This week’s parasha starts with the חנוכת הבית, the inauguration of the משכן. I want to look at the קרבנות that were part of that celebration:
Each of these different types of קרבנות had a specific procedure that we saw in the past two parshiot:
|עולה||All burned on the altar|
|חטאת of the כהן גדול||חלב burned on the altar; meat burned outside the camp|
|Regular חטאת||חלב burned on the altar; meat eaten by the כהנים|
|שלמים||חלב burned on the altar; brisket and right shank eaten by the כהנים; rest of the meat eaten by the people|
|מנחה||One handful burned on the altar; rest baked into מצות and eaten by the כהנים|
And when we read the rest of the perek, we see that they do all that but don’t get up to the eating part. That’s when the tragedy of Nadav and Avihu happens, and everything grinds to a halt.
Then Moshe tells Aharon to continue and not mourn. Even though they are אוננים, they need to carry on.
Notice what is missing: the חטאת. That turns into a problem.
Now, Moshe’s getting angry is what leads to this problem:
but that’s not my point for today. I want to emphasize the difference between Moshe’s words in פסוק יג and פסוק יח. The first is צֻוֵּיתִי; ה׳ commanded that they eat the מנחה. The second is צִוֵּיתִי; Moshe is not claiming that eating the חטאת was a command from ה׳; it was Moshe’s understanding of what ה׳ wanted. That leaves room for Aharon to disagree:
What was going on? Rashi reminds us that this day, יום השמיני, had a lot going on. There were other קרבנות being offered, the קרבן of the נשיאים as part of the חנוכת הבית:
And it was ראש חודש ניסן as well:
So there were three different חטאת offerings. Which was the one that Moshe complained about?
חז״ל saw this as a halachic discussion. Moshe’s initial command, that they should still eat the מנחה and שלמים even though they were אוננים, was כן צֻוֵּיתִי. It was part of a נבואה. The question of what to do about the חטאת was a classic תורה שבעל פה question. How do we extend the letter of the revealed Law into new situations?
The commandment about the מנחה said כי קדש קדשים הוא. That is true of the חאטת as well. But the commandment was specifically for the offerings of the the inauguration of the משכן, which are by definition הוראת שעה. They do not establish precedent for other halachot. Aharon is arguing that the שעיר ראש חודש should be subject to the general rule that אין אונן אוכל בקדשים.
The key point is that Moshe tells Aharon and his sons אכול תאכלו אתה בקדש כאשר צִוֵּיתִי, ”as I command you“, not כאשר צֻוֵּיתִי, ”as I was commanded“. If Moshe claims that ה׳ told him that they were supposed to eat the שעיר ראש חודש, then there is no place for argument. Either Aharon obeys, or he claims that Moshe is a נביא שקר and warrants capital punishment. However, in a Torah מחלוקת, there is room to be wrong but still be דברי אלקים חיים. This leads to a striking statement by the Ran:
That’s a very strange statement. How can the Ran say יאמר אמת או לא יאמר, מצוה לשמוע לו?
This always bothered me. How can the Torah tell me that I need to believe something that I unequivocally know to be false? Are we really supposed to suppress our own intellects? The Ramban explains that the opposite is true:
The halacha אומר לך על ימין שהוא שמאל is procedure, not epistemology. When I listen to a חכם I am not saying that I am wrong; I am entitled to my understanding of the Torah. I am, however, acknowledging that the חכם's view is legitimate as well. In the ideal state, there is a process for deciding the הלכה למעשה, and we do not want that תעשה התורה כמה תורות. Something has to be decided. But אלו ואלו דברי אלוקים חיים.
This was the incident that established the nature of halacha and of Torah law., even before the statement of לא בשמים היא. Note that even though the question was הייטב בעיני ה׳, they do not ask ה׳. That’s not how פסק הלכה works. Torah is not given to any single human being, even one as great as Moshe. שזה נמסר לכל חכם וחכם שיבאר הדבר בדעתו.