if you think about it, the absurdity yields this deeper truth so you're laughing all the way up the mountain. What is that absurdity? The absurdity is that we all think that the one thing that I have claim on, the one thing that's surely min, is my own life. Any American who's read the Declaration of Independence, and The Constitution, comes back to knowing that there are these three unalienable rights. The first among them is life, even before you get to liberty and the pursuit of happiness. But if I actually challenged you on that, and said, you say all human beings are entitled to life. The word entitled. We all have these unalienable rights. What's the language in our Founding Documents? We hold these truths to be self-evident. That all men are created equal. They are all endowed by their Creator with the unalienable rights, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
That's actually an interesting theological argument. That we're endowed by our Creator with an unalienable right to life. Now the problem with that is the word right is a tricky word. The word right you would associate with the quality of din, with the quality of justice. What that means is, is that in a just world I can come before a judge and I can stake my claim to my right to life. But what judge exactly? If you think about the Ultimate Judge, the Master of the Universe, if I tried to stake my claim to life before the Master of the Universe, I'd get laughed off the bench. I'd get laughed out of court. By what right do you really live?
In other words, if we take it all the way back to the beginning, the way an insane person might. Push it all the way. Not just say that, Heather, you don't have the right to take away my life here on Earth. Or, Carole, you can't come at me with that hammer. But if we push it all the way back, even to the Master of the Universe Himself, the great judge in the world, and say no, I stake my claim to life. At that point in the courtroom you couldn't really press that case. What did you ever do to deserve being born? Nobody can really answer that question.
This is something which I've talked about a little in the Yonah videos, in Yom Kippur. Where I argued that the idea of rachamim, compassion, which is really the opposite of din. Din meaning justice. Then compassion is the opposite of justice. That compassion works with a whole different framework than justice. Justice always wants to go back and say, what happened to make something the case? What is it? X yields Y. For every cause there's an effect. In that sense, in the world of justice, that means that your life would have to have a predicate. Something had to have happened to make you deserve life, but it doesn't. You can't make that claim.
So therefore, that's what Isaac's laughing about. His very claim to life is suspect. The thing that we most take for granted as true. There's this incongruity, right? Then it's like, yes, of course, life is incongruous and somehow, therefore, life itself is the biggest joke in the world. Here we are, we think that we own life and it's taken for granted that we do, and yet here's this crazy, crazy thing that maybe you don't even own the thing you think you own most. Then when you really think about it you see that no, of course that's true. In the deepest of ways that's true. Therefore what a subtle joke that we own our lives. That we have the right to life.
Then, something which I don't think I mentioned here, which you really need in order to bring this point home, is that by rabbinic tradition all the different forefathers are associated with divine traits. Now Abraham is associated with compassion but Isaac is associated with din, with justice. So here you have Mr. Justice, who's also 'Laughy'. Which sounds by itself incongruous because who laughs on the way to court? Court is the most serious thing in the world. Yet here's the judge, somebody for whom justice matters, Isaac, and his whole world is laughter. Which is the ability to see something which seems to be true but to perceive the deeper truth and justice, and to laugh at it and to say, no it's incongruous.
So those were some of the idea I was getting at. I really didn't finish putting them out. And again, it probably wasn't the right essay for it. So thank you David for pointing that out. That is a place probably where you can find (inaudible 00:24:56). So thanks for that.
Okay. Any further thoughts on that? Or can we move onto anything else in the essay? Yeah. Ari, what were you going to say?
Ari: First of all I wanted to comment. I think by the fact that it took you 10 minutes for you to give us that background to it, I think answers the question of whether or not it's a thought that can be fully developed here. I'll tell you another issue that I had with it. By the way, I thought the overall the essay was excellent. And the idea of doing what you do best, which is taking something which is, for the most part, one or two psukim that are just passed over and actually bringing it to life and making it meaningful. Which I thought was great. But the issue I had here is with using the word 'the laughter.' If someone says laughter, the question is what does the average person bring to mind and think of?
Again, as someone who teaches, for the most part, teenagers. Especially teenagers who perhaps don't have the same background as others in learning, and I think there was a disconnect between trying to understand that translation as laughter. Usually the word laughter, with the serious connection of what we're trying to do. A with the Akeidah and then carrying it all the way through. So even if you're going to move it someplace else, again, we have plenty of translations for the word of how we translate that word. Again, that was just something that stuck out to me. I had a hard time --
Rabbi Fohrman: Yeah. It's a tricky thing and I think, Ari, the point you're making, feels to me, just reinforces to me the notion that these ideas are complex and subtle. And probably, if I'm going to make the argument it's worthy of its own essay, rather than being shtupped in to somewhere else in a back-handed kind of way. There's too much going on to probably make the argument as a coddle sol, parenthetically, within a larger essay.
So I kind of question whether it even belongs in Vayikra. But I hear what you're saying. You're right. Intuitively, laughter is anything -- isn't the first thing we would associate with an ideal like awe in that kind of way. Okay. I'll buy that. Yes? Scott you were going to say something?
Scott: Okay. There we go. I guess I always look at things differently than everyone else because I actually loved that part.
Rabbi Fohrman: Oh yeah?
Scott: I felt like nailed it because you come back on Page 7, when you're actually explaining what the two remaining sons of Aaron are thinking. Right? They don't actually meet the meat. It's laughable for them to think they could actually be in that position.
Rabbi Fohrman: That was the nice little bit.
Scott: I was like, ah, I totally get it now. But I don't think I would have gotten it unless you had started that way. I just wanted to throw that in.
Rabbi Fohrman: Thank you Scott. Where was that? I'm trying to look now.
Scott: Page 7 just before the new paragraph, "like a laughable fiction."
Rabbi Fohrman: There it is.
Scott: In other words, what they're being asked is --
Rabbi Fohrman: The remaining sons of Aaron, they ended up treating this offering, this chatah, not as a chatah but as an olah. They allowed it to be entirely consumed just as if it were an olah. The view of domains, heavenly and earthy, and not one with supreme (inaudbible 00:26:45) didn't allow for that subtle parsing of the chatah. The notion there was a human domain in the Godly one. No, in that moment it seemed like a laughable picture."
Yeah. There's that subtle --
Scott: Yeah. And I think that also ties into Isaac. It wasn't just that he's being killed and his life is laughable, but he's supposed to be the root of the entire Israeli nation. Just like his mom thought it's laughable, I'm going to have a baby. Here he is going to be pushed to task. Now it's really laughable that he's going to give rise to this whole nation.
Rabbi Fohrman: Yeah. You know what? I do think there's a real subtle truth there. In other words, if you think about it, the point Scott, that you're touching on is isn't it interesting if we accept these ideas regarding laughter that the person who express that, which is to say the victim as it were of the Akeidah, just happens to be Isaac. Who just happens to be the first child born into the nation of Israel.
That's kind of interesting. That means that this is how you start. You start with the laughter. I think it gets back to that idea of that joke that Isaac would be laughing about. Which is the most foundational thing, is not actually foundational at all. The thing you think you can most count on, you can't count on. The thing you think most belongs -- imagine when in America we think back to the founding of our nation, to this bedrock. To the times of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, and all that. The funny thing is, by the way, when we think of that bedrock, we think of it in terms of the most stable moments of our nation, in a way.
Actually, even thinking about it on erev election eve in America where we're confronting a lot of fear and uncertainty over what may happen. I think in our minds eye, we think back, wouldn't it be nice to live in a more stable time? I wonder what our founding fathers would have thought? Think of the stability of that early moments in our history. I think that's probably also fiction. Which is to say that it seems that way but if you lived at the time of the founding fathers everything was going all different ways. If you read the Federalist papers, against -- the kinds of disputes that the founding fathers had over just the nature of what the union should be was -- everything was up in the air.
So the notion of stability, sometimes, is elusive. Sometimes the earliest moments, that seem stable, aren't. I think also, interestingly just as an aside, one of the interesting things you have is that whenever you think of great ideas that become movements, in the history of people, even in Jewish history, you find this kind of thing too. Think about any great movements in Judaism. The Hassidic Movement in the 1700s, the Mussar Movement in the 1800s, the Ethical Movement -- these different movements. What happens is, is that at the moment of their founding there's a great amount of intellectual and emotion unrest and ferment. Then if you look at the early Hassidic masters, there were very different ways of seeing things. It was a moment of great effervescent where you never knew where things were happening. There were disputes. There was the Gaon of Vilna who argued against the whole thing. Similarly in the Mussar Movement there were these debates, almost these civil wars at the time.
Then what happens is that as the movement gains its sea-legs, two or three generations later there's a false sense of stability which sets in. Which is that the Hassidic Movement itself becomes very regimented. There's a way that it's done, a way that you look, a way that it has to be. All of which would have been an athame to the founders themselves in some sort of way.
You see that in a way with Isaac. Which is you think that here you're great nation is so stable that it all comes back. No, his name is laughter. He laughs at the whole notion of his own existence. The thing that seems to be most stable is the thing you can't count on at all. Is the thing that you can question most. Which is that do you have a claim in court to even be able to be there? So I think, at some level, that's associated with that idea of awe.
So I hear you Scott, thanks. You're right. I did come back to that laughable point. It was kind of nice. So me, and Shoshana, are going to have to fight it out, Shoshana. We will see. Okay, any other --
Dina: If I may say something. I think that because Isaac was an olah, you don't really need to go into this explaining about his laughter and everything. It bothered me and when I was trying to translate it to my own language, Isaac and laughable in English is -- the translation in Hebrew would be meguchach.
Rabbi Fohrman: Meguchach?
Dina: Meguchach. But when you put in laughter, I think it diminishes from the seriousness of that and I think this essay is unbelievable and wonderful and I really loved it. When I came to that point it really bothered me. So I wouldn't -- you could talk about the Akeidah but I wouldn't talk about the laughter. I think that word is bothering me.
Rabbi Fohrman: So I just want to make sure I understand your point then I'll get to Miriam. So, Mrs. Shalev, what did you mean when you said the translation of Isaac would be meguchach?
Dina: No. When I needed to translate it to myself, because laughter in English didn't feel right, it didn't sit right. So I wanted to find a different word to put in there. So meguchach --
Rabbi Fohrman: For Isaac?
Dina: For Isaac. Yes. And I didn't think that because the word Yitzchak and tz'chok has the connotation of happiness. It didn't go with the Akeidah and it didn't go with all the other things. I really felt that this part could be taken out. Still speak about the Akeidah. Still speak about Isaac's feelings but the laughter was, to me, wasn't so -- I felt the entire essay was so good. I read it so many times because I enjoyed it so much.
I actually spoke to my husband about it. He understood something else that I understood. I thought it was an emotional feeling of the sons of Aaron, they couldn't do it. His point was, that he said that if you want to make a difference between the olah and the chatah, actually both are them are consumed by God. One is consumed by God because it's all being burned. The other one is consumed by burning and by the representatives of God that are consuming it. So he had a little bit of a problem with it because both of them are -- I said, that probably, olah, was a representation of eitz hada'at, that was not allowed. That's why only God can do it. And the chatat is, it's true that people understand that it is a present, but they're taking the present they got and they share it with God. So there was a little bit of --
Rabbi Fohrman: Okay. So I'll come back to your husband's point in a minute. Which is also something which is bothering me in thinking about the essay and I want to discuss that with you guys in a second.
Before I let you go, Dina, and move on to Miriam, I wanted to ask you a question. When you said you like the essay a lot, I'm curious, what you liked about it?
Dina: First of all I liked the idea. To me the idea was, all of a sudden, you're thinking about something. That God did not let us eat because it all belonged to Him, He gave it all to us. And the comparison between eitz hada'as and the olah to me was unbelievable. A revelation. It was so good to me. I found that it was so good. And I found that at the end when the sons cannot eat it that was an emotional act that they couldn't do it. Therefore they just gave it all. They couldn't be representatives of God when something like this happens.
Rabbi Fohrman: I hear you. My point there, it's a subtle point, I'm not sure it came across enough in the essay, but it's that -- my point was that in a chatat the kohen is called upon to be a representative of God in eating the -- that's how the kaparah comes because he's representing God and he's eating it. I think that came through in the essay. Therefore the whole idea of a chatat, my argument was, is God or the Temple estate, or God's estate, sort of asserting its rights in the face of a violation.
So in other words, you took from My special thing, so you need to give back and there has to be something that -- you consumed that special thing, so I'll consume something back to bring that balance. But that's an assertion of rights, an assertion of domains. So part of it is that there's -- this is actually what I wanted to bring to this. Which is that there were two ideas at the end, which I think I put them together and I'm wondering if it was effective. Let me just parse the two ideas for you so you understand what I was trying to say.
One idea is that there is an idea called agency. Where I can act as your agent. So if you appoint me as your agent to go buy, legally, in Jewish law if you say you're my agent go buy me some milk from the grocery store. The minute you transfer money to the grocer, and he hands you that carton of milk, you acquire that milk on my behalf because you're my agent. So I own the milk the second you buy that milk. That's the way agency works. You're acting as my agent.
So the idea is that kohanim are, at some level, they are agents of God. They're acting as God's agent. So when they eat that offering, it's like they're eating it on behalf of God. Right? God doesn't have a mouth, He can't do it, but he's appointing an agent to eat that offering. That's what rebalances the scale.
The tricky thing though is that whenever a human being acts as an agent there is a kind of double identity. On the one hand, if Scott's my agent, He's still Scott. He's still got his blue sweater on. He's still got his hair looking the way it does. He's not David, he's Scott. So you have your individual identity as a person even as you act as an agent. So there's this kind of strange double identity. Who are you? You're representing me and yet you're still you. That becomes problematic, I want to argue, for the children of Aaron at this point. Because, where they are as individuals is so not where they are as agents. That's the problem. There's this extreme dichotomy between being an individual and being an agent.
As an individual, I just lost my brother. The only way I can understand that is to understand this notion of I just went through an olah experience. There are no two domains. There's only God's domain. But, and this is the tricky part, so therefore at some level -- here, I'm not expressing this well. Now there's two ways to put that. That's one way to put it.
The other way to put it is that as a human being I've lost everything. I've surrendered everything to God. Because I've said that I don't really have a domain. So as a human being I am saying that I am domain-less. It's Your domain. God has the only domain. Now what You're doing is You're calling up on me to be an agent of God in a chatat-like ceremony. Now a chatat-like ceremony, at some level, embraces the fiction from the standpoint of the olah. Right? This is a kind of a deep idea, which is that the olah speaks to a deeper truth than either of the shelamim or the chatat do. Which is like in every day experience we feel like, look I have my domain God, You have Your domain. I can't transgress Your domain. We can share. All those are the ideas of the shelamim and the chatat.
To some extend they're true. But there's a deeper truth which we only touch occasionally. Which is the notion that it's all laughable. There is no domain that's really mind. You can't really live life as an olah kind of person because it doesn't work for living in the world that way. So in day-to-day experiences there's this thing called (inaudible 00:43:22), and I try to be on the right side of it, and there's a shelamim. These are my offers. But every once in a while, I'll have this experience that will just compel me to bring an olah in recognition to this deeper transcendent truth that there are no domains.
So the problem is that at those moments, at the moment when I'm touched that way as a human being, to feel like I have to abandon any pretense at having anything. At that moment to be called upon to assert a domain as an agent, rather than to abandon a domain, doesn't feel like something I can do. Even though I’m asserting the domain on behalf of God. So that's one way of seeing it.
The other way of seeing it is that plus in the larger sense of things the notion of God asserting His domain to balance out a human domain, which is the whole idea of chatat. Which is that you took something from My domain so I'm going to take something from yours, itself seems laughable. That whole construct doesn't make sense in the world fo the olah. Because in the world of the olah there are no domains. There's just God's domain. There's no tit for tat. There's no, I have my thing over here and you have your thing over here and I took a little bit from yours so I'm going to give something back. That whole thing really doesn't work.
So from that standpoint they also can't do it. So those two arguments come together in a way. I was afraid that I wasn't quite clear about that. I'm not sure that I need to be more clear about that, but I wanted to throw that out to you and suggest that there's two separate things going on there. If I'm making myself clear. So I'll do that.
Anyway, I want to get back to Dina's point that her husband made, but Miriam what was on your mind?
Miriam: The conversation has taken a turn from where we were.
Rabbi Fohrman: At turn for the worse, I'm sorry.
Miriam: I was going to echo part of what Dina said initially about the laughter. How incongruous that was with the seriousness of what was going on in the laughter. But the point that I thought you were trying to make was that Isaac was the first olah. He is the prototype for what an olah is.
Rabbi Fohrman: A prototype. He's actually not the first. Noach's olah was the first, when he comes back. But he's certainly up there as among the prototypes.
Miriam: Okay. So simply looking at that, leaving aside the laughter, the fact is that he's giving up his life. He's saying there's only one domain. And you can go right from there to where the remaining sons of Aaron were saying that's what the olah is. So you made the point right at the start. You don't have to go through all of that to establish what you were saying.
Rabbi Fohrman: Okay. So one second. So you're saying that the essay does make the point effectively. Is that your point?
Miriam: Well what I'm saying is you don't need the discussion about the laughter. The point about the Akeikah -- all you need to explain that yes, Isaac was up there. He was one of the first olah. This is what an olah is. We have that from --
Rabbi Fohrman: There's no domain that's yours, you're right.
Miriam: Right. There's only the divine domain and then that's what Elazar and Itamar were reacting to. They got that message that there's only one domain. It doesn't need the laughter. It's just the point is there.
Rabbi Fohrman: Okay. Got it. Excellent. Carole.
Carole: Yeah. I'm still confused though on the grief. I think that's what I, when originally reading this, it just seemed to me there were two almost contradictory things that you were focusing on at the end. Why they couldn't perform it as a chatat. One was their personal grief. The other was this boundary list. The thing about boundaries which you've now explicated further. But I still have problems with the grief. Grief, to me, is the opposite of recognizing no boundaries and it's very much feeling your own personal both emotionally and even in terms of entities. Grief implies being aware of yourself as a separate entity.
Rabbi Fohrman: You're raising a really interesting point. There's different stages of grief. So I'm basically talking about the fifth stage in Elizabeth Kubler Ross' stages and you're talking about the first, in a way. So the early stages of grief are denial, anger, and this notion that my boundaries have been violated. How can you possibly take this thing away from me. Bargaining. Maybe I can get it back. These are the first three stages of Elizabeth Kubler Ross' grief, but then I think our fifth stage, I'm not sure. I don't remember them exactly. But I think it's sadness, and then it's acceptance? I'm not sure. Does anyone happen to know?
Miriam: Yeah. Acceptance.
Rabbi Fohrman: Acceptance is last, right? So acceptance is really, "Vayid'am Aharon." That's really my argument. That "Vayida'am Aharon," when Aaron is silent, that's his acceptance. So what I'm doing is I'm trying to plum that. How could you ever get to acceptance? Where does that come from? How could anyone accept? The roots of acceptance is the olah. The roots of acceptance is this domainless-ness. Right? The only thing that allows me to accept it is to say, you know what? On the deepest of levels there is no claim to life. There's just really one domain and this is just temporary this whole thing. That's what allows you to accept and that's where Aaron is coming from.
Which is a whole different energy of, on my domain or your domain. But that's what I’m getting from it. So the way I'm seeing it is that and grief live together, which is interesting. In other words, the way I see it, this is personal to me actually, this is how I see is, I've gone through grief, I've gone through loss. I lost my father when I was young. To me acceptance is not the end of grief, it's part of grief. That's how I feel about it. It's not that I can accept it so now I don't have to grieve anymore, now let's all move on, acceptance is the end of grief; I get it I was wrong; sorry, never should have been angry; here this is yours. That's not the way it works. Acceptance is a fifth stage of grief. It is a stage of grief. I can accept it and grieve. That is Aaron, the way I see it. The silence, which is I can't say anything, I'm terribly sad, even at the same time as I understand that I can't really make any claim here, but the loss is still overwhelming.
Those two things can still go together, to me. So that's kind of what I was trying to get across of where the children of Aaron were. That's spool's going through my head at least.
Carole: Yeah. I think it's good to spell it out more. Also, I guess, would that also go to the fact that if they were at that point of no separation, and how can they be even agents because they're now in this stage of oneness, where there's only one thing. So if the whole world is olah it wouldn't be appropriate to even be an agent in a chatat, representing a different realm.
Rabbi Fohrman: Right. In other words, that's the point I was trying to make. In other words, the agency for God doesn't make sense, because God is -- it's almost as if the agency for the chatat from the perspective of the olah is a game. Right? It just feels like a game. In other words, it's like God saying, okay I'll play along with the idea of you have your domain and I have My domain, and just be careful not to eat from My domain. When you do, you should give something back from your domain. We can pretend, right? But there is no pretending when you're facing the kind of loss that Aaron faces. And that kind of silence that he faces.
That's where the conflict comes between the children of Aaron as people, and the children of Aaron as agents. They're in just two completely incongruous places. Usually there's nothing wrong if Scott sends me to go buy a carton of milk from the grocer, that doesn't violate my deepest sense of self. But if it did, how could I be an agent for him to do that? That's kind of the argument that I'm making.
Okay. I want to address actually, something which -- maybe I should actually chat with Yaakov about it directly. With your husband. Your husband's objection to --
Dina: It was more of an understanding. The problem was if shelamim -- he learns it all the time, so he really knows about all the ins and outs of -- so his point was that shelamim and chatat actually, are almost the same. Because they --
Rabbi Fohrman: Olah and chatat are almost the same. His argument is that olah and chatat are almost the same.
Dina: Olah. Selichah. Olah and chatat are almost the same because both of them are consumed by God.
Rabbi Fohrman: Yes.
Dina: But my argument to him was that the point was the sons of Aaron couldn't eat, and be a representative of God, because they reacted exactly like their father. I think when somebody's grief, when they cannot eat, they cannot do anything. So they could not, at this point, do anything to represent God. It was their grief that spoke at that point. They couldn't talk and they couldn't eat.
Rabbi Fohrman: That's a little bit of a different argument that I'm making, but you --
Dina: That's what he said. He liked my argument so --
Rabbi Fohrman: I hear you. Okay. I need to think about that some more. I may give him a call to run that by him. Okay. Any other thoughts? How long was our session supposed to go? Did we have a time? Shoshana?
Shoshana: We're supposed to go until 1:30. But David has been raising his hand so politely over there, for quite a while.
Rabbi Fohrman: Shoshana, if you see something like that, you just go call up people. Okay, David, how are you doing?
David: So this actually, was sort of related to what I wanted to ask at the beginning but since the conversation has developed, I've had even a little bit more to add to it. I'm just wondering how you think about how this story with Aaron and the two remaining sons fits, or maybe even mirrors, the story with Nadav and Avihu. I was thinking about that in the beginning because they're both taken as an olah, in a sense. But now that you're talking about this -- focusing on this issue of boundaries, and we have to know what our boundaries are. That's exactly what they weren’t doing. They were crossing those boundaries that they should have been maintaining. That's where everything went haywire. Was when they weren't respecting the proper boundaries.
So I'm just curious about how that developed and then just, I don't know if this is even more, but even just the original thing. Even if before Nadav and Avihu there was this olah, this miraculous olah, of the fire coming down (inaudible 00:55:41). So I wonder how those things all fit together.
Rabbi Fohrman: Yeah. It's a great question. It's actually something I was pondering this morning in the lead up to this session. That gets to the point that I wanted to make to you, which is the piece that's going to get left on the cutting room floor over here, which I'll bring you in. Miriam, what were you going to say?
Miriam: I had a similar -- I struggled with this essay a little bit, and the way that it wrapped up. B'chovod haRav, I'm not a scholar. So I don't know. But I struggled with this because we just say, here we just saw Nadav and Avihu make a decision on their own to try to come close to God and they performed the service improperly. Now we have two remaining sons, the surviving sons, who appear to be doing something very similar.
Well we're commanded to do this and now we feel that we can't do this. The last time I learned this in-depth was in 11th grade, 30-something years ago. But I went back to look. I pulled out the Artscroll, my cheat sheet, and I was looking at this. I remembered Aaron had to darshan that there were the two offerings that were for the sha'ah, as opposed to the offerings for the dorot. And he made a halachic decision. This wasn't an emotional decision that was made. When I looked at this, I was thinking, it looks like we're saying that Elazar and Itamar made this emotional decision, that I know better. Okay, I was commanded to do this, but I can't do this because my emotions won't allow me to do it. How is that different from what Nadav and Avihu did?
Rabbi Fohrman: Yeah. So let me address your point in two ways. So first of all, there is a technical halachic discussion, this is taken up in the Gemara. Rashi, on Chumash, brings down some of those arguments. They're a little technical so I don’t want to dive into them too much over here. Basically, let me call it up on Sefaria. This is going to be Vayikra Chapter 10. So this is a little bit of a deep dive into this. Basically, here are the verses we've been looking at.
"Et se'ir hachatat darosh darash Moshe v'hinei saraf v'yiktzaf al Elazer v'al Itamar b'nei Aharon hanotarem leimor. Madu'a lo achaltem et hachatat bimkom hakadosh ki kodesh kedoshim hu v'ata natan lachem l'se'eit et avon ha'eida l'chaper aleihem lifnei Hashem. Hen lo hova et d'ma el hadodesh p'nimah achol to'cholu ota k'kodesh k'asher tziveiti."
So Rashi makes the point over here, basically, "se'ir hachatat," what do we mean the se'ir hachatat? Which chatat was this? So it was "se'ir mus'fei rosh chodesh." It is one of the mussaf (additional) offerings of the new moon, rosh chodesh. Was a se'ir chatat, was a chatat. And he says, "U'shloshah se'irei chatat kirbo bo b'yom," there were actually three different se'irei chatat, three different chatat offerings that were brought that day. "Se'ir izim u'se'ir nachson u'se'ir rosh chodesh." There were two of them. "U'mikulan lo nis'raf ella zeh," and there was only one of them that was actually burned and not eaten.
"V'nechlaku b'davar chochmei Yisrael. Yesh omrim mifnei hatumah shenag'ah bo nisraf," which is not what we're going like here but we're following this idea here as an answer to Miriam. So, "v'yesh omrim mifnei aninot nisraf." Some say that the reason why it's burned was because of the grief that they were feeling. That they were aninut. Right now, you might say it's the halachic expression of that grief. In other words, if you approached it like a Litvak, you would say, yes there was a halachic decision made because of aninut, because of grief, that said it can't be eaten. Why? "Lefi she'hu kadshei dorot. Aval b'kadshei sha'ah samchu al Moshe she'amar lahem b'mincha v'achluhah matzot."
The idea was there are two classes of chatat there. There were things that were utterly unique offerings. Then there were offerings which were not utterly unique but just happened to be rosh chodesh. Throughout all generations there's going to be a rosh chodesh chatat, so there's the regular service of the chatat.
So the idea is that what's Rashi's saying, based upon the Gemara in Zevachim, is that Aaron and his children went along with Moses, essentially, when it came to kadshei sha'ah. When it came to utterly unique offerings, look at Rashi's language. "Aval b'kadshei sha'ah samchu al Moshe." See that language Miriam? "Samchu al Moshe." When it came to kadshei sha'ah -- in other words it's not like they knew that that's what you should do, but they're willing to give it to Moses. They were wanting to say, okay if that's what you say we should do with this utterly unique offering that has no analogue to it anywhere. So I'll just throw up my hands and say, you want you want me to eat it? I'll eat it. There's no analogue to this.
But the way I understand kadshei sha'ah. But if we're dealing with a regular chatat. A regular chatat falls into a category. It means something. A chatat goes back to the eitz hada'at. It goes back to the idea that you took from Me and I took from you, so I’m going to give back to you and it's going to be fair and square. So if we're just dealing with an ordinary chatat, with that, that's where they said, we can't bring ourselves to do that. Or the halachic expression of it is we're making a halachic ruling which we say that aninut, grief, overrides that.
My argument is what's the idea behind that halachic ruling? The idea behind that halachic ruling is that grief overrides the kadshei sha'ah because, again, you can't be in two places at the same time once we're dealing with a standard offering. That's how I would understand how to read Rashi in the Gemara.
Judah: I would respectfully say that I'd like that addition if you put it in the essay. That Moses accepted this and the halachah recognizes this idea of grief. Meaning it's not that they were going outside of the halachah, but in fact the Torah recognizes this idea.
Miriam: Right. That's kind of where I was going with this. In the essay it just seems to be that this was an emotional decision. And, again, given the proximity to Nadav and Avihu, who made the decision without really -- again it wasn't a halachic decision. We don't want this to come across as yet another emotional decision. Again, I didn't see that part here. What you just explained I did not understand from just reading the essay.
Rabbi Fohrman: Well I think if you -- right. So here's my response to that. I think that I'm hesitant to include the entire explanation that I gave you in the body of the essay. Because it's quite technical and it's going to throw non-scholarly readers through a loop.
Dina: It's going to confuse --
Rabbi Fohrman: However, I think it's a legitimate series of footnotes perhaps. Or a footnote, or two, would be important. Maybe a lengthy footnote to say, and here's how to read the Gemara in Zevachim in light of this. Or something like that.
Miriam: Just something that indicates that this was not a frivolous emotional decision. That there was more to this decision that they were -- they didn't just take it upon themselves to say, this is my relationship with God. Again, it's that there was a basis for this. There was some kind of halachic basis. It doesn't even have to be a very long, drawn out thing. But just something that would --
Dina: Why do you have a problem with an emotional reaction? I think it's great, the emotional reactions.
Miriam: Well, but Nadav and Avihu --
Dina: Moshe also had, and Aaron also had an emotional reaction. I loved it because of that.
Miriam: What I'm looking at is Nadav and Avihu made an emotional -- they loved God and wanted to give Him something. That was an emotional reaction too and that was not a good thing.
Rabbi Fohrman: So let me take this heated debate, actually, into the text. Because I actually believe that the text wants us to grapple with exactly the issue that Miriam and Dina are struggling with over here. And, actually, that David brought up.
The question is, if is just a coincidence that what Elazar and Itamar are doing seems kind of similar to what Nadav and Avihu are doing, like Miriam says. We could just take the position, it's coincidental and let's insulate Elazar and Itamar from looking like they did the same grievous sin that their brothers did by hiding behind whatever halachic justifications they might have had, as explicated by the Gemara in Zevachim. Or is this a real question that we should be struggling with? One second, what in the bull blazes is going on? They're doing what their brothers did, at some level. They're making they're making an audible call, as they say in football. At the last minute and changing the plan. You don't necessarily get to do that when it comes to sacrifices.
So let's actually go to the text itself for a moment. I just want to show you something. I'm just putting --
Dina: I just want to make one point that Yaakov said. He said that this "s'fichat hadam v'izui hadam," is the most important part of doing whatever work the kohanim were doing. So maybe this should be taken into account.
Rabbi Fohrman: Yeah. So in other words, what Yaakov is saying if you go back to the text for a moment. So here's Moshe's complaint. Let's just read it again. "Et se'ir hachatat darosh darash Moshe." Moshe inquired regarding the se'ir hachatat. By the way, just an interesting point of trivia, the Gemara also says that count up the amount of words in the entire Torah and it says, does anyone know what the middle of the Torah is in words?
Miriam: Darosh darash.
Rabbi Fohrman: This verse, that darosh darash is the middle of the Torah in words. Darosh is on one side and darash is on the other. For those of who are familiar with chiasms, it's almost like the wink and a nod to the Torah being chiastic. It's kind of interesting. So anyway.
"Et se'ir hachatat darosh darash Moshe," the se'ir hachatat Moshe deeply inquired about, "v'hinei saraf," and in fact it was burned, "v'yiktzaf al Elazer v'al Itamar b'nei Aharon hanotarim leimor," and he was angry with Elazar and Itamar. Now the first sense that something is up along the lines of what David and Miriam have been talking about is this characterization of the b'nei Aharon. Elazar and Itamar, who was he angry at? Elazar and Itamar, "b'nei Aharon hanotarim," the leftover children of Aaron. You see that? It's that language where you got this sly reference back to Nadav and Avihu. As if to say, they were the ones who survived. The critique is coming to the surviving brothers. As if to say you guys survived something. Look at what your brothers did. It's almost like, look at what you did and look at what your brothers did. You're Icarus, you're flying too close to the sun. This isn't something that is kosher for you to do.
So let me actually go back to Rashi and I think even Rashi makes that point. No he doesn't. Not here, but elsewhere he does. I guess it's not the Rashi, I remember seeing it somewhere. Anyway. "Madu'a lo achaltem et hachatat bimkom hakadosh ki kodesh kedoshim hu," why didn't you eat the chatat in the holy place because it's holy of holies, "v'ata natan lachem l'se'eit et avon ha'eida l'chaper aleihem lifnei Hashem." It was given to you to carry the burden of the people. "Hen," and then, "lo hova et d'ma el hadodesh p'nimah," also its blood was not brought, p'nimah, inside the sanctuary, "achol to'cholu ota k'kodesh k'asher tziveiti."
So the idea is, this is known as z'rikat hadam, the sprinkling of the blood which was a feature of all offerings. It wasn't brought inside the sanctuary, p'nimah. The question is, what does p'nimah, mean here? This I haven't gotten a chance to look up. But does it suggest -- where was that z'rikat hadam supposed to be? Typically --
Dina: Isn't it on the mizbei'ach?
Rabbi Fohrman: Was it the mizbei'ach? Which is normally where z'rikat hadam is. Or does p'nimah suggest that it was what's known technically as a chatat p'nimiot? Sorry to get into the nitty gritty of archaeon sacrificial law but chatat p'nimiot are specific chata'ot which have their blood sprinkled not on the mizbei'ach but actually upon the holy Ark itself. Like, for example, the chata'ot on Yom Kippur.
Dina: This is a chatat tzibur. Maybe this has to do with chatat tzibur?
Rabbi Fohrman: So I’m not sure. I haven't looked around as to what p'nimah says. But the language of p'nimah could suggest that is was sprinkled before the Ark, which will become significant in a moment. That it may have been sprinkled on the Ark itself. So just keep that in mind.
Keeping all this in mind, let me show you a little document I created just a couple moments before we came online here. In this document I -- let me just copy and paste it in a new document so we can mark it up together. We have about 10 minutes left.
You should be able to see two texts. So it's just in Hebrew, don't worry about it if you don't know Hebrew. The right-hand side that you're looking at over here is the story of Nadav and Avihu and their transgression. The first two sons of Aaron. That's when they go and bring this "eish zarah lifnei Hashem." This text over here, is the text of what the other two sons of Aaron do afterwards, where they don't offer the offering properly.
So if you think about it there are some interesting similarities. First of all, in both stories, they are two sons of Aaron that are doing something improper with offerings. That's just for starters. But when you dig down a little bit deeper and you look at the nature of the impropriety. The nature of the impropriety seems similar or seems to play off each other in interesting kinds of ways. Here, lets read the story of Nadav and Avihu.
"Vayikchu b'nei Aharon Nadav v'Avihu ish machtato," they each took their fire pan, what did they do? "V'aitnu bahein eish vayasimu aleha ketoret," and they put ketoret, incense, "vayakribu lifnei Hashem," and they brought it before God. What did they bring? "Eish zarah," a fire that was foreign, "asher lo tzivah otam," that had not been commanded. "Vateitzei eish milifnei Hashem," so fire came from before God, "Vatochal otam," and consumed them, "vayamutu lifnei Hashem," and they died before God.
The question is, what does milifnei Hashem mean? Lifnei Hashem, seemingly means that what they did here was they did a version of what ultimately becomes the Yom Kippur service. You'll in Parashat (inaudible 01:14:04) but the Yom Kippur service is actually modeled after what Nadav and Avihu did. What they did is they brought ketoret. They brought incense from the incense alter inside the most holy place in the Temple infront of the Ark itself. That place is usually not -- it's the holy of holies. It's where God Himself, so to speak, is resident. You can't go there and live through the experience, generally speaking, with the exception of the High Priest on Yom Kippur. That there's a particular way he can do this, but they weren't commanded to do this. They invaded this inner sanctum of the Temple and they died.
Now if you look at what they did though, and what does Moses say? "Hu asher diber Hashem leimor bikrovai ekadeish," this is what God say that with those who come close to Me I will be sanctified. Whatever that means. That's when Aaron is silent. At that point Moses instructs cousins of Aaron to come, cousins of Nadav and Avihu, to come take their brothers, "mei'eit p'nei hakodesh," from the holy inner sanctum of the Temple. Then says, you should not mourn, it will be left to the people to mourn.
"Lo tamutu v'al kol," I don't want -- if Aaron would mourn, "al kolha'eida yiktzof," God may become angry with the whole congregation, "va'acheichem kol beit Yisrael iv'ku et has'reifah asher saraf Hashem," instead, your brother in the House of Israel, they should cry for the burning that God has burned today. Which is the destruction of the children.
So you'll see over here in all these parallels. I've just noted a bunch of parallels here. For example this language of the burning that was burned. That language of "s'reifah asher saraf Hashem," which is used to describe what happened to Nadav and Avihu in the next story with Elazar and Itamar describes what they did with the offering, with the chatat. Which is "Va'yiktzof al Elazar v'al Itamar b'nei Aharon hanotrim leimor." Where is it? "Darosh darash Moshe v'hinei saraf," which is the se'ir hachatat is burned. Well that word for burned, saraf, just happens to be the word for what happened to the people who came before God earlier. Now notice, where did they come? They came to p'nei hakodesh. The sin of Nadav and Avihu was coming too close to God's inner sanctum. Well where was this offering that the second children of Aaron brought? They were supposed to bring it, "Hen lo huva et damah el hakodesh p'nimah." They were supposed to bring it to the inner sanctum, to "el hakadosh p'nimah." Which was exactly the place that the first two children of Aaron, Nadav and Avihu, did invade and that's where the burning took place.
Do you understand? Now the second two children of Aaron can't bring themselves to burn the offering in the place, where what? Where their brothers were burned. You can see why they might not want to do it. It's almost like it's déjà vu all over again, as Yogi Bear would say. It's like, I'm going to burn this animal in this inner sanctum place where -- by the way. What animal? You're not burning the whole animal? What were you supposed to do with the animal? Look. Verse 8. "Hen lo huva et dama el hakodesh p'nimah," its blood was supposed to be brought to the p'nimah, into the inner sanctum.
What happened when the two children of Aaron brought their incense to the inner sanctum? The died. In a s'reifah, in a fire. What was left behind there? Presumably their blood. So you've got all these themes where it just seems like the same thing is happening. Even this word from when they were destroying the children of Aaron, when the fire came out. "Vateitzah eish milifnei Hashem vatochal otam." Look at the word for consumed them. Vatochal can literally mean to eat. The fire ate them up. The fire consumed them. Now what are these children doing? They're told, "Madu'a lo achaltem et hachatat," how come you didn't eat the chatat? Well, I'm going to consume the chatat where my brothers were consumed? In that same space before God?
If this horror of my grief doesn't allow me to do this thing which seems so similar to what just happened. I just noticed as we were talking about this. Look at this word, yiksof, over here, which appears in both narratives too. This notion that Moses says, look you'd better not mourn, because if you mourn the way regular people do, your agents of God you guys. You're agents of God, and you have to understand that you're agents of God. This isn't a time to feel your personal suffering and therefore "v'al kol ha'eidah yidsof." God may become angry with the whole nation if you mourn and you abandon your role as agents of God.
Now then happened in this story? In this story, the second children of Aaron abandon their role as agents of God and basically say, we're sorry we can't see us doing this and eating this offering. It's too close to home. It's not where we're at. We just can't do it. What does Moses do? "Va'yiksof," Moses, almost acting as an agent of God, is angry on about Elazar and Itamar. What happened? Until they make the argument, "ha'itav b'einai Hashem," is this really what God would have wanted from us? "Vayishma Moshes va'yitav b'einav," and Moses hears that and it's good in his eyes.
So I don't know quite what to make of all the resonances but they're there is what it seems like.
Scott: Maybe they were acting more out of fear and awe and that was okay. Not so much grief. I don't know.
Rabbi Fohrman: Maybe. That's what it sounds like. In other words, at some level maybe it gets to the point that Miriam and Dina have been talking about. Which is are you just acting out of blind emotion, or is this that, no, the blind emotion has some sort of rationale, even within the world of law and I'm making a cognitive argument based upon the blind emotion. That this is what the halachah is and that halachah is accepted and it works.
My only point is that I think to Dina, Miriam, and David, is that the text seems to set the two stories up as if they're very close. As if there's a very fine line between one story and the other. That's it's not so easy to tell the difference between Nadav and Avihu and Elazar and Itamar. And Elazar and Itamar lived. "Va'yitav b'eini Hashem." That's successful and Nadav and Avihu died. There's a difference. But the difference is subtle, seemingly.
Dina: Isn't the difference between the action and no action just in the way -- you can think about it as fear.
Rabbi Fohrman: Yeah. That's interesting. Maybe that gets to the point of awe that you were talking about before. The feeling of awe, if you really think about it, what awe gets me to do, what fear gets me to do, is it freezes me. I don't take action. Maybe in a way that was the problem with Nadav and Avihu. Nadav and Avihu violated the energy of awe. The energy of awe is an energy that freezes you. It's just like, I'm in awe. My mouth is open. I just can't act. Right? That's what awe does.
So to not do something out of a sense of awe, that "va'yidom," I'm silent. I can't act. Seems like it can work its way through the halachic rationale as Tractate Zevachim suggest, that the distinction between these offerings and those offerings, and it becomes a halachah and that's the way you express aninut. And that's the way you express grief. And that's okay. That works. Yet, to express awe by almost the exactly the same thing, by zealously saying, no we want to come to the Temple, and this is what we want to do. Even though we weren’t commanded. Is itself a violation of the energy of awe. The energy of awe is you just stand down and say wow.
That can't have a halachic rationale. Then that becomes the death of the children. A very interesting theory.
Dina: That's exactly by (inaudible 01:23:15) Aaron. The same reaction.
Rabbi Fohrman: Yes. The same reaction. That hand-off.
Dina: You're explaining it so well.
Rabbi Fohrman: Thanks. We're explaining it well. That's the nice thing about this group. We're talking about -- I didn't come up with these ideas. We came up with these. We're thinking about it together. It's a conversation but it's a fascinating possibility.
All right guys, we're out of time. I really do want to thank you. This is really helpful to me in kind of flushing things out. We'll see what ends up in the essay. Again, hopefully, we can post these things for readers of the essays who want to dig a little bit deeper. They can have the benefit of listening in to some of these conversations too. So even if not, everything makes it into the essay in one way shape or form, hopefully our conversation will be memorialized. And those who want to listen to it and come to their own conclusions, they'll have the ability to listen in on what we have to say.
It's helpful for me. So thank you, all of you, for being a part of this from the wilds of Tennessee, Heather that's where you're at? Right? To the wilds of Lawrence and Woodmere and everywhere else you guys are from. Thanks for London. Thanks for tuning in in Modi'in. I really appreciate you guys being here. We'll see you next week. Hopefully with another essay. I'll try to get it done before the last 10 minutes, before my deadline.
I will see you. Thanks for tuning in. I'll see you guys next week. Bye-bye.