The Selection of Aharon
In numerous places in this week's Parsha, we are told of the ascension of Aharon to the exalted role of Kohen - even Kohen Gadol (High Priest). Moshe is commanded to perform various actions in order to bring about this change of status and to elevate Aharon to his lofty new station.
1. And take to you Aharon your brother, and his sons with him, from among the People of Israel, that he may minister to Me in the priest's office; Aharon, Nadav and Avihu, Elazar and Itamar, Aharon's sons. 2. And you shall make holy garments for Aharon your brother for glory and for beauty. Sh'mot 28:1,2
1. And this is the thing that you shall do to them to hallow them, to minister to Me in the priest's office; Take one young bull, and two rams without blemish, Sh'mot 29:1
44. And I will sanctify the Tent of Meeting, and the altar; I will sanctify also both Aharon and his sons, to minister to Me in the priest's office. Sh'mot 29:44
There is one piece of information missing: How did Aharon merit this honor? What did Aharon do that made him worthy of being proclaimed Kohen? No explanation is offered, no justification given.
This question must be addressed in the aftermath of our discussion regarding the chronological versus the philosophical order of events in these Parshiot. 1 In his comments, Rashi indicates that the sections of Parshiot Terumah and Tetzaveh that discuss the building of the Mishkan (Tabernacle or Sanctuary) actually occur after the sin of the Golden Calf. If this is the case, our question regarding the selection of Aharon as Kohen Gadol must necessarily be reconsidered. As in the discussion of the building of the Mishkan itself, there are two possibilities: Either the elevation of Aharon was commanded prior to the sin of the Golden calf, or his selection and installation as Kohen took place after the sin of the Golden Calf. Clearly, each scenario will offer different perspectives on the role that Aharon filled, and therefore of the skills, traits and actions that made Aharon the right man for the job.
Either possibility leaves us with difficult questions: If the selection took place prior to the sin of the Golden Calf, why was he chosen? In what way did Aharon distinguish himself as a spiritual leader? On the other hand, if the selection was made only after the sin (meaning that the text of the Torah does not transmit the events in accurate chronological sequence), Aharon's role in this debacle should surely have precluded such an appointment. If he was chosen - for whatever reason - before this enormous sin, why was he retained as Kohen subsequent to the sin? Shouldn't his participation in the sin of the Golden Calf have disqualified him for this role?
When considering the role now bestowed upon Aharon and his descendents, an additional, related question should be asked first: Why were the first-born replaced? In Egypt, God commanded the Israelites to "sanctify to Me every first-born" 2. What did the first-born sons do that caused a forfeit of their role, resulting in their replacement as ministers to God in the performance of the tasks now assumed by Aharon and his sons? Perhaps we should broaden the canvas of our inquiry and examine more generally the preferred status of the Tribe of Levi. Why and when was the Tribe of Levi set apart from among the other tribes for their role of divine service? There are a few possible explanations which can be mined beneath the surface of the biblical text.
The Targum (Pseudo) Yonatan offers a fascinating insight to the selection of Levi. We are brought back to a much earlier scene: Yaakov was on the run from his bloodthirsty brother Esav. He spent a night under the stars and saw a ladder reaching up to heaven. When he awoke he made a vow:
22. And this stone, which I have set for a pillar, shall be God's house; and of all that You shall give me I will surely give the tenth to You. Bereishit 28:22
When Yaakov invents the concept of ma'asrot, vowing one-tenth of his possessions to God, what was included? Our assumption is that this would include all his material wealth: money earned, possessions acquired, produce grown. According to the Targum, it includes much more. In fact, it includes everything – even the children who would be born!
The years pass. Yaakov lives with Lavan, and he is successful. When the time comes for Yaakov to return to Israel, he again has a memorable nocturnal experience; this time Yaakov is accosted by a mysterious assailant. According to the Targum (Pseudo) Yonatan, this assailant is an angel sent by God, who has a complaint: Yaakov has had more than 10 children, and he has been remiss. When will he keep his word, fulfill his vow, and set aside one in ten for God? According to The Targum, a count takes place then and there, and Levi is selected for divine service, in fulfillment of Yaakov's vow.
And Yaakov remained alone and a man struggled with him until sunrise.
And Yaakov remained alone on the other side of the Yabok and an angel struggled with him, in the form of a man, and said, 'Did you not say that one tenth of all that is yours (would be tithed)? And here you have twelve sons and one daughter, and you have not tithed from them.' The four first-born sons of the four mothers were immediately set aside, and eight remained. They counted from Shimon, and the tenth was Levi. And Michael called out and said, 'Master of the Universe, this is Your portion." And with these things (Yaakov) was occupied on the other bank of the Yabok until sunrise. Targum Yonatan Berishit 32:25
The first - born of each wife is holy; these four are not part of the accounting for tithes. Thus, eight sons remain. Counting in descending age order, from Shimon, the count begins again with Shimon as number nine, and number 10 would fall upon Levi. Yaakov offers his son to the angel: "Take what is holy".
Various sources indicate that Levi enjoyed special status even in Egypt; while the other tribes were enslaved, the Tribe of Levi avoided enslavement. This may be connected to the special status enjoyed by all priests in Egypt. 3 We are told that while Yosef's economic program resulted in the financial enslavement of the vast majority of Egyptian society, priests enjoyed a special status and were excluded from the laws enacted in the years of plenty and famine. 4 Similarly, the Midrash5 informs us that the Jewish slavery did not include the tribe that was to become their priests. 6
Another possible source for the unique status of the Tribe of Levi relates to Yocheved and Miriam. According to Rabbinic tradition, Moshe's mother and sister are identified as the midwives who feared God and did not adhere to Pharoh's murderous decree to kill Jewish children at birth. The Torah states that as a reward, God "made them houses"
And it came to pass, because the midwives feared God, that He made them houses. (Sh'mot 1:21)
Rashi explains: "Houses of kehuna, leviyah and melucha – Kohanim, Levites and kings. 7 Yocheved's children are destined to become Kohanim and Levi'im, and Miriam's line will assume the monarchy. This, then, is another source for Levi's status, yet we should note that this source, as well as the designation on the banks of the Yabok, rest on z'chut avot (merit of the fathers). Aharon's appointment, if solely a result of these two sources, would be due to the actions and merit of his ancestors, and not in any way due to his own personal merit.
Moving forward in the narrative, we find Moshe, who has fled Egypt and now works for his father-in-law. While shepherding his flock he finds himself in a holy place, and he receives a personal revelation. God tells Moshe that He is aware of the suffering of the People of Israel, and informs him of His intention to bring the suffering and exile to an end. Moshe is commanded to make his way to Egypt and serve as an emissary to liberate the people. Moshe hesitates; he argues; he denies worthiness and aptitude. 8 Each one of his protests is responded to, and countered. This is akin to the halakha regarding a Shaliach Zibbur: When first approached to lead the congregation in prayer, one should decline. Modesty, considered the endearing trait which qualifies a person to act as emissary between the congregation and God, is called for. The halakha states that the same person should be asked a second time to lead the prayer service, and this time he should display willingness to lead. When asked a third time, he should acquiesce. Similarly, God asks Moshe to lead the congregation. While the same halakha may apply, this is surely not an "ordinary" request put forth by just any member of the congregation. Perhaps Moshe should have leapt into action, more in line with the halakhic obligation to immediately respond when one's parent makes a request. Moshe's hesitation and protestations stretch across the third and fourth chapters of the Book of Sh'mot, before Moshe acquiesces, albeit begrudgingly; this inappropriate response draws God's ire:
13. And he said, 'O God, send whomever you will send.' 14. And God was angry at Moshe and said, 'Do I not know that Aharon your brother the Levi will surely speak, and he is coming to meet you and he will see you and rejoice in his heart. Sh'mot 4:13
Rashi bases his understanding of these verses on a Talmudic principle: God's anger is never left unexplained or without manifestation. In this case, the anger is followed with what sounds like good news: "Aharon your brother the Levi is on his way". Rashi explains that this statement expresses the result of God's anger. A punishment is to be discerned within these words: 9 Aharon your brother, who is presently a "Levi", is on the way. But soon he will cease to be merely a Levi; soon he will be a Kohen. As for you, Moshe, I chose you to be my emissary and to take the people out of Egypt. I also wanted you to be Kohen. While I am not freeing you from your mission to take the Jews out, you have forfeited the right to be Kohen.' This is the origin of the ascension of Aharon to Kehuna.
This approach says less about us why Aharon becomes Kohen, and much more about why Moshe forfeited the Kehuna. Perhaps a deeper understanding can be gained by combining our last two sources: Rashi told us that Yocheved received two houses, Kehuna and Leviah. Now Rashi informs us that God's "original" plan was to have Moshe as the Kohen and Aharon as the Levi. Because of Moshe's protests and hesitation, the roles were switched: Aharon received the Kehuna, and the Leviya was given to Moshe.
However, this approach has Aharon as Kohen by default: Aharon's ascension was a result of Moshe's disqualification. Yet the very same verse that Rashi uses to explain God's anger and Moshe's resultant punishment, also indicates that Aharon was already on his way to meet Moshe. Aharon, too, is a prophet; in fact, if Aharon is already on the way, his prophecy most likely predates Moshe's own. Aharon had already been informed of God's plan to release the People from Egypt – not only the grand design, but the details as well. He was told of Moshe's role, and of his own secondary role. And rather than petty jealousy, instead of a tinge of self-centeredness, the Torah attests that Aharon was on his way with gladness in his heart. This is a radical departure from all the failed fraternal relationships in Bereishit. Aharon, the older brother, takes pleasure in the spiritual accomplishments of his younger brother. This joy is what propels Aharon to the status of Kohen. A Kohen needs to feel joy when he blesses the people10, he needs to be an element and a vehicle of peace. Moreover, what is a Kohen if not a conduit, connecting those he represents with God, enabling them to reach their spiritual completion? Only one who cares for others can connect them with God. Only one who is passionate about others' success can serve as such a conduit. Aharon the Levi, who sets out to greet his younger brother with joy in his heart, will now be the Kohen. Rashi takes note of the centrality of this "gladness of heart" for the role of Kohen, and draws a parallel to the Breastplate of the High Priest, worn on the heart. 11
And he will see you and rejoice in his heart: Not as you anticipate, that he would hold it against you that you are ascending to greatness. And because of this Aharon merited the jeweled Khoshen (Breastplate) that is worn on the heart. Rashi Sh'mot 4:14
This is no isolated incident in the life of Aharon; our tradition is full of anecdotal evidence that this was a major element of Aharon's personality. Aharon truly cared about other people, and we gain a sense of this caring in the rabbinical comments explaining the crying and mourning of the nation after Aharon's death. 12 The People of Israel were truly bereft when Aharon passed away, for he dedicated himself not only to serve as a conduit between man and God; he also connected people with one another. He was a man of peace - shalom. The word "shalom" is derived from the word shalem, completion or wholeness. Aharon's essential character trait was in the propagation of the completeness that comes from perfected relationships. Aharon connected husband and wife, 13 brought contentious neighbors together, and acted as a vehicle for forgiveness and reconciliation between man and God. These were the works of a man of peace, 14 and it is this essential trait that qualified Aharon for the Kehuna and set the standard for this office for all time. It is not an accident that the blessings uttered by the Kohanim to this very day are placed in the Amida prayer adjacent to the blessing in which we pray for peace. 15 This character trait is what distinguished Aharon, from the very start, and qualified him for the Kehuna.
Moshe, on the other hand, is primarily a man of truth. 16
Truth and peace are not easily reconcilable; indeed, if each side of a disagreement adheres to their absolute truth, peace may be impossible. Conversely, if peace is to be achieved, at times truth must been trampled. Rabbi Soloveitchik spoke of this tension as so great that only in the messianic age will these opposing forces be tamed and merged. One who insists on absolute truth, who sees compromise and reconciliation as relatively impure gestures compared to absolute truth, will have a hard time working as Kohen. Only the person who wishes to heal sinful man, to reconcile the individual with God, to achieve peace with the Almighty, can be a Kohen. In seeking this reconciliation, the Kohen attempts to replace the objective, historical reality and truth of the sins man has committed, attempts to obscure, downplay, or reinterpret truth; the Kohen seeks to heal the rift between man and God, and dwelling upon the truth of man's rebellious behavior is antithetical to the Kohen's mission. The Kohen's modus operandi is an affront to truth, but a cornerstone of peace.
Aharon is a man of peace; Moshe is a man of truth. By definition, a Kohen makes a person whole – shalem; whole with themselves, their neighbors and God. This was Aharon, the man of peace, the Kohen.
Yet while we may now understand why Aharon was so well-suited to become Kohen Gadol, we have no idea why the firstborn were displaced. How and when did they forfeit their role as kohanim? As early as Parshat Mishpatim, we begin to discern that something is amiss. As Moshe prepares to ascend the mountain (24:5) we read the following:
5. And he sent the young men of the People of Israel, who offered burnt offerings, and sacrificed peace offerings of oxen to God....9. Then Moshe, and Aharon, Nadav, and Avihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel went up; 10. And they saw the God of Israel; and there was under his feet a kind of paved work of a sapphire stone, as clear as the very heavens. 11. And he (God) did not strike the nobles of the People of Israel; and they saw God, and ate and drank. Sh'mot 24:5
5. The young men: (This refers to the) firstborn. Rashi Shmot 24:5
And he sent the firstborn of the People of Israel for up to that time the ritual service was in the hands of the firstborn for up to that time there was no Tent of Meeting and up to that point the kehuna had not been give to Aharon. And they brought burnt offerings and peace offerings before God. Targum Yonatan 24:5
As Moshe prepares himself and the nation for his ascent to Sinai to receive the Torah, we may find the only instance in which the firstborn (described as "young men" but clearly identified by Rashi and the Targum (Pseudo) Yonatan, among other commentaries) function as kohanim. The verses following are challenging, to say the least. Various traditions and commentaries attempt to navigate through the different groups, identities and roles in these verses. What is clear is that Moshe sends them as representatives of the people, to bring sacrifices in preparation for the acceptance of the Torah. While Moshe and Aharon, Nadav and Avihu and the 70 Elders are otherwise occupied17, these emissaries behave in a way that warranted extreme censure, even death:
He did not strike: This implies that, in fact, they deserved to be struck. Sh'mot 24:11
The Shem Mishmuel18 notes that the sinners here are not Nadav and Avihu, 19 but rather the firstborn. It is they who turn this sanctified and critical moment into a celebration of the senses, eating and drinking in the face of God's Presence. Their brazen behavior may account for the shift in language: while at first they are sent by Moshe as na'arei, young men, somehow innocent and not fully mature, 20 they are all too soon referred to as "nobles", or perhaps 'aristocrats'. This second title is unique in the Torah; as a descriptive title, it reflects their own feelings of superiority21 which may have led to their tragic error in judgment: During this ecstatic religious experience they were looking at God while eating and drinking. When we realize that the next time we find such "eating and drinking" is in the context of the sin of the Golden Calf, the implication becomes painfully clear: Those who led the way, who were privileged to behold God, as it were, developed an insatiable desire -- to look at God. They became intoxicated with this experience, and hungered for a continued audience with God. The one-time scene at Sinai was not to be replicated, but for these firstborn it became addictive, and this addiction was deadly. At this point their punishment was left in abeyance, and they were not struck down for their transgression, despite having been previously warned against such behavior. 22 When this same transgression was repeated at the foot of the mountain, complete with food drink, and exacerbated by the addition of a "replacement" image of God -- a pathetic calf of gold23--it was the firstborn who led the people in this ecstatic experience. It was then that they were replaced. 24 Their unique position at the foot of Mount Sinai presented them with an opportunity to grow into the role of spiritual leadership to which they were born. Instead, they displayed haughtiness, and their sense of "nobility", of entitlement, steered them astray. They mistook their own stature and status, believing they could forcibly re-create the vision which they were granted. Like Nadav and Avihu, they sought intimate contact with the Divine, on their own terms and at their command. The Levi'im step up when Moshe calls out to the people to redirect their thirst for spirituality and to recognize that God, and not man, sets the terms for the encounter.
To what extent does the sequence of events affect our understanding of the verses? If we posit that the order of events follows Rashi's suggestion, and Aharon and his sons are appointed kohanim only after the sin of the firstborn and the Golden Calf, our present understanding seems reinforced. If, however, Aharon was appointed prior to the sin, as per the sequence recorded in the text's straightforward reading, we must ask again: If Aharon has distinguished himself through the traits of love for his brother and for his fellow man, why would he not have forfeited his role as Kohen - even Kohen Gadol, in light of his personal failure during the golden calf debacle, as did the firstborn? 25
Rav Tzadok of Lublin makes a radical suggestion: Aharon becomes Kohen Gadol, not despite his role in the sin of the Golden Calf, but precisely because of his behavior during the Golden Calf episode. 26
While other readers try an exonerate Aharon, claiming that his role was not sinful or that the Golden Calf was the fault of the People, or that Aharon was a passive or unwilling participant, Rav Tzadok rejects all these claims. To his mind, the text does not tolerate such excuses. Rather, Rav Tzadok examines Aharon's motivation. Before taking his leave to ascend the mountain, Moshe instructs the people to approach Hur or Aharon should a problem present itself. 27 From this point on, Hur is never again mentioned in the text. Clearly, Hur had been a major figure up to this point, and could have been expected to develop into a leader, if not on a national level then certainly of his own tribe. Whenever he is mentioned, his role and status are on a par with Aharon: When Moshe climbs the mountain during the battle against Amalek, it is Hur and Aharon who hold up Moshe's hands. Why is he never heard from again?
The Talmud explains: When the people were frightened by Moshe's "disappearance", they first approached Hur and demanded that he create for them a "replacement", a Golden Calf. Hur's response was something along the lines of "Over my dead body." 28 Unfortunately, the people obliged, and Hur was murdered. Now there is one less person to hold up Moshe's hands; no wonder the Tablets will soon come crashing to the ground.
What we know of Hur's biography is telling: Hur is from the tribe of Yehudah, and one element of his leadership role stems from his illustrious lineage. He is the prototype of Mashiach Ben David, from the line of Yehudah. He was "the man who would be king", even "the man who would be Mashiach", but he was brutally murdered.
Rav Tzadok's scenario focuses on Aharon, who observed the chaos swirling around him. He saw Hur murdered at the hands of the Children of Israel. Aharon's thoughts were not of the danger to his own person; the man of peace, the man who desired to serve as a conduit and bring his brethren closer to God, watched in horror as the People began a downward spiral which had the potential to create an unbridgeable gulf between them and God. Knowing that if he protested they would kill him as well, Aharon became afraid - not for his own safety, but for the fate of the nation, should they slaughter a prophet and a Kohen in one day.
A difference of opinion is expressed by R. Tanhum b. Hanilai, who says that the verse quoted refers only to the story of the golden calf, as it is written: And when Aaron saw it, he built an altar before it. What did he actually see? — R. Benjamin b. Japhet says, reporting R. Eleazar: He saw Hur lying slain before him and said [to himself]: If I do not obey them, they will now do unto me as they did unto Hur, and so will be fulfilled [the fear of] the prophet, Shall the Priest and the Prophet be slain in the Sanctuary of God? and they will never find forgiveness. Better let them worship the golden calf, for which offence they may yet find forgiveness through repentance. Talmud Bavli Sanhedrin 7a
Aharon's love for the People led him to agree to make the Calf, for he reasoned that it would be better if he committed this atrocity than for the people to kill him if he refused to cooperate. He was willing to accept an immutable stain on his own soul; his one goal was to save his beloved People from accruing another blemish. He had no illusions; he knew his sin would cost him dearly, distancing him from divine service in this world, and any proximity to God in the next world. Like Hur, Aharon displayed Mesirut Nefesh, literally: While Hur gave up his life for God, Aharon, as a Kohen, understood his job as the agent of sacrifice, and he sacrificed his own soul for the sake of his People. This was Aharon's definition of love "with all your heart and all your Soul." In fact, says Rav Tzadok HaKohen, with this behavior Aharon demonstrated that he was a true Kohen: his position was never about the status or the power. He took the job not for the fringe benefits or perks, but to serve his people. He was aware of the price, and he was prepared to pay it; he understood his role, and he was prepared to embrace it. This, says Rav Tzadok, is what a Kohen is; Aharon became Kohen Gadol not despite the Golden Calf, but because of his heroic self-sacrifice.
Insofar as we have understood Aharon's motivation and the process by which he became Kohen Gadol, we may gain new insight into the role performed by the Kohen Gadol on the holiest day of the year. Yom Kippur is not a day of truth, it is a day of forgiveness. It is a day when truth, historical truth, is, to a large extent, set aside, disregarded – even trampled. Truth is undermined by repentance, replaced by sincerity. On this day, the Kohen Gadol ventures into the Holy of Holies and, bearing incense, seeks to repair the relationship of the Children of Israel with God.
Why incense? The Bnei Yissachar explains that when man sinned in Eden all the senses were corrupted, save one: Eve listened to the words of the Serpent, she saw the tree, touched the tree, ate from the tree; the only sense not corrupted was the sense of smell. 29 Therefore when the Kohen Gadol enters the Holy of Holies to seek forgiveness for the transgressions of the Nation, he arms himself with incense, falling back on the one remaining oasis of purity. 30
To fully understand the Yom Kippur ritual, we should appreciate how incense is made. One of the key ingredients is khelbona, known for its terrible odor. This element is similar to that used in the production of all perfume: The basic method involves using something with an extremely pungent odor. This strong but unpleasant accelerant is then masked with a sweet smell which covers and transforms it into incense. While the sweet smell is the actual perfume, it alone would be powerless and unnoticed without the unpleasant odor to which it is attached. 31
Said R. Hana b. Bizna in the name of R. Hisda the pious: A fast in which none of the sinners of Israel participate is no fast; for behold the odor of galbanum is unpleasant and yet it was included among the spices for the incense. Abaye says: 'We learn this from the text: And hath founded his vault upon the earth. Talmud Bavli Kritot 6b
This is the secret and the power of the ketoret: A foul smell – something evil, putrid - is covered and transformed by good. This is the essential dynamic of teshuva (repentance) itself, the concept of spiritual healing which the ketoret helps bring about.
When the Kohen Gadol enters the Holy of Holies he takes with him the incense which represents the one area that was never corrupted by sin, the sense of smell. He takes with him the khelbona, and covers up the putrid smell with sweet; sins are transformed into something sweet smelling, and accepted by God. Sin is transformed; the power of the Yetzer Hara is now used in the service of God. Healing can take place; the correction of the disrupted relationship with God becomes possible.
The incense is not the only element that speaks of this process: The Kohen Gadol enters the Holy of Holies, which contains the Ark of the Covenant, the housing for both sets of Tablets – both the whole ones and the ones that were shattered.
And whence does R. Meir learn that the fragments of the [first] tables were deposited in the ark? ? From the same source as R. Huna, who said: What is the meaning of the verse, Which is called by the Name, even the name of the Lord of Hosts that sitteth upon the Cherubim? [The repetition of the word 'name'] teaches that the tables and the fragments of the tables were deposited in the ark. Talmud Bavli Bava Batra 14b
The fact that both sets of Lukhot were kept in this holiest of places is part and parcel of the process of teshuva. Both sets are important; each bears a unique identity and together they create a power neither can achieve alone. The first set of Tablets was written by God Himself; they were broken by Moshe when he witnessed the sin of Aharon and the Children of Israel. The second set of Tablets was chiseled by Moshe, a result of human endeavor and Divine forgiveness. This is what Aharon and all of his descendents saw when they entered the Holy of Holies: The broken Tablets, which must surely have spoken to Aaron in a unique way, and the complete Tablets, witness and constant reminder to Moshe of his responsibilities to man and God. The broken Lukhot are not unlike a broken heart: Each time Aharon entered the Holy of Holies he saw the Ark and the broken Lukhot; every time he enters, he feel remorse. How different would Moshe's experience have been if he had been Kohen; he would enter and say to God – "Forgive them Lord, for they have sinned". Aharon enters and, from the depths of his own broken heart, with the pain and shame of contrition for his own part in causing the Lukhot to be broken, he beseeches God for forgiveness: "Forgive us Lord, for I have sinned, for we have sinned." And the broken Lukhot are precious to Aharon - and to God, as well: Aharon's broken heart has a unique ability to empathize, to understand and to seek to rebuild the relationship with God. The combined power of the broken Lukhot and the whole Lukhot is the essence of teshuva. The place of the broken Lukhot is in the Holy of Holies; Aharon's rightful place is there, too. God uses these broken vessels32 to repair, to rebuild - whether it is the broken Lukhot, or Aharon's heart. In the words of the Kotzker Rebbi, "There is nothing as whole as a broken heart."33
1. See last week's notes on Parshat Terumah.
2. Sh'mot 13:2
3. See Megaleh Amukot Parshat Vayigash:
4. See Pardes Yosef on Sh'mot 32:26:
5. See Midrash Rabbah on Sh'mot 5:16, and Rashi on Sh'mot 5:2: "R. Joshua b. Levi said: The tribe of Levi was exempt from servile work; hence did Pharaoh say to them: 'Because you are exempt from work, therefore do you say "Let us go and sacrifice to our God"; hence, "Get you unto your burdens".'
6. For some theological implications of Levi's special status in Egypt, see Parshat Drachim, Drush 4.
7. Rashi Sh'mot 1:21
8. See comments of the Maharal in the Gur Aryeh Sh'mot 4:14
9. Rashi 4:14
10. See Mishna Brurah 128:156
11. See Rabbenu Bachya 4:14, Chizkuni 4:14, and the Ran in his Drashot, Drasha 3.
12. See Bamidbar 20:29
13. See Rashi Bamidbar 20:29
14. See Avot Drebbi Natan chapter 12
15. See Yalkut Shimoni Vayikra chapter 9 remez 523
16. See Talmud Bavi Bava Batra 74a, Sanhedrin 110a.
17. While the normative interpretation of the phrase "the nobles" identifies them as Nadav and Avihu, see Sem Mishmuel, below, and the B'chor Shor, who is of the opinion that this refers to the firstborn.
18.See Shem Mishmuel Bamidbar 5675
19. The identification of Nadav and Avihu as the sinners in this particular incident may be foreshadowing of their future fate, resulting from a transgression against the sanctity of the Kodesh Kodashim, hauntingly similar to the present incident. See Yalkut Shimoni on Sh'mot Chapter 24, remez 362. See Rabenu Bachya, who links their deaths to a previous warning directed toward the kohanim in Sh'mot chapter 19:22. The identity of the kohanim in that verse is part of our quandary.
20. See the use of the word with regards to Yosef, Bereishit 37:2, and Rashi's comments.
21. See Commentary of Riva Sh'mot 24:11:
23. Nadav and Avihu may have suffered from a similar nonchalant attitude, which allowed them to have a drink or two before entering the mishkan for service.
24. See Sh'mot 32,6: