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Shabbat Parashat Shemini 5777

Parashat Hashavua: Who was the Father of Nadav and Aviah?

Harav Yosef Carmel

In Parshat Shemini, Aharon is commanded to bring as a sacrifice “a young calf as a sin offering” (Vayikra 9:2). Rashi explains that Hashem thereby informed Aharon that this was his atonement for the Golden Calf. Similarly, Chazal said that the red heifer was to atone for the Golden Calf (Midrash, Bamidbar Chukat 19:2).

The sin of the Golden Calf is one of the most serious sins Am Yisrael ever transgressed. How, then, could Yeravam ben Nevat commit the same sin again, placing golden calves in Beit El and in Dan (Melachim I, 12:28-29), and how could the people agree to it? Also, why did he call his two sons Nadav and Aviah (see Melachim I, 14:1,20), similar to Aharon’s sons?

The Abarbanel has an enlightening explanation, clarifying the actions of Yeravam, who received kingship over the Ten Tribes via prophecy. At the beginning of Yeravam’s rule, the pasuk describes him as wearing a “new cloak” (ibid.: 11:30). Chazal explained that “his Torah had no “stains,” similar to a new cloak” (Sanhedrin 102a).

The navi does not state that Yeravam built an altar in front of the calves, nor did they bow or bring sacrifices to them, as happened in the desert. Yeravam did not ever intend to create idols to worship as did the generation of the desert. Rather, Yeravam saw that Shlomo made two pillars at the entrance to the Beit Hamikdash as a memorial for his father and himself, who built the Temple. Therefore, Yeravam also made some type of memorial to his kingship. Since he was a descendant of Yosef, he decided to place one calf in dedication of his family in Beit El, where his kingship began. It was made of gold to symbolize the eternity of his kingship, as well as his honor and greatness. He showed that the sign of the King of Yehuda was made of copper while the sign of the King of Israel was made of gold, in the form of the strongest animal – the ox. He placed this in Bet El at the entrance to the altars, just as Shlomo placed the pillars at the entrance to the Beit Hamikdash. Since Eretz Yisrael was vast he placed another calf in Dan, at the border of the Land, in order that his kingship would be commemorated even there. Also, he made two calves representing the two sons of Yosef – Ephraim and Menashe. By this, Yeravam was trying to give testimony that the birthright was actually given to Yosef, hence the kingship should go to him and not the tribe of Yehuda. 

Let us summarize the Abarbanel’s opinion. Yeravam did not repeat the sin of the Golden Calf. His calves were meant to be a symbol of the kingship of Yosef, placed at the entrance to the kingdom from both sides. They also symbolized that Yosef was rewarded the kingship and not Yehuda. By doing this, Yeravam was directly trying to seize the leadership from the successors of Shlomo, who built the Beit Hamikdash in Yerushalayim with the two pillars – Yachin and Boaz.

Unfortunately many people did not understand this and turned the calves into idol worship and hence re-enacted the sin of the Golden Calf. Perhaps there was a similar sequence of events with Aharon Hakohen.

Let us pray that we be able to rectify the sin of the Golden Calf and merit to serve Hashem with pure thoughts and actions.  
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