Shemini 5778


ויאמר משה אל אהרן הוא אשר דבר ה’ לאמר בקרבי אקדש ועל פני כל העם אכבד וידם אהרן (ויקרא י:ג)

And Moshe said to Aharon: Of this did Hashem speak, saying: “I will be sanctified through those who
are nearest Me; thus I will be honored before the entire people”; and Aharon was silent (Vayikra 10:3)

The Ramban (ibid.) quotes the Midrash in Toras Kohanim which states that immediately upon becoming aware of Nadav and Avihu’s passing, Aharon understood that they were punished because of his own sins. Moshe entered the Mishkan and explained that he was told at Har Sinai that the Mishkan would be sanctified through either his own sons or the sons of Aharon. From the fact that Hashem chose Nadav and Avihu as the means to sanctify Him, it became apparent that Aharon’s sons were greater than his own. Upon hearing this, Aharon, who until then had been crying audibly, ceased to do so and remained silent.
The Chasam Sofer comments on the words of this Ramban, specifically in the way the Ramban describes that Aharon had been crying audibly until the point that Moshe had spoken to him. He examines the reason for Aharon’s initial crying. It couldn’t possibly be, he states, that Aharon was doing so out of questioning Hashem’s ways, chas v’shalom. Rather, as the Midrash itself says, he was lamenting the fact that, based on his assessment, their punishment was due to his own sins.
Moshe responded by informing Aharon that they were killed so that Hashem’s name would be sanctified. The purpose of their death was to instill the proper fear when approaching the Mikdash and not as a consequence of Aharon’s self-perceived sins. That being the case, Moshe stressed to Aharon that if he were to display anguish over his sins, Klal Yisrael would conclude that this was the reason for Nadav and Avihu’s demise, and not because of the Mishkan’s lofty status. They would not appreciate its true significance, and Hashem’s Name would not be properly sanctified.
Since Aharon realized that it was not on his account that his sons died, and that crying would actually impede the Kiddush Hashem achieved through their deaths, all reasons to continue crying became irrelevant if not counterproductive.
It is interesting to note that when the Pasuk describes Aharon’s silence, the word וידם is used, and not a word with the more commonly used root of שתיקה. Perhaps this can be explained based on the Chasam Sofer.
In the final Pasuk of Tehillim 30, both the Radak and the Malbim explain the ידם in that context, to connote הפסק, or completely ceasing.
However, the word שתיקה often means to remain silent in place of speaking. Although one could be compelled to or find a reason to speak, he nevertheless refrains from doing so. The Mishna (Pirkei Avos 3:17) states,סייג לחכמה שתיקה , silence is a safeguard for one’s wisdom.
The Bartenura explains that this refers to one remaining silent in the place of mundane conversation. According to the explanation of the Radak and the Malbim, this is different than ידם, which means that the entire impetus to call out no longer exists.
According to the Chasam Sofer, Moshe Rabbeinu led Aharon to the realization that there was no basis to cry altogether. Nadav and Avihu died solely in order to sanctify Hashem’s name, not because of any sins Aharon may have committed. There was no place for crying, so there was no place for שתיקה. Therefore, the appropriate term was specifically וידם.


The Vav in the word גחון (Vayikra 11:42) is an enlarged letter. In a discussion in the Gemara (Kiddushin 30a), the early Chachamim were called “Sofrim” (“scribes,” or “those who count”), because they were able to count all the letters of the Torah. The Gemara continues and declares that these Sofrim used to say, “The letter Vav of the word גחון marks half of the total number of letters of the Sefer Torah.”
Rav Yosef asked whether the Vav of גחון is the last letter of the first half of the Torah or the first letter of the second half.
Abaye suggested that they simply bring a Sefer Torah and count the letters to answer Rav Yosef’s inquiry, as was done by the Chachamim in the past.
Rav Yosef replied that those Chachamim were experts in “Chaseros v’Yeseros” (the letters which may be omitted or included without affecting the meaning of the text; certain words may be spelled either with or without the letters Alef, Heh, Vav, and Yud, “supplementary letters” which are written to aid the recognition of vowels and are not always pronounced). Rav Yosef asserted that we are no longer experts in this matter, and thus our count will not reliably determine the central letter of the Sefer Torah. The Braisa in Sofrim (9:2) states that to denote that Vav’s unique position in the Sefer Torah, it is written larger than other letters.
Inasmuch as the Gemara seems clear that the position of this Vav is absolute, had they followed Abaye’s advice, they would have discovered that based on the total number of letters in the Sefer Torah, the Vav in גחון is indeed not the middle letter. A difficulty arises, however, if one actually counts the letters of the Torah. There are no more than 304,805 letters. (According to the Masoretic texts used by most communities, the total discrepancy in Minhag accounts for about nine variations). The Vav is nowhere near the middle and is off by nearly 5,000 letters. Even the Chaseros and Yeseros could not account for this.
Numerous answers have been offered to explain the Gemara’s statement. See, for example, Rabbi Menachem Kasher in Torah Sheleima, vol. 28, ch. 12; Rav Reuvein Margolies in Ha’Mikra Veha’Mesorah, chapters 4 and 12, for a compilation of various other answers. (Rav Margolies raises difficulties with all of those answers and offers his own approach); The Handbook of Jewish Thought by Rav Aryeh Kaplan, chapter 7, fn. 108; Pri Tzaddik of Rav Tzadok ha’Kohen, beginning of Shemos.
Rabbi Yitzchak Yosef Zilberis, as quoted in the Torah Sheleima, writes: While most of the letters of the Torah are written in the standard script, certain letters are written in an unusual fashion, while others are bigger or smaller than the standard letters of the Torah. If one were to count all the small and large letters in a standard Torah scroll, one would find that there are 16 or 17 of these letters (depending on whether we count the cut Vav in Numbers 25:12.3) Of these, the ninth, i.e., the middle one, is the Vav of גחון. In other words, the Talmud was not referring to the Vav of גחון as the middle of all the letters of the Torah scroll; rather, it was referring to it as the middle of all the unusually large and small letters in the Torah scroll.
Rav Eliyahu Posek (Piskei Eliyahu 3:1) answers that perhaps the Sofrim who counted the letters of the Sefer Torah did not mean that the Vav of גחון is the middle of all of the letters of the Sefer Torah. Rather, it is known that many words in the Torah should be written with a Vav or Yud, yet the Torah omits those letters for exegetical purposes, or it adds those letters when the words should have been written without them. In the list of all of the Vavs and Yuds which the Torah excludes (or includes) when grammatically it should include (or exclude) them, the Vav of גחון is the middle of that list. (It is assumed that the word גחון itself should have been written without a Vav.)
Accordingly, Rav Yosef asked whether the Vav of גחון is the last letter of the first half of this list of letters or whether it is the first letter of the second half of this list.
Abaye recommended that to ascertain the answer, they should count all of the letters that the Torah excludes or includes, contrary to grammatical convention.
Rav Yosef responded that since they lacked the grammatical expertise necessary to determine in which words the Vav and Yud serve as extra letters and in which words they are part of the actual word, they are unable to determine which letters to count.
(Based on an essay by Rabbi Mordecai Kornfeld in his weekly online Parsha Page)