The Weight of Warning: A Reminder of Consequences

In the beginning of this week’s Torah reading, God instructs Moshe (Moses) to warn Aaron and his sons to refrain from entering the place which was the center of holiness, in their place of sacrifice service. The Torah prefaces this by saying that God spoke to Moshe after the death of Aaron’s two sons, who died as a result of performing service in front of God improperly. Rashi quotes from our Sages the reason for this introduction. In order to add weight to the severity of the warning, God was warning them to be careful, in order that they shouldn’t suffer a consequence of death, as those who did previously for failing to exercise proper precaution during their service.

Humanity’s Vulnerability: Even the Greatest Can Fall

Rabbi Leib Chasman (Ohr Yahel) finds this to be a bit strange. Moshe was talking to Aaron and his sons, whose spiritual status and fear of Heaven were of the highest standards. They were well aware themselves of the consequences, as they experienced firsthand, the tragedy of the death of Aaron’s two sons. It would seem out of character to have to warn these most noble people to be careful, in such a threatening way. Why would it be necessary to express this commandment in such a manner by warning them that they shouldn’t die as the other ones did? Rabbi Leib Chasman offers a striking answer. No matter how great a person is, and what lofty levels of spirituality a person reaches, he cannot escape the human, earthly side to him. A person has a Yetzer Hara (Evil Inclination) which is always prepared to pull him down. No matter how high of a spiritual level a person is on, he is always susceptible to falling from these levels, and to act inappropriately. In order for a person to keep himself in check, he must have the outside motivation of the awareness of consequences for his actions. As great as a person may be, it is never superfluous to have the threat of consequences spelled out to encourage a person to act as he should.

Constant Vigilance: A Lesson in Humility

Rabbi Eliyahu Lopian was a renowned pious individual. In his senior years, he was once spotted by another elderly person, repeating a certain verse to himself. Upon further prodding, it became apparent that Rabbi Lopian was tremendously concerned that he might feel some hint of conceit, as a result of a little honor he would receive, and this was his way of fortifying his humility. The man was astonished by Rabbi Lopian’s great concern and asked, “Do elderly people like me and you, who are broken and worn out, need to fear that we will be overcome by such farfetched feelings of arrogance?” Rabbi Eliyahu Lopian replied with utmost certainty, “Is there any doubt?! The pride of an elderly individual is like a bomb, sitting quietly in a corner for a long period of time. There can be thousands of people walking by every day without it detonating. Yet, the bomb remains as deadly as ever, and can explode at any moment.”

Acknowledging Our Vulnerability

We all have areas in which we think our conduct is secure and is not at risk of being compromised. But there is really no such thing. The Mishnah says (Avot, 2:4), “Do not trust yourself until the day of your death.” A person is always walking around with a force within him, prepared to drag him to the lowest of levels. A person must always be vigilant of these potential hazards, and act with precaution. Don’t ever think that a certain inappropriate behavior is beyond you. Despite all the lofty Torah attitudes and spiritual levels one may gain in life, he must always keep himself aware of potential pitfalls, and guard himself accordingly. No one is beyond being reminded of the consequences one will suffer for acting out of line. Acknowledging the potential of evil within us, together with keeping awareness of threat of consequences for our actions, is something we can all utilize to make sure the inner force of evil within us does not surface.

By Rabbi Yitzchok Aryeh Strimber

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