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Parashat Shemini 5783

April 10, 2023

The Bitter and the Sweet
A D’var Torah for Parashat Shemini
By Rabbi Greg Schindler (’09)

Most of us are familiar with the concept of a hyperlink. Case in point: hyperlink. When you click on a hyperlink, you begin a journey connecting the idea on the page to a related concept. Quite the innovation, right?

Yes, indeed. The hyperlinks embedded in the Torah were quite the innovation.

Wait, what? The Torah?

In Jewish tradition, a hyperlink is called a gezerah shaveh – where the same words are used in two different cases in order to shed light upon each case. In this way, the Torah comments upon itself.  For example, in Num. 28:2 we read that the daily burnt offering is to be brought “בְּמוֹעֲדוֹ ” (bimoado) – “at its appointed time”, meaning even on Shabbat. In Num. 9:2, we similarly read that the Passover offering is to be brought “בְּמוֹעֲדוֹ” (bimoado). From this, the rabbis determined that, just as the daily offering is brought even on Shabbat, so too the Passover offering should be made even on Shabbat.

While we can no longer create a legally-binding gezerah shaveh (so as not to create a confusing array of halakhic interpretations [Pes. 66a]), investigating hyperlinks in the text can yield some pretty surprising results.

This week’s Torah portion contains the tragic incident of Aaron’s sons, Nadav and Avihu. It is opening day of the Mishkan (Sanctuary) in the desert. Aaron and his sons have performed all the rites as G-d commanded. The Presence of G-d descends and consumes the offerings in the sight of all Israel. Next come Nadav and Avihu to the Mishkan with an unbidden offering, and —

“A fire came forth from G-d and consumed them.
 Thus they died before G-d.

Then Moses said to Aaron: “This is what G-d meant by saying: Through those near to Me I show Myself holy, and gain glory before all the people.”

And Aaron וַיִּדֹּ֖ם (vayiddom) – was silent.” (Lev. 10:2-3)

The word used for Aaron’s silence – וַיִּדֹּ֖ם (vayiddom) from the root dalet-mem-mem – appears in only one other place in the Five Books of Moses. But this other hyperlinked section seems, on its face, to have nothing in common with our parashah.

That other section is in the Song at the Sea, when –

“Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore.
Israel saw the great hand that G-d wielded against the Egyptians.” (Exod. 14:30-31).

The People erupt in song:

“Now may the clans of Edom be dismayed;
The tribes of Moab – may trembling grip them;
May all the dwellers in Canaan be aghast.
May terror and dread descend upon them;
Through Your great arm,
may they יִדְּמ֣וּ (yiddmu) – be still – as stone (Exod. 15:15-16).

What does the Song at the Sea have in common with Parashat Shemini?

  • Each occurs at a momentous point in our history – after the passage through the Sea of Reeds, and at the dedication of the Mishkan.
  • At each, G-d’s Presence was clear in the eyes of all the People.[1]
  • In each case, the word “אכַל” (akhal) – “consumed” – is used in relation to the deaths
    –     “You send forth Your fury, it consumes them ( יֹאכְלֵ֖מוֹ ) like straw.” (Exod. 15:7

    –      “And fire came forth from G-d and consumed ( וַתֹּ֣אכַל ) them” (Lev. 10:2)

  • There’s even a curious family connection:
    –      The Talmud tells us that Nahshon ben Aminadav was the first to enter the Sea (Sotah 37a).
    –      This very same Nahshon ben Aminadav is the uncle of Nadav and Avihu (Exod. 6:23)
  • Perhaps most interestingly, the deaths of Nadav and Avihu occur at the dedication of the Sanctuary, and the Song at the Sea contains an unexpected reference to the Sanctuary:

“You will bring them and plant them on the mountain of Your heritage,
the place You made to dwell in, G-d
The מִקְּדָ֕שׁ (mikdash)[2] – Sanctuary – O my G-d,
that Your hands established.” (Exod. 15:17)

This is the first reference in the Torah to a Sanctuary. What’s it doing here in the Song at the Sea?

Earlier, G-d told Moses about eventual worship at a mountain: “When you have freed the people from Egypt, you shall worship G-d at this mountain.” (Exod. 3:12).
But G-d didn’t say anything about a Sanctuary.

In fact, we don’t get another mention of a Sanctuary until ten chapters after the Song at the Sea, in Exod. 25:8. And Rashi tells us that Exod. 25:8 is out of chronological order. He maintains that the command to build the Sanctuary does not come until after the Golden Calf, which means we would not have another mention of a Sanctuary until several months after the Song at the Sea (Rashi to Exod. 31:18).

Why would the Torah mention a Sanctuary all the way back at the Sea of Reeds?

Could it be to pique our curiosity about the relationship between the Dedication of the Sanctuary and the Song at the Sea?

Let’s go back to our two hyperlinked verses:

At the Sea, the Israelites use יִדְּמ֣וּ (yiddmu) to describe the reaction they hope the surrounding nations will have when they hear of G-d’s might in killing the Egyptians:

“You send forth Your fury, it consumes them like straw…
May all the dwellers in Canaan be aghast.
May terror and dread descend upon them;
Through Your great arm
may they יִדְּמ֣וּ (yiddmu) – be still – as stone (Exod. 15:7, 12-16)

In Parashat Shemini, וַיִּדֹּ֖ם (vayiddom) is said in reference to Aaron after the death of his two sons:

“And fire came forth from G-d and consumed them;
thus they died before G-d…
And Aaron וַיִּדֹּ֖ם (vayiddom) was silent (Lev. 10:2)

What binds these two sections? They each involve the human reaction to death.

But not just any death – these are deaths that are clearly attributable to the hand of G-d.

And what is the only reaction a human being can have to such a death?

וַיִּדֹּ֖ם (vayiddom) – Silence.

At both the Song at the Sea and the deaths of Nadav and Avihu, the veil over Creation is pulled back and we gain a glimpse of the Divine that underlies all. The first words of Parashat Shemini hint at the events that would unfold: “It was on the eight day” (Lev. 10:1).   The natural world of the Torah works in cycles of seven. Eight, however, is reality beyond what we normally experience.[3]

And so, we may ask: Is the hand of G-d present even where the veil is not drawn back?

The prophet Elijah would later invoke our word: [4]

“And lo, G-d passed by.
There was a great and mighty wind,
splitting mountains and shattering rocks by the power of G-d;
but G-d was not in the wind.
After the wind – an earthquake; but G-d was not in the earthquake.
After the earthquake – fire; but G-d was not in the fire.
And after the fire – ק֖וֹל דְּמָמָ֥ה  (kol demama) – a silent sound.” (1 Kings 19:11-12)

Elijah learns that G-d’s Presence is – דְּמָמָ֥ה – silent.

We are quite content to see G-d in life’s joyous events:
At the birth of a child, a brit milah or simhat bat (baby naming), a Bar or Bat Mitzvah, under the huppah.

But what about life’s other events? What about sickness, misfortune, even death?
Is G-d likewise present?

In the Book of Job, a series of terrible matters befall Job. Job wants to know why. Finally, he gets his answer. But it is nothing like what we would expect:

“G-d replied to Job out of the whirlwind and said …
‘Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundations?
Speak if you have understanding.’” (Job 38:1-4)

G-d’s answer continues for nearly 100 verses, encompassing concepts from the formation of the heavens to the smallest miracles of everyday life, from the mundane (“Who provides food for the raven when its young cry out to G-d?” [38:41]) to the mighty (“Who closed the sea behind doors when it gushed forth from the womb?” [38:8]) to the sublime (“Have the gates of death been uncovered for you?” [38:17])

What answer can Job possibly give when G-d says, “Speak if you have understanding.”

“What can I answer You?
I clap my hand to my mouth.
I have spoken once, and will not reply,
Twice, and will do so no more.”  (Job 40:4)


Job now understands that nothing occurs without G-d’s Presence: “I know that You can do everything” (Job 42:2).

And – perhaps – that knowledge makes even the worst of times bearable.

In Moses’ last discourse (Parashat HaAzinu), he makes plain to us G-d’s Omnipresence in of our lives, in both the bitter and the sweet:

“See, then, that I, I am the One;
There is no god beside Me.
I deal death and give life;
I wounded and I will heal:
None can deliver from My Hand.” (Deut. 32:39)

“Where is G-d?” asks Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotsk.
“Wherever we let G-d in.”[5]

Can we see G-d’s Presence in all things?

In the ordinary and the miraculous, the joyous and the sad?

Even … in a death?

If we could, how might that change our life?

[1] At the Song at the Sea, Rashi tells us that when the People sing, “This ( זֶ֤ה) is my G-d,” that the word “זֶ֤ה “ means real visual perception. (Rashi to Exod. 15:2).

At the dedication of the Mishkan we read, “The Presence of G-d appeared to all the People.” (Lev. 9:23).

[2] The words Mikdash and Mishkan are used somewhat interchangeably. The mikdash is the holy place or sanctuary. The mishkan is the place in which G-d’s Presence dwells.  Exod. 25:8 uses both terms: the People were told to build a מִקְדָּ֑שׁ וְשָׁכַנְתִּ֖י; i.e. a מִקְדָּ֑שׁ (mikdash =- Holy place) in which וְשָׁכַנְתִּ֖י (veshakhanti – I may dwell).

[3] The natural world of sevens includes seven days of Creation, seven days of Passover and Sukkot, seven weeks from Passover to Shavuot, seven years of the shemittah cycle (when the Land lies fallow), seven shemittah cycles until the Yovel/Jubilee (when all lands return to their ancestral owners) (Lev. 25:13-18). Eight, however, is beyond what we normally experience. Eight is reserved for brit milah – entering into the covenant with G-d, Shemini Atzeret when G-d asks us to spend one more day in G-d’s Presence after Sukkot, and the number of days an animal must live before it can be offered as a sacrifice to G-d (Lev. 22:27).

[4] Our analysis to this point has been limited to the Five Books of Moses. This reference comes later, from the Book of Samuel.

[5] https://aish.com/gems-of-wisdom-of-the-kotzker-rebbe/

Rabbi Greg Schindler received semikha in 2009 (5769). While at AJR, he was honored to serve as President of the Student Association. He is a community rabbi in Westport, CT where he conducts classes in Talmud and Tanakh. He has led Children’s High Holiday services for over 20 years. Each year, he writes and directs a new Yom Kippur comedic play based on the Book of Jonah , including “Jonah-gan’s Island”. “Batmensch”, “SpongeJonah SquarePants”, “Horton Hears an Oy” and more.