Thursday, April 12, 2018



During my elementary school years at the Yeshiva of Spring Valley, the menahel was Rabbi Yisroel Flam z”l. Each morning following shachris, Rabbi Flam would relate a brief mussar thought to the older students.
Whenever a student became a bar mitzvah or put on tefillin for the first time, at the end of his brief words, Rabbi Flam would call the boy up to the front. He would then lightly and affectionately pinch each of the boy’s cheeks and remark that one ‘k’nip’ was that he merit Ahavas Hashem (loving G-d), and the other that he merit Yiras Hashem (fearing G-d). The red-faced boy would then return to his seat to the smiles of his peers.

During a day described by the gemara as being as happy as the day of creation of heaven and earth[2], when the Service in the Mishkan finally began in earnest, a shocking tragedy occurred. Nadav and Avihu, the two righteous sons of Aharon, who were worthy of being the successors of Moshe and Aharon, took firepans filled with incense and offered them in the sanctuary. They did so on their own volition, out of tremendous desire to serve Hashem in a unique manner. However, because they had not been instructed to do so, their actions had instantaneous consequences, and they died immediately in the sanctuary.
Rav Shimon Schwab zt’l noted[3] that the tragic death of Nadav and Avihu serves as a stark reminder that proper service of Hashem requires a proper balance of ahavas Hashem and yiras Hashem. It is insufficient for one to serve Hashem solely out of love. One risks becoming too “friendly” with the divine, and he may begin to think that he is above the law. He may feel that perhaps he doesn’t have to adhere to every detail of halacha because “me and G-d are tight”[4].
One must always have a healthy balance – remembering that as much as Hashem indeed loves him and cherishes his every mitzvah, there are expectations and obligations he must live up to.
Nadav and Avihu were incredible tzaddikim who wanted nothing more than to express their ardent love for Hashem. The Medrash states: “They rejoiced when they saw the new fire come down upon the Mizbeiach, and they decided to add love to love.”[5] But, on their lofty level, there was a subtle lack of yiras Hashem. Overzealousness can be a dangerous emotion if not controlled. They acted with impunity in a place of intense holiness which necessitates following precise guidelines.
Each morning we daven, “וכוף את יצרנו להשתעבד לך- Submit our inclinations to be subservient to you.” It would seem that this is a prayer that Hashem help us subdue our yetzer hara - evil inclination, so that we do not allow ourselves to become subjected to its iniquitous whims and desires. Rav Schwab however explains that this prayer is actually referring to our yetzer tov. We are praying that even when we have good intentions to serve Hashem, that we not become carried away by them. We pray that our positive intentions be maintained within the guidelines of Torah and Chazal.
In a similar vein, on Friday night, after Shemoneh Esrei, we state לפניו נעבוד ביראה ופחד - Before Him we will serve with awe and dread.” Such words seem incongruous with the loving and favoring atmosphere of Shabbos. The truth however, is that particularly on the day when we refer to ourselves as “עם מדשני ענג - a nation satiated with delight”, we must be careful to be ever so vigilant about the many laws and restrictions of Shabbos. During Shabbos we must ensure that our intense love of Hashem is tempered with a sense of awe and trepidation so that we do not lose perspective of the severity of all its laws. 
It’s axiomatic that sometimes the worst atrocities are committed with the most noble intentions. Therefore, we ask Hashem to guide us in our positive pursuits to ensure that our best of intentions remain positive and productive in serving Him.
This idea is also expressed at the beginning of Shemone Esrei. The second beracha is about the infinite power of Hashem, particularly regarding the eventual resurrection of the dead. In the beracha we note that Hashem “sustains the living with kindness, resurrects the dead with great compassion, supports those who have fallen, and heals the sick…”
The following beracha is about the holiness of Hashem.
Rav Shimshon Pincus zt’l explains that no matter how close one feels to Hashem, no matter how much one feels he has been the beneficiary of G-d’s limitless kindness, he must maintain his sense of awe before the holiness of Hashem.

Decades ago in the world of education there was a big push for greater displays of affection and love for children. The world of “because I said so” was no longer effective, and children needed greater warmth and external displays of love. But since then, as often happens, the pendulum seems to have swung too far in the opposite direction. In our world parents display unbridled love for their children, and fail to set healthy limits. In efforts to become their children’s best friends, children may never hear the word “no” until they come to school where their poor teachers are faced with the task of setting limits to maintain a healthy social environment.
Today we have the opposite challenge. We are raising over-coddled children who become young adults who are not assertive, and cannot face or deal with the inevitable frustrations and challenges of the real world. It is unfortunately not uncommon for parents of a young adult to call an employer and demand to know why he didn’t hire their child.
That is the result of a lack of healthy balance between love and limits, and affective healthy boundaries.

This idea is true in Judaism as well. On the one hand, it’s so important that we don’t just serve Hashem out of rote. Our daily living as Torah Jews needs to be exciting and invigorating with a fire of passion. Yet, at the same time, we must remember that fires which aren’t contained can easily become out of control and burn and destroy everything in its path. 
Rabbi Dovid Fohrman compares the righteous motivation of Nadav and Avihu with that of Adam and Chava. They too had an overwhelming desire to draw closer to G-d. The serpent had told them that if they eat from the forbidden fruit, “And you will be like G-d”[6]. The mistake of these lofty individuals was that closeness to G-d can only result from adhering to the instruction of G-d.
Rabbi Fohrman makes the following powerful observation:
“How do you become embraced by G-d? You listen – really listen – to what G-d wants from you. Both stories are about the seductive temptation to take the final step to cling to G-d in a way that G-d had not commanded. Ironically, sometimes the way to achieve closeness is to keep your distance.
“Closeness with another human being is a beautiful, thrilling thing – but the closer you become, the more you need to respect your loved one’s boundaries. Think about marriage, for example. It’s easy to get lost in the desire to be close to your spouse. But the closer you are the more careful you need to be about respecting your loved one’s integrity, about maintaining the distance between you. Because at the end of the day, for all that you share, you are two separate people with your own distinct wishes and desires. You have to put your own desires aside and listen to what your loved one needs from you. When you trample on your loved one’s wishes, even in the process of trying to come close, it’s highly problematic. It’s a self-obsessed grab for intimacy. It’s the kind of closeness that kills. That was Nadav and Avihu’s fatal mistake.”[7] 
In fostering and maintain strong relationships, love is not enough. There also must be respect for the other person’s boundaries and dignity.
The disciples of Rabbi Akiva were great scholars. Yet, 24,000 of them perished because “they did not conduct themselves respectfully this one to that one.”[8] The gemara does not say that they lacked love for each other, but rather that they lacked respect for each other. The two are very different, and both are essential for positive relationships.[9]
Maharal writes כאשר נוהג כבוד בחברו דבר זה הוא עצם החיים - when one treats another with dignity, it is giving him life itself.[10]
The duality of being able to love and simultaneously respect is important for all relationships and interactions – marriage, parenting, workplace, neighbors, etc. 
On a higher level it is most vital in regard to our connection with Hashem. Ahavas Hashem and Yiras Hashem are two of the six constant mitzvos[11], and both are equally necessary.
We strive to love Hashem and to live our lives serving Him with excitement and closeness, yet never forgetting that that connection results from respecting the guidelines that Hashem has set forth for us in His holy Torah.

“Before Him we will serve with awe and dread”
“It is giving him life itself”

Rabbi Dani Staum, LMSW
Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead
Rebbe/Guidance Counselor – Heichal HaTorah
Principal – Ohr Naftoli- New Windsor

[1] Based on the lecture given at Kehillat New Hempstead, Shabbos Kodesh parshas Shemini 5777
[2] Megillah 10b
[3] Ma’ayan Beis Hashoeivah
[4] An actual quote heard
[5] Toras Kohanim 10:1
[6] Bereishis 3:5
[7] Aleph, Parshas Shemini Study Guide
[8] Yevamos 62b. The period of the Omer, between Pesach and Shavuos, are days of mourning to commemorate the deaths of those students
[9] Rabbi Yochanan Zweig
[10] Nesivos Olam, Nesiv Ahavas Reia
[11] See Biur Halacha- Orach Chaim 1, “Hu Klal Gadol”


Post a Comment