Hamaayan / The Torah Spring
Edited by Shlomo Katz
Volume XII, Number 26
29 Nisan 5758
April 25, 1998.
This issue is dedicated in memory of Mr. Abe Spector
Avraham ben Natan Nata a"h, a devoted friend and supporter of Hamaayan.
Rachel, Adina, Elisheva and Devorah Katz
on Menashe and Leora's birthdays
We are now in the midst of Sefirat Ha'omer/The Counting of
the Omer, during which we observe certain forms of mourning
for 24,000 students of Rabbi Akiva who died during this part
of the year. Chazal teach that they died because they did
not show proper respect to each other.
Why were these students deserving of death and why did
they die at this time of the year? R' Aharon Kotler z"l
(died 1962) explains:
R' Akiva was a crucial figure in the transmission of the
Oral Law. [Ed. Note: The gemara teaches that most anonymous
mishnayot and many anonymous midrashim may be attributed to
certain students of R' Akiva and follow the halachic
viewpoint of R' Akiva.] It was reasonable to expect of R'
Akiva's students that they too be worthy of transmitting the
Oral Law. By not treating each other with respect, they
proved themselves to be unworthy of being R' Akiva's heirs,
and, having failed in their lives' missions, they died.
Why did their failure to treat each other with respect
render them unfit to transmit the Torah? Because we learn
in Pirkei Avot that there are 48 prerequisites to acquiring
the Torah. One of these, which those students were lacking,
is "cleaving to friends." Of course, if R' Akiva's students
could not acquire the Torah because of this failing, they
could not transmit it to the next generation either.
Why did they die at this time of the year? R' Kotler
explains that the period between Pesach and Shavuot is a
time of preparing to receive the Torah. Those students,
however, were not preparing to receive the Torah, they were
acting in a manner inconsistent with receiving the Torah.
(Mishnat R' Aharon Vol. III p.17)
An Astonishing Midrash
When Nadav and Avihu died, the Yam Suf/Red Sea began to
cry that it never should have split for Bnei Yisrael.
The angels answered the Sea with the verse (Eichah
5:21), "Renew our days as before."
Chazal say that when Aharon made the golden calf, Hashem
decreed that all of Aharon's sons would die. Thanks to
Moshe's prayers, half of the decree was rescinded, and only
two of Aharon's sons died.
Why did the older two sons die and not the younger two?
Apparently because the older sons were considered to be
closer to Hashem. Thus we read (Vayikra 10:3), "I will be
sanctified through those who are close to Me."
When the Sea heard that the older sons were considered to
be closer to Hashem than the younger sons, the Sea said, "I
am older than mankind, for I was created on the second day
and mankind was created on the sixth day. Therefore, I am
closer to Hashem and I should not have split for the Jewish
The angels answered, "'Renew our days as before' - i.e.,
before creation. Hashem 'thought' about creating the Jewish
people even before the world was created. Therefore, they
Another explanation: The Yam Suf initially had refused to
split for Bnei Yisrael because they had been idolaters in
Egypt. Hashem explained, however, that they had been so
against their will. In their hearts, they had served only
When Aharon's sons died, the Sea assumed that Aharon was
being punished for the golden calf which he had made. Yet
Aharon had not intended to sin; certainly he had not
intended the calf to be an idol! Seeing that Aharon was
punished despite his good intentions, the Sea claimed that
it should not have split for Bnei Yisrael.
Why was the Sea wrong? Because Nadav and Avihu did not
die as a punishment for Aharon. Rather, they died because
they were too holy for this world, as the Torah says (10:3),
"I will be sanctified through those who are nearest to Me."
[Ed. Note: The Torah does not say that they sinned.] This is
what the angels meant when they answered the Sea with the
verse, "Renew our days as before" - the souls of Nadav and
Avihu were as pure in life as they had been in the days
before they were born, when they resided in heaven with
"It happened on the eighth day . . ." (9:1)
The gemara (Megillah 10b) states that the day on which the
mishkan/tabernacle was dedicated was as joyous for Hashem as
the day on which Hashem created the world. R' Shlomo
Ganzfried z"l (author of Kitzur Shulchan Aruch) explains
this as follows:
Hashem's purpose in creating the world was so that He
could reside amongst His creations. And, before Adam's sin,
Hashem did just that. However, when Adam sinned, he drove
Hashem to ascend to the lowest of the seven heavens. When
Kayin sinned, Hashem ascended higher still, and so on due to
the sins of the generation of Enosh, the generation of the
flood, the generation of the Tower of Bavel, the S'domites,
and the Egyptians. In all, Hashem ascended to the seventh
The mishkan was built so that Hashem could again reside
amongst men, as the Torah states (Shoot 25:8): "They will
build Me a mishkan so that I may reside amongst them."
Thus, the day on which the mishkan/tabernacle was dedicated
was as joyous for Hashem as the day on which Hashem created
"The sons of Aharon - Nadav and Avihu - each took his
pan, and they placed incense in it, and they brought
before Hashem a foreign fire which He had not
There is an opinion among the Sages that the sin of Nadav
and Avihu was that they paskened/issued a halachic ruling in
the presence of their teacher Moshe. R' Shlomo Kluger z"l
(19th century) writes that this verse confirms that view.
Strictly speaking, there was nothing wrong with bringing
fire into the mishkan/tabernacle. And, it is human nature
that when one knows that an action is permitted, he does
that action without asking a rabbi if he may. Generally,
such behavior is acceptable.
However, when one is in close proximity to Hashem, Who is
humble, one must be humble as well. Accordingly, it was
wrong for Nadav and Avihu to do even that which was
obviously permitted without asking Moshe. This is alluded
to in the words, "[T]hey brought before Hashem a foreign
fire." Only because they were in the mishkan, "before
Hashem," was their behavior wrong.
R' Kluger adds: Hashem is different from a human
dignitary. When one gives a gift to a human dignitary, the
recipient does not care whether the gift is given legally or
whether, for example, the gift is stolen goods. Not so
Hashem, Who does not accept as sacrifices animals that were
stolen. Indeed, Hashem does not accept any mitzvah that is
intertwined with a sin.
This is another reason why the verse points out that Nadav
and Avihu brought the foreign fire "before Hashem." A human
king might have accepted Nadav and Avihu's fire even though
they neglected to ask Moshe's permission to sacrifice it.
However, Hashem rejected their sacrifice because they did
not obtain Moshe's permission.
R' Levi Krupenia z"l
Last week marked thirty days since the passing of R' Levi
Krupenia, rosh yeshiva of Yeshivat Toras Emes-Kamenitz in
Brooklyn. R' Krupenia was 84 years old.
R' Krupenia was born in Slonim, Russia, and studied in the
Mirrer Yeshiva. With that yeshiva, he spent the World War
II years in Shanghai and became close to the mashgiach/dean
of students, R' Chatzkel Levenstein. After the war, R'
Krupenia taught at Yeshivat Bais Hatalmud in New York. He
also became a son-in-law of R' Reuven Grozovsky. (The
latter's father-in-law was R' Baruch Ber Leibowitz, head of
the Kamenitz Yeshiva in Lithuania.)
In the early 1960's Rav Krupenia became the rosh yeshiva
of Yeshivat Toras Emes-Kamenitz. Later, he began to divide
his time between Brooklyn and a branch of the yeshiva in
Woodbridge (in the Catskills).
R' Shaul Kagan z"l
This week also marks thirty days since the passing of R'
Shaul Kagan, founder of the Kollel of Pittsburgh. R' Kagan
was 62 years old.
He was born in Europe. After his family fled to the U.S.,
his father became rosh yeshiva of Yeshiva Rabbenu Yaakov
Yosef (RJJ). R' Shaul studied there and later enrolled in
the fledgling yeshiva in Lakewood under R' Aharon Kotler.
Almost 20 years ago, R' Kagan established a kollel
(institute for advanced study by married men) in Pittsburgh,
Pennsylvania. He began with ten men who studied and taught
classes (for free) to the community. An appreciation of the
Kiddush Hashem that he and his kollel made on the city of
Pittsburgh may be gleaned from a comment made once by the
non-Jewish, then-Pittsburgh Mayor Richard Caligari, "What
those ten men are doing day and night in that study hall on
Bartlett Street is giving hope and strength for Russian Jews
far across the globe." Asked later why he would make such a
comment, the Mayor said, "Rabbi Kagan told me a little bit
about the Torah. Then he explained what you rabbis do.
Then he took me to the kollel. I saw from the way that he
talked about your Torah and by seeing you study that
whatever the Torah does, it must impact much farther than
Pittsburgh." (Both of these articles are based on Yated
Ne'eman, March 2)
Copyright © 1998 by Shlomo Katz
and Project Genesis, Inc.
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