The Duty to Mourn the Passing of a Tzaddik

At the beginning of this week’s parsha it is written, “Hashem spoke to Moshe after the death of Aaron’s two sons…. ‘Speak to Aaron your brother, that he shall not come at all times into the Sanctuary…. With this shall Aaron come into the Sanctuary: With a young bull for a sin-offering and a ram for a burnt-offering…. From the assembly of the Children of Israel he shall take two he-goats for a sin-offering and one ram for a burnt-offering’ ” (Vayikra 16:1-5).

We need to understand this passage. Why does the Torah mention the death of Aaron’s sons, given that this was already explicitly detailed in Parsha Shemini? As it is stated there, “They brought before Hashem an alien fire that He had not commanded them…and they died” (ibid. 10:1-2). It was then that the Torah should have immediately commanded, “He shall not come at all times into the Sanctuary.”

In addition to the he-goat for Hashem, why did the Children of Israel need to bring another he-goat for Azazel, one meant to procure atonement for them? Would their repentance alone not have been sufficient to procure atonement for their sins? Was a second he-goat really necessary?

Even if the second he-goat is said to appease the Satan’s anger and prevent the Jewish people from being accused on Yom Kippur, we know that the Satan is not allowed to accuse on this day (Zohar III:255a). Thus again, one he-goat should have been enough. Furthermore, why did two he-goats have to be brought instead of, say, two sheep?

The death of Aaron’s two sons is again mentioned here in order to demonstrate just how important the death of the tzaddikim is in the eyes in the Holy One, blessed be He. The Sages have said, “The death of a tzaddik is put on a level with the burning of the House of our G-d” (Rosh Hashanah 18b), which is why it is always recalled before the Holy One, blessed be He. This is especially true when they die as an offering and atonement for the Jewish people, for the latter must learn a lesson from them for all time. Actually, Nadav and Avihu were not trying to rebel against Hashem by bringing this alien fire, for the Torah itself states: “Your brothers, the entire House of Israel, shall weep for the burning that Hashem has kindled” (Vayikra 10:6). Their intentions were certainly holy, and when they brought an alien fire before Hashem, it was with the goal of sanctifying His Name.

This is why the Torah again states, “After the death of Aaron’s two sons,” for it teaches us that Nadav and Avihu brought an offering in order to come closer to their Father in Heaven, as well as to draw the Children of Israel closer to Him. This idea is what motivated them to present an alien fire before Hashem. This alludes to the fact that when the Children of Israel would sin before Hashem (thus preventing the Shechinah from dwelling among them), they would be redeemed by the death of the tzaddikim. Hashem would then forgive them and make the Shechinah dwell among them. This is why we also read the account of the death of Aaron’s sons on Yom Kippur. It teaches us that not only is the death of the tzaddikim an atonement, but that recalling their death serves as an atonement for all the generations. In fact we cannot rely solely on repentance, for who can guarantee that our repentance is truly from the bottom of our hearts? Thus in addition to the holiness of this day, we must ensure that people hear about the death of the tzaddikim and weep for them, for in this way they will be forgiven. Whoever laments the death of the tzaddikim, the Holy One, blessed be He, proclaims: “Your iniquity has gone away and your sin shall be atoned for” (Isaiah 6:7).

According to this, we can also understand why the Children of Israel had to bring a he-goat (as opposed to another animal) for their atonement. In fact the he-goat for Hashem was meant to appease Him. It was meant for Hashem to recall the death of the tzaddikim, and thus by their merit to forgive the evildoers among the Jewish people for their sins. It was also meant for Him to forgive those who are not considered tzaddikim. In fact we know that “there is no man so wholly righteous on earth that he always does good and never sins” (Kohelet 7:20). Who knows whether a person is considered to be evil in the eyes of Hashem, though he may be considered, both by himself and others, as a tzaddik?

This is due to the fact that, as the Sages tell us, “The Holy One, blessed be He, deals strictly with those who are close to Him kechut hasa’ara [like a thread of a hair]” (Yebamot 121b). Hence a sa’ir (he-goat) comes to atone for sins that are considered as such by a judgment that is kechut hasa’ara. We now understand why he-goats were needed, not sheep or other kinds of animals.

If we ask why Hashem in His wisdom agreed that the death of the tzaddikim should atone for the Children of Israel, we must say that eventually a tzaddik leaves this world at the appointed time, as it is written: “The end of man is to die” (Berachot 17a). Thus for the death of a tzaddik to not have been in vain, Divine wisdom decreed that it should atone for the Children of Israel. Now when Jews repent through love, their involuntary sins become merits. Since it is the death of the tzaddik that brings about their repentance, the tzaddik becomes connected with the merit that accrues to the Jewish people. Not only that, but merit is added to the tzaddik for all the generations. In fact each year we recall the death of the tzaddikim and the atonement it brings about, and thus their reward is doubled. Consequently, the Holy One, blessed be He, in no way diminishes their reward.

The Sages refer to this by saying, “The righteous are greater after death than in life” (Chullin 7b). This means that by their death, the tzaddikim merit the atonement of the entire Jewish people. The result is that everyone repents and their deliberate sins are turned into merits. The tzaddikim therefore have a part in this reward, and they continue to elevate themselves in the World to Come. This is the opposite of what happens with angels, which Scripture describes as “standing,” as it is written: “I will grant you free access among these who stand here” (Zechariah 3:7). From this we learn that when a tzaddik leaves this world, everyone should weep for him, for the Holy One, blessed be He, considers his death as tantamount to the burning of the Temple. If we weep over the destruction of the Temple each year on Tisha B’Av, we should also weep over the death of the tzaddikim. It is only when we conduct ourselves in this way that the tzaddikim will be able to intercede for us in the world above.

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