Acharei-Aharon’s sons

We first heard of the death of two of the sons of Aharon a couple of weeks ago in parshat Shemini. There, Rashi brings two explanations; one, that they mentioned a halacha in front of their own rabbi (Moshe Rabeinu) and two, that they entered the tabernacle while inebriated.  It is therefore surprising when this week, in parshat Acharei, the Torah supplies us with yet another reason – “because not at all times should he come into the Holy of Holies…” (Lev 16:2) – the shechina is present there at all times, and therefore the priests should not enter the area regularly (Rashi).

The question is, though, why do we need another explanation, and moreover, why is it the Torah itself which is giving us this explanation?  Usually, it is the task of the oral Torah to issue explanations, and yet here we find the written Torah giving not one, but a few explanations?

One possible answer is that the earlier parsha (Shemini), follows the giving of the Torah, from Above to below.  First (in parshat Yitro) the Torah was given, and then in Terumah the instructions for how to build the tabernacle were issued, and then, several weeks later in parshat Shemini, we return to the narrative of how Aharon actually inaugurated the tabernacle, during which his sons brought a “strange offering” and their lives were “snuffed out.”  The entire theme from the giving of the Torah until parshat Shemini may be considered to be from “Above to below.”  Our parsha (Acharei Mot) arrives after discussion of several details that involve man’s behavior in the physical world.  First, following the story of the death of Aharon’s sons, we find discussion of which animals we may eat or not eat.  This is followed by the laws of impurity and how they affect man’s house, his clothes and his skin.  Thus, following parshat Shemini it would seem that the theme shifts and becomes from “below to Above.”  This persists all the way until our parsha, during which another reason is given for their deaths: They were not properly prepared from below to Above, to approach the high level of holiness within the Tabernacle.

However, if this is the proper explanation, we still need to understand why there is such a distance between parshat Shemini and our parsha, Acharei.  Since both parshas discuss the same event – the death of Aharon’s sons – the variant explanations should have been placed adjacent to each other, or at least not as far away from one another.  For, between parshat Shemini and parshat Acharei, there are two full Torah portions (Tazria and Metzorah) and the rest of Shemini, which launch into a whole host of details regarding how to serve God in the physical world, eating the correct animals, and observing the appropriate laws of purity and impurity.  Why separate between the explanations to such a great extent when they are actually of the same event?

The answer lies in man’s motivation for getting connected to the One above. There are two motivations for wanting to escape this world (which is what Aharon’s sons sought to do): one – the motivation may be positive, as when one has tasted the spiritual “sweetness” of Godliness – and two – the motivation may be negative, as when one simply wants to escape from the physical world and become absorbed in spirituality.  It is usually the Torah scholar – the person who is always absorbed in learning and prayer who is motivated by the first reason.  He may have tasted the delightful nature of holiness, and therefore his desire is to be perpetually absorbed and involved in spirituality.  And it is usually the working man, involved in the daily world of work, who seeks spirituality out of negative motivation – because he wants to escape from the physical world.

To each of these typical people, the Torah issues a warning.  To the Torah scholar, the Torah warns that he is not to get so “high” on holiness that he never returns to the physical world.  The Torah finds it necessary to warn one who has tasted kedusha, not to become “drunk” on it, but that he must bring the holiness down to the physical world.  However, to the man involved in the daily world of work, the Torah warns, “not at all times may you approach holiness.”  You must first prepare yourself, work upon the garments of your soul, and “clean up your act” in order to ascend in holiness.

The first message occurs in Shemini, in which Rashi explains the reason for their death is that they were inebriated.  That is the Torah’s warning to the scholar not to become “drunk” on Godliness.  It is followed by the series of injunctions regarding what we eat and how we speak – in other words – working upon ourselves to polish and perfect.  And finally, we arrive to our parsha, in which the Torah says “not at all times may you enter” – to the working man who must improve himself from below to Above, the Torah admonishes, do not just “run away” from the physical world – you must work upon and improve yourself and only then may you enter the holies…

For a longer, more detailed version, please go to

From Likutei Sichot of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, vol.27, pp.116-123

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: