The parsha this week is a double parsha, which means we read to portions. The first is Acharei Mot, and the second is Kedoshim.
There’s an interesting verse at the beginning of Acharei Mot that can teach us an important insight.
Hashem is telling Moshe to speak to Aaron and tell him not to approach the temple with any sacrifices that are different in any way from the ones that Hashem had described to him earlier. The exact verses are as follows:
Hashem spoke to Moses after the death of Aaron’s two sons, when they approached before Hashem and died. And Hashem said to Moses: Speak to Aaron your brother – he may not come at all times into the Sanctuary.
Just to fill you in in-case you missed the parsha a few weeks ago, Aaron’s sons, Nadav and Avihu, decided to take a sacrifice to the temple that they had invented themselves. Meaning, it wasn’t one of the sacrifices that Hashem had described to them earlier. They invented it themselves, and took it to the temple at a time which they also invented themselves. Meaning, it wasn’t one of the possible times that Hashem had told them they could come to the temple with a sacrifice.
As a punishment, or maybe not a punishment but purely as a result of what they did, Nadav and Avihu died then and there. To understand exactly what they did wrong that deserved such a strong response would be a dvar Torah in itself….. but that’s not what I want to write about!
I want to talk about the question that Rashi asks on the first verse of our parsha that we read above. Rashi points out that in these two verses here, the Torah isn’t telling us anything that we don’t already know! We already learnt ages ago about the death of Aarons sons! The Torah doesn’t waste words…. It has a perfect Author…. So why does it say this here at all? Hashem should have just left it out entirely!?
The truth is, that Rashi is just echoing a question that our Sages asked thousands of years ago when they read this verse in the Torah, and he writes down the same answer they gave:
R’ Elazar ben Azaryah explained with a parable. It can be compared to a sick person to whom a doctor entered to treat. The doctor said to the patient “Do not eat cold food, and do not lie in a damp, chilly place.” Another doctor came and said to him “Do not eat cold food, and do not lie in a damp, chilly place, so that you will not die the way so-and-so died.” This second doctor roused him to follow his instructions more than the first. This is why it says “After the death of Aaron’s two sons” before Moshe tells Aaron not to make the same mistake they did. He drew on the example of Nadav and Avihu to rouse Aaron to be extra careful here.
That’s our answer. This first verse is not here to tell us that Aarons sons died. We learnt that ages ago. It is here to tell us precisely what Moshe said to Aaron as an introduction before he gave him Hashem’s message. Why is this so important to us? Because we can learn a very powerful tool from Moshe here…
Moshe knows, as we do, that sometimes a person knows something and believes it, but still doesn’t act on it. Aaron knew already about his sons and the consequences that his making the same mistakes would lead to…. But he still may have made the same mistake. Why?
Because our minds and our hearts are two different things.
The Alter of Kelm once said that someone could know the entire Torah, and know it is true, and it wouldn’t necessarily mean they are a good person. Why? Because it’s like one person who knows everything about mechanical engineering standing next to a guy who knows nothing. The second guy still won’t know how to fix a car. The fact he is standing next to someone who does won’t make a difference. So too, our minds can know everything, but unless it reaches our hearts, unless we internalize what we know to be true, it won’t impact our behaviour.
That’s what Hashem tells the Jewish People after they saw Him when they received the ten commandments: “And you shall know today, and return it to your hearts, that Hashem is God in heaven above and on earth below, there is none besides Him.”
They knew Hashem was it…. They saw Him themselves at Mt Sinai! But it wasn’t enough…. they had to internalize that knowledge. They had to return it to their hearts. Otherwise it was useless.
This is what Moshe knew, and he also knew that it’s not easy to internalize things that we know. But he had a tool to help: Imagery. That’s why before he tells Aaron about this commandment he vividly reminds him of what happened to his sons when they were not as careful as they should have been. That imagery will really bring the point home to Aaron more than anything else.
For ourselves, may we could try to follow Moshe’s lead and use this technique to internalize our own knowledge of Hashem and belief in His Torah. The Chofetz Chaim used to imagine himself every Yom Kippur walking into a room where there were a pair of massive scales and all his good deeds being piled onto one side and all his bad deeds being piled onto the other side, until they were completely finished, and the balance was equal. Of course it seems like a childish image, I’m sure that’s not exactly what is going on in shamayim while we are being judged on Yom Kippur, but it’s an amazing way to help ourselves recognize and internalize the awesomeness of the day and how important it is.
This is a powerful tool for growth that Moshe is showing us here. Maybe it could also help us to take what we know, and return it to our hearts.