Safety in Numbers
By Rabbi Pinchas Avruch
"The sons of Aaron, Nadav and Avihu, each took his fire pan, they put fire
in them and placed incense upon it; and they brought before G-d an alien
fire that He had not commanded them. A fire came forth from before G-d and
consumed them and they died before G-d." (Vayikra/Leviticus 10:1-2) At the
climax of the celebration of the Inauguration of the Mishkan (Tabernacle),
tragedy befell Aaron's priestly family. The Yalkut Shimoni (most
comprehensive Midrashic anthology, covering the entirety of the Tanach
(Bible); attributed to Rabbi Shimon HaDarshan of Frankfurt of the thirteenth
century) (chapter 524) explains "each took his fire pan" is an allusion to
the fact that each of the two brothers acted on his own, independent of any
input from the other. Simply explained, these two righteous scholars, sons
of the great Aaron, following their contemplation of the issue, made a fine
error in judgment with catastrophic consequences.
But implicit in the Yalkut is the lesson that had they not acted
independently, had they conferred with one another, they would not have made
this mistake. This runs contrary to simple logic: if individually they each
came to the conclusion that it was acceptable to bring incense for which
there was no Divine command or license, would consultation not yield the
same flawed conclusion?
Rabbi Alter Henach Leibowitz (Rosh Yeshiva/Dean of Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim of
Kew Gardens Hills, New York) elucidates that realization of the truth is the
fruit borne from discussion. Two people of like thinking who are genuinely
interested in arriving at the truth of the matter, in the course of their
dialogue, will unearth the truth, even if that reality is contrary to the
initial premise of both parties. The nature of the back and forth of the
discussion forces them to reflect and reanalyze their arguments and
rationales, compelling greater depth of thought and an arrival at the truth.
Yes, Nadav and Avihu would have realized the grave error in offering
Furthermore, when Pirkei Avos/The Ethics of Our Fathers lists amongst the
forty-eight components of Torah acquisition "closeness of friends" (6:6),
most understand that to mean that if one makes a mistake in a Torah concept
that he can rely on his friend to set him straight. This is consistent with
the teaching in Koheles/Ecclesiastes (4:9-10) "Two are better than one, for
they get a better return on their labor. For should they fall, one can lift
the other; but woe to him who is alone when he falls and there is no one to
lift him!" Rashi explains that the "lift" can be understood literally; but
in the realm of Torah learning, if one erred and was not precise in
understanding the mentor's lesson, his friend comes and redirects him to the
truth. Concludes Rabbi Leibowitz, that the closeness of friends has another
imperative. Simply reexamining the issue with a peer forces the diligent
scholar to delve ever deeper and realize the truth.
Indeed, the expert is not the one who can espouse his position on an issue
and find it universally accepted because it was he who uttered it. The
expert is the scholar who constantly finds himself challenged and, through
the process, hones an understanding of reality that would have been
impossible to achieve had he been left unchallenged.
Have a Good Shabbos!
Copyright © 2003 by Rabbi Pinchas Avruch and Project Genesis, Inc.
Kol HaKollel is a publication of the Milwaukee Kollel Center for Jewish
Studies 5007 West Keefe Avenue; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; 414-447-7999