A Message for Parashat Aharei Mot 2018
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And God spoke to Moshe after the death of Aharon’s two sons, when they came forward before God and died… (Vayikra 16:1)
The opening words of Parashat Aharei Mot place its subsequent narrative into the time frame following the deaths of Aharon’s sons Nadav and Avihu. God’s initial command contrasted their fatal flaw “when they came forward before God,” and served as a future warning for Aharon:
…That he not come at all times into the sacred zone within the curtain in front of the cover that is on the Aron, lest he die… (16:2)
It taught that one could not simply approach the inner chamber of the Mishkan at will; there was a process for doing so. Unlike Nadav and Avihu, who had overlooked process in their passionate approach of God, Aharon was now informed of the specific sacrifices, clothing and immersions that were necessary for future encounters.
It is important to note that God never implied that Nadav and Avihu were unprepared for their approach. Instead, His instructions at the onset of the parashah seem to suggest that they had nonetheless erred by skipping the preliminary steps of the process. His message was clear: The process maintains an intrinsic significance, regardless of any failure or success at reaching the anticipated goal.
Indeed, this was a lesson that Am Yisrael had already learned at Ma’amad Har Sinai. They were then informed that apart from the Torah that they would receive, it was the process leading up to its giving that was important: “…For in order to exalt you has God come, so that His fear shall be before you, so that you shall not sin” (Shemot 20:17).
This was a message that they would again learn in their future approaches of God. Ritva (R. Yom Tov b. Avraham Asevilli) wrote that aliyah la-regel – travelling to the Mikdash on each of the three regalim – represented a fulfilment that was independent of the intended goal of arrival at Jerusalem. Ramban (R. Moshe b. Nahman) explained that the travel to the Mikdash caused a necessary conversation amongst the various travelers regarding their journey to the “Mountain of God.” Unaware of the proper path to the Mikdash, they would be forced to stop and ask for directions, which would ultimately lead to discussions about their “true” destination. Although the travelers’ eyes were fixed on the final destination of the Mikdash, aliyah la-regel afforded them the opportunity to grow along every step of the journey.
R. Simha Zissel Ziv z”l, the great mashgiah of Kelm noticed a similar message in several well-known pesukim in Tehilim (105:3-4):
Happy are the hearts of those who seek God
Seek out God and His might!
Continually seek His face.
He highlighted the mention of “happiness” in the incomplete act of “seeking God,” without having “found Him,” and sensed in this that the process is worthy in it of itself. The Alter pointed out that the mizmor implies that this process will continue for eternity, as we are mandated to “continually seek His face.” Contrary to the general importance that we singularly place upon “attained goals,” these pesukim recognize value in our steadfast approach even toward a mission that cannot be completed.
Parashat Aharei Mot teaches that the enduring lesson from the deaths of Nadav and Avihu spans beyond the Mishkan and kehunah. The fatal flaw and punishment of the sons of Aharon are an eternal reminder that regardless of the outcome, we must always value the process.