A Warning Against Pride

It is written, “Hashem spoke to Moshe after the death of Aaron’s two sons, when they approached before Hashem and they died” (Vayikra 16:1).

Our Sages have given us a parable to explain this: It is like a sick man who is visited by a doctor. The doctor says to him, “Do not eat cold foods or lie down in a cold, damp place.” Another doctor then visits him, and he advises: “Do not eat cold foods or lie down in a cold, damp place, so that you will not die like so-and-so died.” The latter warned the sick man better than the former (Torat Kohanim, Acharei Mot 1). Hence after the death of Aaron’s two sons, we read: “Hashem said to Moshe: Speak to Aaron your brother – he shall not come at all times into the Sanctuary…so that he should not die” (Vayikra 16:2).

This Midrash is difficult to understand. Did Aaron need a special warning, such that Moshe had to threaten him by saying: “Be careful not to enter the Sanctuary in a prohibited way, so as not to die as your sons died”? Was it not possible to warn him in a general way, such as by telling him not to enter the Sanctuary at all times, nothing more? Prior to this, when G-d warned him about drunkenness (just after the deaths of Nadav and Avihu), He did not warn him in the same way, for it is written: “Do not drink intoxicating wine, you and your sons with you, when you come to the Tent of Meeting, so that you do not die – this is an eternal decree for your generations” (Vayikra 10:9). He did not say, “So that you do not die as your sons died.” Consequently, why was a more stern warning required here?

My Holiness Dwells Here

It seems that the Holy One, blessed be He, did not want Aaron to enter the Holy of Holies often, lest he become used to seeing the Shechinah at all times, for then he would grow proud. In that case, he would be unable to pray for Israel and unworthy of speaking with the Shechinah, for it is written: “One with haughty eyes and a proud heart, him I cannot bear” (Tehillim 101:5).

Although in regards to Moshe we read, “Hashem would speak to Moshe face to face, as a man would speak with his fellow” (Shemot 33:11), as well as, “Never again has there arisen in Israel a prophet like Moshe, whom Hashem had known face to face” (Devarim 34:10), there was still no trace of pride in him. How is this possible? It is because Moshe possessed tremendous humility. When had he succeeded in removing pride from his heart? It was when G-d revealed Himself to him in the burning bush and said, “Remove your shoes from your feet” (Shemot 3:5). The Holy One, blessed be He, said: “Since Moshe is constantly being called upon to speak with Me, he may grow accustomed to My glory and eventually demonstrate a lack of respect for Me.” This is because one who speaks with his teacher once or twice cannot be compared to one who speaks with him nine or ten times, since the latter grows accustomed to him. Hence He warned Moshe: “Remove your shoes from your feet” – be careful not to conduct yourself with Me like someone who grows accustomed to speaking with his teacher. Rather, each time that you speak with Me, it should like the first time that I am speaking to you. Why? “For the place upon which you are standing is holy ground” – for My holiness dwells here. What did He tell him? “Remove your shoes from your feet” – these were not shoes (ne'aleicha), but something tightly sealed (neila), like a treasure that is hidden from everyone. This is how My word should be to you: Just as no one enters the royal treasury or see what it contains, likewise you must be like someone who looks at a sealed treasure from the outside, not knowing what it contains, and yearning to enter inside. Once a person has entered and seen what it contains, he no longer wishes to leave. This is how My word should be to you, as if it were sealed from the outside. Each time that I come to speak with you, it should seem as if you had never heard My voice before.

When G-d spoke to him in this way, Moshe immediately yielded and conducted himself with humility. Moshe said, “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and take the Children of Israel out of Egypt?” (Shemot 3:11). At the same time, pride left his heart, for G-d told him: “Remove your shoes from your feet” – and the foot represents pride, as it is written: “Let not the foot of pride come to me” (Tehillim 36:12). Pride left Moshe, never to return again, and he merited to speak with the Shechinah face to face.

However Aaron and Miriam were not aware of Moshe’s level, nor did they realize that pride had left his heart, which is why they disparaged him for having separated from his wife. Aaron was surprised by this and said, “My brother Moshe constantly speaks with the Shechinah. It is therefore impossible for him not to grow proud, since man is forbidden to become accustomed to the Shechinah lest he grow proud.” This is why G-d told Aaron, “It is not as you think, that your brother Moshe has grown proud. Moshe has never grown proud, and I speak only with him because he is the humblest of all men upon the earth.”

Transmitted by an Intermediary

After all that we have said, we can fully understand why this passage was not transmitted directly to Aaron, as was the passage concerning drunkenness. Here G-d commanded Aaron and his sons to enter the Holy of Holies only once a year, whereas Moshe was near the Shechinah at every possible time. Here Aaron was told that he was not at the level of his brother Moshe, which is why this passage was transmitted to him by an intermediary. This was meant to teach Aaron that he could not speak to the Shechinah at any time, and that only Moshe was worthy of this, for he had not grown proud.

If the passage on drunkenness had been transmitted to Aaron directly, he would not have perceived any difference between himself and Moshe. Since G-d had spoken with Aaron, then ceased to speak with him, it was because he was not worthy of hearing the words of G-d at any given time, as was his brother Moshe because of his tremendous humility.

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