B’MIDBAR (Numbers, 1:1-4:20)/SHAVUOS — “Legacy Building”

This week’s message is dedicated in memory of Eliyahu Leib ben Moshe Boruch — Steven Elliot Furman, Hashem Yinkom Damav (May G-d avenge his blood.) Mr. Furman, a 40-year-old resident of my community, was murdered on September 11 in the World Trade Center. His body was recently identified, and the funeral was today. (Thursday)  May his family, who are now finally able to sit Shiva, be comforted at this tragic time.  May the Family of Israel know no further sorrow.  (A short article about Mr. Furman can be viewed here.)


Next Thursday night is the beginning of the Holiday of Shavuos.  Shavuos commemorates the day, 50 days after the Exodus from Egypt, when G-d gave us the Torah.

For more on Shavuos click here or here.

Legacy Building

I’ll never forget that night…February 14, 1979.  It was the evening when I first met the young lady who would eventually become my bride.  She mentioned in passing that she was the daughter of a Kohain.  The first thought that crossed my mind was, “well, if our first child is a boy, there will be no Pidyon HaBen!”

Pidyon HaBen, Redeeming the Firstborn, is a Mitzvah performed only in non-Levitical families. Originally, the priesthood was the domain of the firstborn in each family.  Each family had its own representative in the Temple Service.  This privilege/responsibility was transferred to the Levites:

I have taken the Levites …in place of all the firstborn…because every firstborn is Mine.  On the day that I killed the Egyptian firstborn, I sanctified every Israelite firstborn for Myself. (Numbers, 3:12-13)

The firstborn became G-d’s “clerics” by virtue of being spared during the Plague of the Firstborn.  They were later “defrocked,” stripped of their special spiritual status as a result of the sin of the Golden Calf.  The nation had panicked due to Moses’ apparently delayed descent from Mt. Sinai.  They chose an idol as their new leader.  Rather than showing leadership and stopping this rebellion, the firstborn joined in the party.  Only the Levites remained faithful to G-d and His servant Moses.

The firstborn’s error cost them dearly.  The holiness of Temple leadership was taken from them and given to the Levites.  Today, we redeem our firstborn by giving money to a Kohain.  (As descendents of Moses’ brother Aaron, from the Tribe of Levi, every Kohain is also a Levite.)  If a child is a Kohain, Levite, or grandson of one, he is exempt from redemption.


Speaking of Aaron, the Torah tells us a bit about his family:   “These are the names of Aaron’s sons…Nadav, Avihu, Elazar… and Nadav and Avihu died before G-d…in the Sinai Desert, and they had no children.”  (Ibid. 3:2,4)

What was the sin of Nadav and Avihu, and what is the significance of their lack of children?

Nadav and Avihu were great men.  The problem was that they were impatient in their desire to show the world their greatness.  They saw their father and uncle leading the nation, and eagerly anticipated succeeding them:

“‘When,’ Nadav asked Avihu, ‘will these old men die, so that you and I can lead the generation?’  G-d responded, ‘Let’s see who will bury whom!'”   (Sanhedrin, 52A)

The Talmud (Yevomos, 64A) points out that their lack of children caused their deaths.  What is the connection?

The error of Aaron’s sons was due, I believe, to a lack of perspective.  Nadav and Avihu lived life for the present.  They didn’t see the whole picture.

Torah life is based upon Mesorah, (For lack of a better translation, we’ll call it “Tradition.”)  “Moses received the Torah at Sinai, and he transmitted it to Joshua, and Joshua gave it to the Elders, and the Elders to the Prophets.”   (Avos, 1:1)  The Judaism that we practice today represents an unbroken chain of tradition linking back to Sinai.

Nadav and Avihu did not understand that.  They should have viewed Moses and Aaron as living connections to G-d.  Instead, they considered them irrelevant old-timers who stood in the way of progress.

This could also be the connection with their lack of children.  When one becomes a parent, he immediately comes to understand his own mortality.  He realizes that we are here for a limited time.  He also learns the key to his own IMMORTALITY.  When one has children whom he can raise and teach and inspire, he has the ability to perpetuate his own memory and values by passing them on to his children.

Nadav and Avihu, had they been parents, would perhaps have appreciated the treasure available to them in Moses and Aaron. Moses and Aaron were the grandfather and great-uncle who could have given the children a first-hand report about the legacy of Mt. Sinai and the Exodus.  Instead, they saw Moses and Aaron as a burden; a roadblock to their own success.


When Rabbi Shimon Schwab, of Blessed Memory, was a teenager, he went to visit Rabbi Yisroel Meir Kagan, (1838-1933) known as the Chofetz Chaim. (Brief biographies of the Chofetz Chaim can be found here and here.  Read his obituaries in the New York Times and Time magazine here.)  Rabbi Kagan, the leader of world Jewry, was, at the time, quite old. He asked the young man if he was a Kohain. The young man replied that he was not. “Why not?” asked the sage. “Because my father’s not a Kohain.” “Why not?” “Because HIS father wasn’t a Kohain.”

Once the youth was sufficiently confused by the interrogation, the Chofetz Chaim explained his point.  “I am a Kohain, and when the Temple is rebuilt, I will officiate there.  I am a Kohain because 3,000 years ago, my ancestors responded to Moses’ call, ‘Whoever is with G-d, join me!‘ (Exodus 32:26)  You, young man, are NOT a Kohain, because YOUR ancestors ignored that call.

“Make sure, young man, that you never miss an opportunity to respond to Moses’ call!”


Nadav and Avihu didn’t learn their lesson from the firstborn who lost the priesthood for worshipping the Golden Calf. They didn’t appreciate the fact that what we do today makes an imprint on our own lives as well as the lives of those around us.  They didn’t see themselves as part of the continuum of Jewish history.  As a result, these potentially great leaders faded away into obscurity.

The opportunity to do a Mitzvah is more than a momentary cultural/spiritual high. When we study Torah, when we live according to G-d’s plan, we transform ourselves into irreplaceable connections from the past to the present… and from the present to eternity.

Every moment presents a new opportunity for growth.  Everything we do lays the groundwork for the future — positively or negatively.  We need only focus on the permanent nature every action: If I paint the barn red, IT WILL BE RED.  If I paint the barn blue, IT WILL BE BLUE. If I am kind, the world will be a kinder place. If I am cruel, the world will be a crueler place.

Every action makes a difference. And every difference we make can have eternal repercussions.

Next Thursday night is Shavuos, the holiday of receiving the Torah.  It is a time to once again accept that priceless gift from Mt. Sinai.  Be there. 3,000 years from now, your descendants will thank you for it.

Have a great Shabbos and Yom Tov.

Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz

To leave a comment about this article, or to read other readers’ comments on this article, scroll down past the archive links.


From the Archives

“Can Familiarity Breed CONTENT?” (2010)

A fellow came up to me in Shul recently and asked, “Why is it so hard to pray with feeling?”

… I studied at a Yeshiva in Israel for six years.  Then I left Israel, not to return for twenty years.  Ten  years ago, I went back…

I went to the Kotel.  The Western Wall, the sole remnant of a magnificent Temple of G-d that the Romans destroyed two thousand years ago; a Temple that we pray every day to see rebuilt.  ATemple over which our People have shed millions of tears for thousands of years.

As Jewish Law requires, I tore my shirt the same way a mourner does at the funeral of a loved one.  I stood there at the ruins of our Temple in my torn shirt looking like a mourner.  But you know what?  Deep down, I didn’t FEEL like a mourner!

I couldn’t understand it.  At the Tombs of our Patriarchs and Matriarchs I was overcome with emotion.  Why was the site of our destroyed Temple different?

I’m a religious Jew.  I pray every day for the Messiah to come and for the Temple to be rebuilt.  I fast every Tisha B’Av, and join my People in mourning for the Temple.   Why did I not feel the same, deep emotions that I felt at those other places?

I don’t know for sure, but I have a theory…

Read more.


“How do I Love Thee?  Let me Count the DAYS” (2009)

… Picture a wealthy man sitting in his treasure house counting his money.  How many times does he need to count?  He already knows, from the first count, how much he has.  Why does he continue?

Because he loves his money!!  Every gold and silver coin jingles as it drops back into the money bag.  He is so caught up with his love of money that he just sits there counting it, again and again and again.

That’s how much G-d loves you.  He adores you, His precious and beloved child!  Therefore He counts us, again and again and again.

We, too, have been counting…

Read more.


“Hair Today — Gone Tomorrow!” (2004)

… Reuters listed the story in its “Oddity” category, citing a “ritual ban” by “an ultraorthodox sage.”  … The New York Times, that bastion of Jewish anti-semitism, examined the human-interest and business ramifications of the ban.  NewsRadio WCBS described a “demonstration” in Brooklyn.

Everything I read or heard in the media seemed to suggest a fringe (pun intended!) fanatic group of religious fundamentalists reacting with intolerance toward the beliefs and practices of others.  Chat rooms all over the web abounded with obnoxious off-color comments and jokes.

What’s going on?  The issue revolves around a temple in India where pilgrims offer their hair to a Hindu deity.  This hair is then sold as a fund-raiser for the temple.  Apparently, some of this hair has found its way into the wigs worn by religious Jewish women.  Rabbinic leaders have declared these wigs unusable, due to having been used for idolatrous practices.

The media are going to town, describing Jewish women in a frenzy, lost without their precious wigs.  The news reporters especially enjoy telling us about group “wig burnings.”  Can’t you just envision the mob scene, as wide-eyed “ultraorthodox fanatics” launch the offensive hairpieces onto the raging pyre? …

Read more.


“Humility vs. Self-Esteem” (2003)

Life is filled with contradictions.  We are told to be humble.  Then the Torah tells us how great we are…

Read more.


Legacy Building” (2002)

I’ll never forget that night…February 14, 1979.  It was the evening when I first met the young lady who would eventually become my bride…

Rabbi Kagan, the leader of world Jewry, was, at the time, quite old. He asked the young man if he was a Kohain. The young man replied that he was not. “Why not?” asked the sage. “Because my father’s not a Kohain.” “Why not?” “Because HIS father wasn’t a Kohain.”

Once the youth was sufficiently confused by the interrogation, the Chofetz Chaim explained his point…

Read more.


“Marching Orders” (2001)

… After the Nazis invaded the small village of Klausenberg, they began to celebrate in their usual sadistic fashion…The officer became enraged. He lifted his rifle above his head and sent it crashing on the head of the Rebbe.

The Rebbe fell to the ground. There was rage in the officer’s voice.  “Do you still think you are the Chosen People?” he yelled.

Once again, the Rebbe nodded his head and said, “Yes, we are.” The officer became infuriated. He kicked the rebbe in the shin and repeated. “You stupid Jew, you lie here on the ground, beaten and humiliated. What makes you think that you are the Chosen People?”…

Read more.


This is the weekly message at www.torahtalk.org.   Copyright © 2000-2011 by Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz.  May be reprinted. Please include copyright information.


Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz is a Mohel (www.Brisrabbi.com) and chaplain inMonsey,New York. For information about scheduling a Bris or a lecture, or just to say hello, call (800) 83MOHEL.


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Published in: on May 9, 2002 at 7:11 am  Leave a Comment  

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