The Greatness of Kiddush Hashem
Our parsha deals with the greatness of Aaron. After the death of Nadav and Avihu, it is written: “And Aaron was silent” (Leviticus 10:3). This means that by his silence he concurred with their sentence and demonstrated to everyone that G-d was justified in taking the lives of his two sons. This occurred on the very day that he was established as High Priest, the day of his heart’s content, the day of Hashem’s joy, and the day that he received 10 crowns (Torat Kohanim 9:1). This was the day that the entire world awaited since creation, the day when G-d would finally establish His dwelling place in this world.
Apparently, Aaron could have questioned G-d as to why He killed his two sons, for they were righteous men and they had only acted for the sake of Heaven and to get closer to G-d. And even if they had decided a Halachah before their teachers (Eruvin 63a), it was not really their goal to do so, therefore how did it matter? The Children of Israel could have also questioned G-d about this, but when they saw that Aaron was silent and had accepted His decree, they concluded that there was no reason to protest.
This is why silence was precisely the way in which G-d’s Name was sanctified in public. It is written concerning Aaron’s sons: “I will be sanctified through those who are nearest Me” (Leviticus 10:3), and this occurred when Aaron confirmed G-d’s judgment, aware that everything the Merciful One does is for the good (Berachot 60b), and that G-d admonishes those He loves (Proverbs 3:12). Moses said to Aaron, “I thought that G-d would sanctify Himself through myself or you. Now I know that they [Nadav and Avihu] were greater and holier than you or I” (Tanhuma Shemini 1). Aaron’s silence thus proved that his soul clung to G-d. When Aaron kept silent, he sanctified G-d’s Name in the eyes of all the Children of Israel, for everyone saw that he accepted His decision. If Aaron had protested, he would have brought about a desecration of G-d’s Name, whereas on the contrary he actually sanctified it in public.
Aaron’s two sons thus merited resembling Isaac: In the same way that G-d recalls the ashes of Isaac, which are before His eyes on Yom Kippur (Vayikra Rabba 36:5), He recalls the death of Aaron’s two sons, through whom His Name was sanctified. [It is, moreover, thanks to them that the Children of Israel merited having Yom Kippur, as the Rebbe of Ger once said on Shabbat Acharei Mot – Kedoshim in 5753]. Actually, whoever sanctifies G-d’s Name in public and confirms His decrees without protesting is worthy of having his merit protect his entire generation, as well as all the generations, both in this world and in the World to Come.
Consequently, the death of the righteous atones for the Children of Israel (Moed Katan 28a). This is because G-d sends them trials in life, ones they accept with love by acknowledging that they are just, and the resulting merit is such that G-d forgives the entire world because of them. In addition, they are even greater in death than during their lifetime (Chullin 7b), and they can atone for all Israel.
In writing these words, I am reminded of a visit that I once made to a young, G-d-fearing man who was ill. When I saw him, I spoke to my friend who was accompanying me and mentioned the terrible ordeal that the sick man’s family had to go through. I told him that it was precisely now that his family must control themselves and accept this pain by realizing that it is brought about by G-d’s love for them (Berachot 5a). This is a difficult thing to do, for the Satan accuses man in moments of danger (Tanhuma Vayigash 1), thus increasing the anguish in the heart of the sick man and his family. At that point they may ask themselves why he has to suffer so much, given that he observes Torah and mitzvot, and given that he is filled with faith and behaves with goodness toward others. Is this the reward of his Torah (Berachot 61b)?
They should realize that these trials are precisely trials of love – they do not come as a result of neglecting Torah study or prayer – and that G-d is fully aware of everything that is happening. As a result, it is precisely during these difficult times that the family, and especially the sick person, should overcome their doubts and accept this suffering with love. The sick person will then be happy to sanctify G-d’s Name in public and defend what has happened to him, certain that “the L-RD admonishes the one He loves” (Proverbs 3:12) and that “the L-RD desired to oppress him and He afflicted him” (Isaiah 53:10). But unfortunately, woe to the one who profanes G-d’s Name by protesting against His decrees and asking what has brought him such suffering. By this, he demonstrates that such suffering is unjust in his opinion. He should rather control himself and accept his pain with love.
We therefore see to what extent a man can help the whole world by a single instant of sanctifying G-d’s Name in public, especially if he devotes his life to G-d, for then his reward will be utterly indescribable. Moreover, G-d is grateful to him and calls him “My son, the one who works for Me,” as it is said concerning the Children of Israel who work for their Father in Heaven (Zohar III:7b). G-d adorns him with 10 robes (Devarim Rabba 2:26), or He delivers him from among the nations (Berachot 8a).
It is written, “Ascribe power to G-d; upon Israel is ga’avato [His pride]” (Psalms 68:35), which means that through the Children of Israel (who sanctify G-d), He is invincible and His grandeur exists not only in Heaven, but also on earth, as the verse testifies: “The L-RD has reigned, He has donned grandeur” (ibid. 93:1). Once this is accomplished, we also come to the point at which “His might is in the skies” (ibid. 68:35), above just as below. In fact, the one who sanctifies G-d’s Name is like his Master’s chariot, insofar as he carries and protects His honor. But woe to the one who profanes His Name, for he proves that for himself, there exits neither justice nor judge (Yoma 72a). If such a person profanes G-d’s Name, be it even in secret, he is punished in public (Perkei Avoth 4:4), for he deprives his Master of His power, and because of him it is not abundance, but only misfortune that will descend upon the world. As for the person who accepts a decree by silencing himself like Aaron, he elevates G-d’s Name. The word vayidom (“and he [Aaron] was silent”) has the same numerical value as the words Y-H (one of G-d’s Names) and adam (“man”) combined, and the name Y-H has the same numerical value as the word ga’avah (“pride”). This reminds us to “Ascribe power to G-d; upon Israel is ga’avato [His pride],” for all G-d’s pride only becomes evident when a man abstains from protesting against His actions and accepts His decrees with love.
We find an allusion to this concept when the Children of Israel complained against G-d by saying: “Is the L-RD among us or not?” (Exodus 17:7). They harmed His Name in so doing, for this demonstrated that they did not wholeheartedly accept what was happening to them. Immediately afterwards, “Amalek came and battled Israel” (v.8). Amalek, who had created an imperfection in the name Y-H, came to attack Israel with all its pride. This is why G-d said, “For the hand is on the throne of Y-H: The L-RD maintains a war against Amalek” (v.16), for the damage brought about by pride must be repaired by decreasing the numerical value of Y-H (15) by one and transforming it into yad (“hand” – Numerical value: 14). Actually, the forces of evil have an influence over the Sephira of Hod (Attribute of Glory), whose numerical value is 15, signifying Y-H (Zohar III:282a). This is the meaning of, “For the hand…”. As for the word kess (“throne”), there it also consists of giving it back an aleph to make kissei (the complete form of the word “throne”). Thus Y-H will be complete and once again have the value of 15, the throne will be complete, and the Sephira of Hod will be at full strength when the Kingdom of G-d reveals itself to the entire world. When will all this happen? When Amalek is defeated, for Amalek damaged all these concepts.
When Aaron kept silent and accepted what was decreed upon his sons, he annulled his very self before G-d. He also elevated the Sephira of Hod to its rightful place, for we know that this Sephira is represented by Aaron (Zohar II:276b). He too was elevated by the Sephira of Hod, for whoever flees from honor and greatness is pursued by them (Eruvin 13b). This is the meaning of “And Aaron was silent”: He brought everything back to its source, and he restored G-d’s grandeur back to Him, as in: “The L-RD has reigned, He has donned grandeur” (Psalms 93:1). Aaron restored G-d’s Name and the Hod back to their original state.
Moreover, by Aaron’s silence and his self-effacement before G-d, he brought peace to the whole world. This in fact was his primary character trait, for he loved and pursued peace (Perkei Avoth 1:12). When he saw that there was reason to accuse Israel of wrongdoing, he knew that it was because of baseless hatred, which is why he pursued peace. He did so in order to spread the Sephira of Hod and to elevate it to its rightful place, so that it not fall under the power of kelipah (impurity). His silence is also the trait that allows a person to listen to insult without protesting, and this attitude brings about the restoration of the Sephira and the Name of G-d.
Aaron’s silence therefore had many positive effects: He sanctified G-d’s Name, restored all its measure to Him, reinstated the Sephira of Hod to its rightful place, brought peace to the world, and achieved the perfection of all Klal Israel. Thus his silence brought merit to his sons Nadav and Avihu, and without it the ensuing damage would have been extensive. Yet because he kept quiet, this virtue helped his sons and G-d’s Name was sanctified through them. The accuser was also reduced to silence, and both the Sephira of Hod (specific to Aaron) and G-d’s Name were rectified. As for Nadav and Avihu, they spiritually elevated themselves and attained the place that was their due for having sanctified G-d’s Name in public.