S.A.L.T. - Pesach 5779 / 2019 - Parashat Acharei Mot

  • Rav David Silverberg
 
Motzaei Shabbat
 
            The Gemara in Masekhet Pesachim (120a) establishes that although the Torah writes that we are to eat matza for the seven days of Pesach (“Shivat yamim matzot tokheilu” – Shemot 12:15), this does not mean that one is actually required to eat matza for all seven days.  The obligation to eat matza applies only on the first night of Pesach, whereas throughout the rest of Pesach, eating matza is optional.  Of course, we must refrain from eating chametz throughout the seven days of Pesach, but the obligation to eat matza applies only on the first night.
 
            The Vilna Gaon is famously cited as having asserted that eating matza on Pesach after the first night fulfills a mitzva, despite its not being obligatory (Ma’aseh Rav 185).  The Torah does not require one to eat matza beyond the first night, but we nevertheless fulfill a Biblical mitzva by doing so.
 
            This view appears in the works of several other Acharonim, as well, including the Avnei Neizer (O.C. 377), who compares the mitzva of matza to the mitzva of sukka on Sukkot.  On the first night of Sukkot, the Torah obligates us to eat bread in the sukka, whereas throughout the rest of Sukkot, the requirement is that if we wish to eat a meal, or sleep, we must do so in the sukka.  Likewise, the Avnei Neizer writes, the Torah requires us to eat matza on the first night of Pesach, and throughout the rest of Pesach, the requirement is that if we wish to eat one of the five principal grains, we must eat the grain in its unleavened form.  And thus just as we fulfill a mitzva each time we eat in the sukka on Sukkot, even though we are obligated to do so only on the first night, similarly, we fulfill a mitzva each time we eat matza on Pesach, even though we are obligated to do so only on the first night.
 
            In truth, this issue appears to be subject to a debate among the Rishonim.  A number of Rishonim raised the question of why we recite a berakha (“lei-shev ba-sukka”) each time we eat in the sukka on Sukkot, even beyond the first night, whereas a berakha over matza (“al akhilat matza”) is recited only the first night of Pesach, at the seder, and not during the rest of Pesach.  The Maharil (Hilkhot Sukkot) answers, very simply, that one fulfills a mitzva each time he eats in the sukka throughout Sukkot, which is not the case with matza on Pesach.  The clear implication of the Maharil’s comments is that eating matza does not fulfill a mitzva after the first night of Pesach.  This answer is given also by Meiri (Sukka 27a), who compares eating matza after the first night to eating kosher meat all year round.  Eating kosher meat avoids the prohibition of eating non-kosher meat, but does not fulfill a mitzva; likewise, according to Meiri, eating matza on Pesach (beyond the first night) avoids the prohibition of eating chametz on Pesach, but does not fulfill a mitzva, and so it does not warrant a berakha.
 
            The Ba’al Ha-ma’or (Pesachim 26b in the Rif), however, answers differently.  He explains that the seven-day obligation of sukka includes activities that one cannot avoid for seven days – specifically, sleeping.  In effect, then, the mitzva of sukka is obligatory even beyond the first night of Sukkot, as one by necessity will need to use the sukka.  This “obligatory” quality of sukka renders this mitzva worthy of a berakha, even beyond the first night.  On Pesach, however, one can easily subsist on other foods, and does not require matza, and thus eating matza is truly optional after the first night of Pesach.  For this reason, the Ba’al Ha-ma’or writes, no berakha is recited when one eats matza beyond the first night.
 
            Significantly, the Ba’al Ha-ma’or accepts the premise that eating matza after the first night of Pesach fundamentally resembles eating in the sukka after the first night of Sukkot.  In his view, there is only a practical difference between them – that one can be avoided, while the other cannot, a difference that affects the specific issue of reciting a berakha.  It seems clear that the Ba’al Ha-ma’or acknowledged a mitzva to eat matza even beyond the first night of Pesach, just as one fulfills a mitzva by eating and sleeping in the sukka beyond the first night of Sukkot.
 
 
Sunday
 
            Yesterday, we noted the position famously attributed to the Vilna Gaon (Ma’aseh Rav (185) that although there is no obligation to eat matza on Pesach after the first night, nevertheless, one fulfills a mitzva by doing so.  The Torah (Shemot 12:15) writes, “You shall eat matza seven days,” and thus despite the fact that the Gemara interprets this command as optional, it nevertheless constitutes a mitzva.  As we saw yesterday, this issue appears to be subject to debate among the Rishonim who gave different reasons for why no berakha is recited over the consumption of matza after the first night of Pesach.
 
            Rav Asher Weiss further noted that this question seems to have been debated by the Tosafists, in their discussion of the issue of wearing tefillin on Chol Ha-mo’ed.  The Gemara in Masekhet Menachot (36b) famously establishes that tefillin are not worn on Shabbat or Yom Tov, since the purpose of tefillin is to serve as an “ot” (“sign”) of our relationship with God, and Shabbat and Yom Tov are themselves a sign of this relationship.  Tosafot assert that Chol Ha-mo’ed resembles Yom Tov in this regard, and tefillin are not worn on these interim days of Pesach and Sukkot.  In Masekhet Menachot, Tosafot explain that Chol Ha-mo’ed resembles Yom Tov with respect to tefillin because “there is a ‘sign’ on Pesach, that it is forbidden to eat chametz, and on Sukkot, that one is obligated to reside in a sukka.”  The “sign” during the interim days of Pesach, Tosafot write, is the chametz prohibition.  This formulation also appears in Tosafot’s comments to Masekhet Eiruvin (96a).  By contrast, in Masekhet Mo’ed Katan (19a), Tosafot write that there is a “sign” on Chol Ha-mo’ed “since one eats matza and resides in a sukka.”  In this context, Tosafot speak not of merely avoiding chametz during Chol Ha-mo’ed Pesach, but rather of eating matza, which, in their view, serves as a “sign” of our relationship with God.  Possibly, the different formulations in these two passages reflect different opinions regarding the status of eating matza beyond the first night of Pesach.  Tosafot in Mo’ed Katan seem to suggest that eating matza even after the first night constitutes a mitzva, even if it is not obligatory, thus serving as a “sign” of our covenant with God.   In the other contexts, however, Tosafot mention specifically avoiding chametz during Chol Ha-mo’ed, and not eating matza, seemingly because there is no mitzva involved in eating matza beyond the first night.  Apparently, the Tosafists debated the question of whether one fulfills a mitzva by eating matza beyond the first night of Pesach.
           
One could argue, though, that in Masekhet Mo’ed Katan, too, Tosafot’s intent is that one avoids chametz by eating matza as opposed to leavened bread, but not that the consumption of matza actually fulfills a mitzva.  The point Tosafot is making is that Chol Ha-mo’ed Pesach, like the first and last days of Pesach, are clearly special and distinct, as evidenced by the food eaten due to the prohibition of chametz.  It thus does not necessarily follow that Tosafot viewed eating matza as a mitzva beyond the first night.
 
Monday
 
            The Gemara in Masekhet Pesachim (28b) cites the view of Rabbi Shimon that the Torah prohibition against eating chametz on Pesach applies only on Pesach itself.  Although it is forbidden also to eat chametz on the afternoon of the Erev Pesach, and to eat after Pesach chametz that had been owned by a Jew on Pesach, these prohibitions were – according to Rabbi Shimon – enacted by the Sages, and do not apply on the level of Torah law.  This is in contrast to Rabbi Yehuda, who maintained that even the chametz prohibitions on Erev Pesach and after Pesach apply on the level of Torah law.
 
            Rabbi Shimon draws proof to his position from a verse in Sefer Devarim (16:3) which appears to link the consumption of matza and refraining from chametz: “Do not eat chametz with it [the pesach sacrifice]; for seven days you shall eat with it matzot…”  The implication of this verse, Rabbi Shimon contends, is that the chametz prohibition applies only when the mitzva of eating matza applies.  In his words: “At the time when one is commanded to go ahead and eat matza, he is commanded not to eat chametz; at the time when he is not commanded to go ahead and eat matza, he is not commanded to eat chametz.”  Therefore, the Torah prohibition of chametz is limited to the seven days of Pesach, and the prohibitions that apply before and after were enacted by the Sages.
 
            The Penei Yehoshua noted that Rabbi Shimon here speaks of the mitzva of eating matza as a seven-day obligation.  As we have discussed over the last two days, the Gemara elsewhere (Pesachim 120a) establishes that the obligation to eat matza in truth applies only the first night of Pesach.  Rabbi Shimon, however, clearly states that there is a mitzva to eat matza all seven days of Pesach.  The Penei Yehoshua explains that Rabbi Shimon apparently felt that although there is no obligation to eat matza after the first night of Pesach, one fulfills a mitzva by doing so.  Rabbi Shimon’s inference might then provide us with a Talmudic basis for the view famously attributed to the Vilna Gaon that one fulfills a mitzva by eating matza anytime throughout Pesach, even after the first night.
 
            The Rishonim disagree as to the final halakhic conclusion regarding the point of debate between Rabbi Shimon and Rabbi Yehuda.  All agree that Halakha follows Rabbi Shimon’s position vis-à-vis the status after Pesach of chametz that had been owned by a Jew during Pesach.  Such chametz, according to all opinions, is forbidden only by force of Rabbinic enactment, in accordance with Rabbi Shimon’s ruling.  However, when it comes to the prohibition against eating chametz on the afternoon of Erev Pesach, several Rishonim accept Rabbi Yehuda’s view, that this prohibition applies on the level of Torah law.  These include the Rambam (Hilkhot Chametz U-matza 1:8) and the Rosh (Pesachim 2:8).  By contrast, the Ba’al Ha-ma’or and Ba’al Ha-ittur (cited by the Rosh) disagree, and maintain that Halakha accepts Rabbi Shimon’s view in its entirety, such that even in the afternoon of Erev Pesach, eating chametz is permissible according to Torah law and forbidden only by force of Rabbinic enactment.
 
            If so, then it stands to reason that the Ba’al Ha-ma’or and Ba’al Ha-ittur accept the premise that eating matza constitutes a mitzva throughout all seven days of Pesach.  After all, as we have seen, Rabbi Shimon’s view is predicated on his inference that the Torah prohibition of chametz is linked to the mitzva of eating matza – an inference which rests on the assumption that eating matza fulfills a mitzva all seven days.  Seemingly, then, the Rishonim who accept the entirety of Rabbi Shimon’s opinion must accept this premise.
 
            Indeed, as we saw earlier this week, the Ba’al Ha-ma’or (Pesachim 26b in the Rif) strongly implies that eating matza on Pesach after the first night fulfills a mitzva.  The Ba’al Ha-ma’or draws a comparison between eating matza after the first night of Pesach and eating in the sukka after the first night of Sukkot.  Just as one is not obligated to eat in the sukka after the first night of Sukkot (unless he wishes to eat a meal), but fulfills a mitzva by doing so, similarly, the Ba’al Ha-ma’or indicates, one fulfills a mitzva by eating matza after the first night of Pesach, even though this is not obligatory.  The Ba’al Ha-ma’or is consistent with his acceptance of Rabbi Shimon’s view, which appears to be rooted in the assumption that eating matza fulfills a mitzva throughout the seven days of Pesach.
 
(Based on an article by Rav Yechiel Michael Rothschild in Kol Ha-Torah, vol. 65)
 
Tuesday
 
            Yesterday, we noted the Gemara’s discussion in Masekhet Pesachim (28b) regarding the chametz prohibitions that apply before and after Pesach – the prohibition against eating chametz the afternoon of Erev Pesach, and the prohibition against eating after Pesach chametz that had been owned by a Jew on Pesach.  Rabbi Shimon, as we saw, understood that the Torah prohibition of chametz is linked to the mitzva of eating matza, and thus the Torah prohibition applies only when there is a requirement to eat matza – meaning, on Pesach itself.  The prohibitions which apply before and after Pesach, according to Rabbi Shimon, were enacted by Chazal.  Rabbi Shimon stated: “At the time when one is commanded to go ahead and eat matza, he is commanded not to eat chametz; at the time when he is not commanded to go ahead and eat matza, he is not commanded to eat chametz.”
 
            As we discussed, the Penei Yehoshua noted that Rabbi Shimon here seems to speak of eating matza on Pesach as a mitzva which applies for all seven days – despite the Gemara’s comment later in Masekhet Pesachim (120a) that eating matza is obligatory only on the first night of Pesach, and optional the rest of the holiday.  The Penei Yehoshua suggests that Rabbi Shimon may have felt that although eating matza during the rest of Pesach is not obligatory, it nevertheless fulfills a mitzva (a position famously attributed to the Vilna Gaon).
 
            However, the Penei Yehoshua then proceeds to propose a different – and bolder – possibility, suggesting that Rabbi Shimon held a different opinion regarding the status of eating matza after the first night of Pesach.  As opposed to the Gemara’s conclusion that eating matza beyond the first night is optional, Rabbi Shimon may have maintained that one is obligated to eat matza all seven days of Pesach – as his remark “go ahead and eat matza” strongly indicates.
 
            The Penei Yehoshua substantiates this theory by noting the source of the Gemara’s conclusion that eating matza is obligatory only on the first night.  Although the Torah in several contexts seems to require eating matza all seven days (Shemot 12:15, Vayikra 23:6, Devarim 16:3), in one place it requires eating matza only for six days (Devarim 16:8).  The Gemara explains that when the Torah in that verse excludes the seventh day from the obligation to eat matza, it effectively excludes all seven days, the exception being the first night (based on Shemot 12:18).  And when the Torah speaks of eating matza for seven days, it actually refers to refraining from chametz, but not to an actual obligation to eat matza.
 
            Accordingly, the Penei Yehoshua writes, we can understand why Rabbi Shimon did not subscribe to this view.  The Sifrei (to Devarim 16:8) cites Rabbi Shimon as offering a different approach to reconciling the different verses that speak of the requirement to eat matza.  Rabbi Shimon explained that the verses which mention eating matza for seven days refer to matza produced from the previous season’s grain harvest.  The grain of the current year’s harvest, by contrast, becomes permissible for consumption only on the second day of Pesach – the 16th of Nissan – as the Torah instructs in Sefer Vayikra (23:14).  Therefore, the Torah in one place speaks of eating matza for six days – referring to the current year’s grain, which is permissible for consumption for only six of the seven days of Pesach.  Rabbi Shimon reconciled the different verses without reinterpreting them as referring to the optional consumption of chametz – implying that he accepted the straightforward reading of the text, whereby there is a Biblical requirement to eat matza on each of the seven days of Pesach.  Consistent with his view, the Penei Yehoshua explained, Rabbi Shimon states in Masekhet Pesachim that the seven-day prohibition against eating chametz is linked to the seven-day requirement to eat matza.
 
            It should be noted, however, that according to some versions of the Sifrei – including that of the Vilna Gaon – the author of the relevant passage in the Sifrei is not the same Rabbi Shimon (Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai), but rather Rabbi Shimon ben Elazar (a disciple of Rabbi Meir).  According to this version, of course, we cannot necessarily point to a connection between the passage in the Sifrei and Rabbi Shimon’s remark in the Gemara.
 
Wednesday
 
            The first section of Parashat Acharei-Mot outlines the avodat Yom Ha-kippurim – the special service to be performed by the kohen gadol in the Beit Ha-mikdash each year on Yom Kippur.  The Torah commands, “And no man shall be in the Tent of Meeting when [the kohen gadol] comes to bring atonement in the Sanctuary until he leaves” (16:17).  This means that during the Yom Kippur rituals, when the kohen gadol entered the kodesh ha-kodashim (the innermost sanctum of the Temple), nobody was permitted to be present inside the Beit Ha-mikdash (though people were allowed to be present in the courtyard outside the Mikdash – Yoma 43b-44a).
 
            The Talmud Yerushalmi, in a famous passage (Yoma 5:2), comments that this refers even to the angels.  At the time the kohen gadol entered the inner chamber of the Temple to perform the Yom Kippur rituals, even angels were barred from the Beit Ha-mikdash.  When the Torah says that “kol adam” – “any person” – may not be present in the Temple at this time, the Yerushalmi establishes, it refers even to angels.
 
            The Yismach Moshe (Rav Moshe Teitelbaum of Ihel), commenting to Parashat Re’ei, offers a meaningful insight into the significance of the Yerushalmi’s remark.  The Beit Ha-mikdash is often referred to as “Beit Ha-bechira” – the building of “choosing.”  The simple explanation of this name, as the Yismach Moshe notes, is that the Torah refers to the Beit Ha-mikdash (numerous times throughout Parashat Re’ei) as “ha-makom asher yivchar Hashem” – “the site which the Lord shall choose.”  The name “Beit Ha-bechira” thus refers to God’s having chosen this site as the place of His “residence” on earth.  However, the Yismach Moshe adds that on a deeper level, this name may also point to the human being’s choice to draw close to God.  The kohen gadol’s entrance into the kodesh ha-kodashim on Yom Kippur represents the pinnacle of the human being’s quest for closeness with the Creator, and for this reason, the Yismach Moshe explains, the angels are excluded from the Temple grounds at this time.  The special relationship with God signified by the kohen gadol’s service in the inner sanctum is something which the angels cannot ever achieve, because they have no free choice.  Closeness with the Almighty is experienced through the process of bechira, by choosing proper conduct over improper conduct, by making what is often the excruciatingly difficult decision to forego on one’s instinctive wishes and desires for the sake of serving God.  This experience is therefore unique to human beings, who must wage an internal struggle and make the choice to enter the “kodesh ha-kodashim” – to live a life of devotion to the Almighty.  And thus the Beit Ha-mikdash, the symbol of our close relationship with God, is called “Beit Ha-bechira,” the place of “choice,” because our relationship with the Almighty depends on our willed decision to build such a relationship.
 
            The Yishmach Moshe references the Yerushalmi’s remark also in a different context – in discussing the symbolic significance of Yaakov’s dream of a ladder extending from the ground to heavens, on which angels traveled upward and downward (Parashat Vayeitzei).  One explanation suggested by the Yismach Moshe is that the dream symbolizes the Beit Ha-mikdash, the Temple on earth with is linked to the “Mikdash shel ma’ala’ – the “heavenly Temple.”  The angels are seen traveling back forth from one Mikdash to the next, but Yaakov beheld that “hinei Hashem nitzav alav” (Bereishit 28:13) – God was alone with Yaakov, without the angels being present, symbolizing the kohen gadol’s private communion with God in the kodesh ha-kodashim.
 
            Yaakov beheld this dream as he was forced to flee from the comfort and security of his saintly parents’ home and live with his wily, corrupt and pagan uncle, Lavan.  He was being shown that even under these circumstances, he can reside in the “Mikdash,” he can live a life of sanctity, because such a life depends purely on “bechira,” on one’s personal choice, as evidenced by the angels’ exclusion.  Whatever our circumstances are, we can make the decision to devote ourselves to the Almighty and live in the “kodesh ha-kodashim,” experiencing the comfort of closeness with the Creator.  We must never assume that our situation prevents us from entering the “Mikdash,” from living lives of spiritual devotion, because the “Mikdash” depends solely on “bechira,” on our will and resolve, and not on any external factors or conditions.

Thursday
 
            Parashat Acharei-Mot begins with the description of the special service performed by the kohen gadol on Yom Kippur, and it introduces this section by telling that these commands were given “after the death of Aharon’s two sons, when they approached the Lord and died.”  This refers, of course, to Nadav and Avihu, Aharon’s two older sons who, on their first day serving as kohanim, brought an incense offering which God had not commanded, for which they were killed (Vayikra 10:1-2).
 
            The Midrash (Vayikra Rabba 20:8) cites Rabbi Elazar Ha-modai as noting the significance of the Torah’s making a point to clarify the reason why Nadav and Avihu deserved their tragic fate:
 
Come see how grave the death of Aharon’s sons was before the Almighty – for in every instance when He mentions their death, He mentions their failing.  Why all this?  In order not to allow people the possibility of saying that they were guilty of secret evil deeds for which they died.
 
After Nadav and Avihu’s death, people might have assumed that Aharon’s sons must have been guilty of more than just the single infraction of bringing an unwarranted incense offering to deserve such a harsh punishment.  God therefore made a point of repeatedly emphasizing that they were punished solely for offering incense, and not for any other misdeed.  (It should be noted that we indeed find Chazal attributing to Nadav and Avihu several other violations, including drinking wine before bringing an offering, and refusing to marry; Rabbi Elazar Ha-modai appears to express a different view, insisting that they were guilty only of bringing a prohibited incense offering.)
 
            When righteous people fail, it might be tempting to cynically scorn all ostensibly pious individuals.  We might be led to dismiss “piety” altogether as a façade, and allege that all those reputed to be righteous are, in fact, evil sinners.  Rather than hold evidently righteous people in high esteem, as role models who challenge us to reach higher, we could choose instead to point to the examples of “Nadav and Avihu,” reputable spiritual figures who failed, as demonstrating that all piety is a charade.  This way, we can conveniently absolve ourselves of the quest for spiritual greatness, seeing spiritual greatness as nothing more than a phony outward disguise.  Rabbi Elazar Ha-modai warns against this reaction, urging us not to utilize the failures of the righteous as a basis for dismissing altogether the possibility of righteousness.  The fact that Nadav and Avihu committed a grave offense does not undermine their accomplishments.  Falling far short of perfection is not the same as evil.  The Torah makes it very clear to us that evil great people are capable of grave failures, and expects us to recognize and condemn such failures while still recognizing and appreciating the greatness of the individuals.  And thus Rabbi Elazar Ha-modai teaches us to maintain a balanced perspective on “Nadav and Avihu,” on the unfortunate phenomenon of righteous individuals who commit grave mistakes, that we should acknowledge the mistakes without rejecting outright the possibility given to all human beings to pursue and achieve greatness.
 
Friday
 
            The opening section of Parashat Acharei-Mot outlines the procedure of the avodat Yom Ha-kippurim, the special service performed by the kohen gadol on Yom Kippur to earn atonement on behalf of the nation.  One of the unusual features of this service is the sa’ir ha-mishtalei’ach, the goat which was sent out into the desert east of Jerusalem and killed, symbolizing the “destruction” of the nation’s misdeeds.  The Torah instructs that the kohen gadol should place his hands on the goat’s head as though placing all of Benei Yisrael’s sins on the goat, which would then bring the sins, as it were, into the wilderness, signifying their banishment (16:21-22).
 
            Tanna De-bei Eliyahu Zuta (19) draws an association between this sa’ir (goat) and the nation of Edom – the descendants of Esav – which was situated in the region of Se’ir (Bereishit 36:8).  When Benei Yisrael repent on Yom Kippur, Tanna De-bei Eliyahu comments, God takes their sins and places them on Esav, charging him with Benei Yisrael’s misdeeds.  But Esav then protests, asking, “How much strength do I have, that you place upon me all the iniquities of my brother Yaakov?”  At that point, Tanna De-bei Eliyahu concludes, God places Benei Yisrael’s sins on Esav’s garments.
 
            One approach taken to understand this Midrashic passage is that it refers to the partial blame borne by the enemy nations for our wrongdoing.  As a result of our repentance, God transfers the “blame” for our sins onto “Esav,” the enemy nations whose pressure and intimidation often make it difficult for us to properly devote ourselves to mitzva observance.  However, as the Midrash indicates, there is a limit to the blame that can be placed upon “Esav.”  After all, we do not commit sins only because of the pressure exerted on us by other peoples.  Our moral and spiritual failings result also from our own faults and shortcomings.  At a certain point, “Esav” can justifiably absolve himself of blame for our sins, which are of our own making.  God then places the blame on Esav’s “garments” – on the appeal and attractiveness of Esav’s way of life, which so often leads us away from the Torah way of life.  Beyond directly exerting pressure on Am Yisrael, “Esav” can also lure us through his “garments,” by making his values, beliefs and lifestyle seem preferable and advantageous to ours.  And thus even when the other nations’ direct pressure cannot be blamed for our misdeeds, our sins can be partially blamed on the nations’ “garments,” the misleading, attractive image they project, which can cause us to question our own beliefs and practices and abandon them in favor of those of other peoples.  (See a variation of this approach in Rav Yisrael Yehuda Karfunkel’s Chemdat Yisrael)
 
            If so, then Tanna De-bei Eliyahu here alerts us to the lure of the “garments” of other peoples, to the way their pride and confidence in their lifestyle could cause us to lose pride and confidence in ours.  We must retain our steadfast, passionate commitment to our traditions even in the face of the “garments” of “Esav,” the lure and appeal of other nations’ values and conduct, and confidently trust that we are fulfilling God’s will and living the life He wants us to live.
 
 
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