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אַחֲרֵי מוֹת שְׁנֵי בְּנֵי אַהֲרֹן
After the death of the two sons of Aharon (16:1)

The Gemora relates that Nadav and Avihu were punished because they were once walking behind Moshe and Aharon when Nadav turned to his brother, Avihu and said “When will these two old people die so that me and you will lead the generation?"[1]

One can therefore gain some understanding why Nadav was punished.  But why was Avihu, who said nothing, also punished - the Gemora does not show that he agreed with Nadav nor that he encouraged Nadav in any way? 

One answer could be that even though Avihu may not have said anything to encourage Nadav’s words, he should not have stood idly by as he heard them being said – he should have offered gentle rebuke or at least showed disapproval of what Nadav said.  He should have stood up for what he knew was right.[2] 

The importance of standing up for what is right is emphatically demonstrated in the Rambam’s monumental work, Yad Chazaka.  The Rambam describes Avraham’s rise to fame throughout the world and relates how Avraham would travel from city to city calling out in a loud voice, telling everyone about Hashem; this way, he gained tens of thousands of followers.  On the Rambam’s description, the Kesef Mishna answers the question posed by the Ra’aved – how could it be that Shem and Ever did not protest against the idolatry that surrounded them - why was it left to Avraham?  The Kesef Mishna answers that from here we see that Avraham was indeed considered greater than Shem and Ever, because, whereas Shem and Ever taught those who came to them, Avraham went out and taught others how to have a relationship with Hashem.[3]  We see from here that even though Shem and Ever were studying Torah every moment of the day, Avraham was ‘considered greater’ since he stood up, went out, and did what was necessary to build Hashem’s army. 

With this lesson in mind, Rav Noach Weinberg, Rosh Yeshiva of Aish HaTorah would always challenge his students to be active in ‘fixing the world’ and taking responsibility for its care[4].  He would list modern day problems in the world – disease, poverty, genocide etc. and then ask his students “What are you doing about these problems?”  Inevitably a student would respond “What can I do, I’m just one person and the problem is too big?”  Rav Noach would then smile at his students and ask the class, "If the Almighty, Creator of this Universe, would help you, could you solve these problems?"  Rav Noach was telling his students not to concern themselves with the magnitude of the task ahead of them because they have the ultimate resource willing to help – Hashem – all they need to do is ‘do the right thing’ and Hashem would do the rest. 

These words were echoed by Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel, the late Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivas Mir when he admitted “I have no idea where I’m going with all of this – the additional buildings, the learning incentives, bringing more and more groups into the Yeshiva.  But Hashem told me to go – so I’m going.”[5]
 
 

[1] Sanhedrin (52a)
[2] For, if Avihu was equally to blame, what do we learn from the Gemora specifying Nadav as the one who said these words; the Gemora could have merely written “and they said”, which would put both to blame even though it would be obvious that only one of them actually said these words?
[3] Hilchos Avodas Kochavim 1:3
[4] Rav Noach would learn that the words of the Gemora which says that everyone is obliged to say “The world was created for me” (Sanhedrin, 37a) means to say ‘The world was created for me...to look after’
[5] “Rav Nosson Tvi” P.117 (Artscroll)
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Regards from Yerushalayim
Moishe Kormornick
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