Parshat Shemini: “And he said: ‘Hineni, here I am.'”

Shimrit Budkov is a Teacher and Special Education Coordinator at Ohr Torah “Ariel” High School

2%D7%A9%D7%9E%D7%A8%D7%99%D7%AA %D7%91%D7%95%D7%93%D7%A7%D7%95%D7%91“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth…” A new world is built from nothing. A world composed of endless details – heavens and waters, light and darkness, animals of the land and winged creatures, and man to rule over them.

Heavens – as it is written: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth…”

Waters – as it is said: “Let the waters be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.”

Light and darkness – as is written: “Let there be light.”

Animals – as is stated: “And God created… every winged bird according to its kind.”

Man – as the Torah says: “Let us make man.”

After the creation of man, the Lord plants “a garden in Eden, in the east” and places Adam, the First Man within it. Adam, who desires the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge and eats from it, violating God’s command, is punished. Death is decreed upon him, and he is expelled from the Garden of Eden. To ensure that he does not return to the Garden of Eden, God places guardians at its entrance: the cherubim with the flaming, revolving sword.


Approximately 2500 years later, God commands Moshe to erect the Tabernacle. This singular and complex creation is composed of a myriad of materials – goats’ hair curtains and coverings, a basin and Menorah, the Ark of the Covenant.  And Aharon the Kohen is chosen to serve therein and perform the Sacred Service. 

In Midrash Tanhuma on Pekudei, it is stated that the creation of the world corresponds to the creation of the Tabernacle, which is, in fact, a microcosm of sorts.  It is written:

“Rabi Yaakov the son of Rabi Assi asked: Why does it say ‘I love the habitation of Thy house, and the place where Thy glory dwelleth’? (Psalms 26:8) Because the Tabernacle is equated with the creation of the world itself.”

How is this so?

On the first day of Creation, it is written: ‘In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth’ (Genesis 1:1), and it is also written (Psalms 104:2): ‘Who stretched out the heavens like a curtain’.  Similarly, in the Tabernacle it is written: ‘And thou shalt make curtains of goats’ hair’ (Exodus 26:7).

Of the second day of Creation, it states: ‘Let there be a firmament and divide between them, and let it divide the waters from the waters’ (Genesis 1:6). Of the Tabernacle it is written: ‘And the veil shall divide between you’ (Exodus 26:33).

On the third day of creation, we read: ‘Let the waters under the heavens be gathered’ (Genesis 1:9). With reference to the Tabernacle, it is written: ‘Thou shalt also make a laver of brass … and thou shalt put water therein’ (Exodus 30:18).

On the fourth day, God created light, as is stated: ‘Let there be lights in the firmament of heaven’ (Genesis 1:14), and of the Tabernacle it is said: ‘And thou shalt make a Menorah of pure gold’ (Exodus 25:31).

On the fifth day God created birds, as is written: ‘Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures, and let the fowl fly above the earth’ (Genesis 1:20), and with reference to the Tabernacle, God directed them to offer sacrifices of lambs and fowl.  Moreover, and it says: ‘And the cherubim shall spread out their wings on high’ (Exodus 25:20).

On the sixth day, God created man, as it is said: ‘And God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him’ (Genesis 1:27), and of the Tabernacle it is written: ‘A man’, referring to the high priest who was anointed to serve and to minister before God.”

Finally, when the great construction of the Tabernacle was completed, the Torah writes:  “Thus was finished all the work of the Tabernacle of the Tent of Meeting; and the children of Israel did according to all that the Lord commanded Moshe, so did they…And Moshe saw all the work, and, behold, they had done it; as the Lord had commanded, even so had they done it. And Moshe blessed them.” (Exodus 39:32, 43)

The Torah uses the wordsותכל  (“it was finished”), עשו (“they had done it”) and מלאכה (“work”) when describing the culmination of the Tabernacle. Seemingly ordinary words.  However, given the order in which they are written, and the usage of these particular roots in the same verses, echoes a previous event:

“And the heaven and the earth were finished, and all the host of them.  And on the seventh day God finished His work which He had done; and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done.  And God blessed the seventh day, and hallowed it; because that in it He rested from all His work which God in creating had made.” (Genesis 2:1-3)

Following the Divine commands, the gathering of the materials, the planning, and the construction, Moshe finally erects the Tabernacle, and for seven days, offerings are brought forth. Yet, to his great dismay, the Divine Presence does not descend upon the Mishkan. Then, on the eighth day, Moshe declares: “For today the Lord will appear to you” – today the Almighty will manifest His presence in the Mishkan.  Still and all, the Divine Presence makes no appearance.

Suddenly, Nadav and Avihu take firepans with incense and fire and enter the Holy of Holies, with the intention of actively bringing down the Divine Presence. But what is the nature of this entry of theirs? And why specifically do Nadav and Avihu seek to enter “into the innermost” realm, the Holy of Holies, not even clothed in the garments of the High Priest?

As we have seen above, the Tabernacle is a miniature model of the world, and, thus, the Holy of Holies is a miniature model of the Garden of Eden. Much like the Cherubim, who stand guard upon the Ark in the Holy of Holies, Cherubim also guarded the entrance of the Garden of Eden. When the Kohen Gadol enters the Holy of Holies [on Yomi Kippur], it is said of him that if he is found worthy, he enters there in peace and exits in peace. However, should he not be found worthy, from between the two Cherubim comes forth a flame, and he is consumed and dies in their presence.” (Zohar Hadash on Bereshit)

After the death of Nadav and Avihu, Moshe commands Mishael and Eltzaphan to remove Nadav and Avihu’s bodies from the Holy of Holies. Our Sages tell us that Mishael and Elzaphan were the ones who approached Moshe after being unable to participate in the Pesach offering (as they were ritually impure after carrying the bodies out of the Holy of Holies), with the following claim: “We are impure by the dead body of a man [“nefesh adam”]; wherefore are we to be kept back, so as not to bring the offering of the Lord in its appointed season among the children of Israel?” The AR”I explains that the expression “nefesh adam” [literally meaning “the soul of Adam”] refers to Adam, the First Man: “In particular, in what we explained in the verse ‘We are impure by a nefesh adam,’ for Nadav and Avihu themselves are the soul of the First Man, and, as such, wanted to rectify his sin.” (Sha’ar HaPesukim).

From here, we understand that Nadav and Avihu (who were reincarnations of Adam) essentially enter the Holy of Holies (which is the counterpart of the Garden of Eden) without the priestly garments (just as Adam was without clothing in the Garden of Eden before the sin), attempting to rectify the sin of Adam himself. However, they fail in doing so, and just like Adam in his time, death is decreed upon them.

The punishment is severe and seems unbearable. Adam, is expelled from the Garden of Eden and is devastated by sorrow. The Midrash tells us that when Adam left the Garden of Eden, darkness fell on the earth as the day was drawing to a close, and Adam said, “Woe to me, for I caused the world to be dark.” But when the sun rose the next day, he was relieved and said, “It seems that this is the way of the world.”

And now what?  What reason was there to go on?

“And Adam knew Eve his wife” – Adam says to himself: “Even if death is decreed, it does not mean the world must end.  Rectification will come – if not through me, then through my descendants.”

And now to our portion of Tzav. Aharon’s punishment is likewise severe, and his world seems to have shattered. Aharon the High Priest is speechless.  On the great day when the Almighty was supposed to manifest His presence in the Tabernacle, the day when God was to demonstrate forgiveness to the people of Israel and to Aharon for the Sin of the Golden Calf – that day ends in mourning, when his two eldest sons die.

Now what? What reason was there to go on?

“And Aharon was silent” – Aharon may have stopped talking, but does not for a moment cease to act.  Not for himself, but for the public.  He engages in communal and spiritual work for the good of the People of Israel.  From that moment onwards, Aharon the High Priest would not leave the Tabernacle, which was designed to atone for the people of Israel; rather, he would be there always with the good of the entire community in mind. Aharon says to himself: “Even if death is decreed, it does not mean the world must end.  Rectification will come – if not through my children, then through the entire nation of Israel.”

In his book Orot HaKodesh, Rabbi Kook explains that in order for a person to successfully transcend his personal fate, he must engage in broader circles of activity. By doing so, the transition from focusing on oneself to focusing on the public creates equilibrium in the personal sphere as well, without undermining the individual’s personal needs. When an individual immerses himself in a broader, more compassionate, and empathetic setting, he thereby expands his own being, thus becoming a vessel into which blessings and joy can flow. 

In his book Lessons in Leadership, Rabbi Sacks explains the importance of constructive action during times of crisis:  “What matters is the willingness, when challenge calls, to say, Hineni, “Here I am.”


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