What Did Elazar and Isamar Do Wrong?

Vayiktsof al Elazar v’al Isamar bnei Aharon hanosarim (Shemini 10:16)

After the deaths of Nadav and Avihu, Moshe Rabbeinu commanded Aharon and his surviving sons Elazar and Isamar to continue their avodah in the Mishkan. When Moshe discovered that they had burned the meat of one of the offerings instead of eating it — which he perceived to be an error in judgement — he became angry and rebuked Elazar and Isamar for their actions. Rashi explains that although Moshe was also upset with Aharon, he addressed his disapproval toward Aharon’s children out of respect for his older brother.

However, Harav Yisroel Reisman points out that Elazar and Isamar did nothing wrong, for they were merely following the ruling of their father, who was among the greatest leaders in the generation. Had they also been complicit in Aharon’s alleged miscalculation, we could understand Moshe’s decision to train his displeasure on them, but since they were simply obeying their father’s instructions, what right did Moshe have to spare their father’s dignity by criticizing his innocent sons instead?

Rav Reisman answers this question based on a contemporary vignette. An elementary school Rebbi was once teaching Parashas Vayeishev to his class, and he told them about the hatred that Yosef’s brothers felt toward him because of the special garment that Yaakov gave him.

One of the students raised his hand and asked why their anger was directed at Yosef — who simply accepted a gift that his father bestowed upon him — and not at Yaakov, who caused the jealousy by deciding to show favoritism to Yosef? After searching unsuccessfully to find this issue discussed in any sefer, the Rebbi told him that it was such a good question that he should send it to Harav Chaim Kanievsky, shlita, to see how he would respond.

The student did as his teacher advised and eagerly mailed his kushya to Bnei Brak. Surprisingly, Rav Chaim wrote back that such a question could only be asked in our generation, for in previous generations, the possibility of children hating their father or even questioning his judgment would have been unthinkable. Thus, Yosef was the only candidate for his brothers’ jealousy and disdain. What appeared at first glance to be a strong kushya was in reality only a kushya for our times, and therefore the Rebbi was unable to find it discussed in any of the commentaries written in previous generations.

Similarly, when Moshe elected to censure Elazar and Isamar instead of Aharon, they considered it a badge of honor to be blamed for their father’s actions if it meant that he would be spared from Moshe’s wrath. We are only able to ask this question because we lack the proper appreciation for the mitzvah of honoring our parents.

Q: Which well-known prohibition in Parashas Shemini may no longer apply in the future?

A: There is an oft-cited statement attributed to Chazal that the Hebrew name for a pig — chazir — hints that “asid Hakadosh Baruch Hu l’hachziro l’Yisrael” — in the future, Hashem will return it to us by rendering it kosher. The obvious difficulty with this explanation is that one of the Rambam’s 13 principles of Jewish belief is that no part of the Torah will ever be changed.

Thus, the Yfei Toar and Sdei Chemed maintain that there is no actual source in Chazal for this purported statement, and the Pri Megadim suggests that the reason the Gemara euphemistically refers to swine as davar acher — that other thing — is to avoid using the term chazir, which could mistakenly cause people to think that they will eventually become permissible.

Rabbeinu Bachya and the Ritva suggest that the Midrash is not to be taken literally, but is allegorically referring to the nation of Edom, which is likened to a pig (Tehillim 80:14). The Midrash is saying that in the future, Edom will change its nature and help us build the third Beis Hamikdash.

On the other hand, the Ohr Hachaim Hakadosh takes this statement literally and says that pigs will one day be kosher. He explains that Hashem will change their nature and cause them to chew their cud, in which case they will possess the necessary traits that render animals kosher.

The Torah alludes to this by stating (Vayikra 11:7), “[You shall not eat the pig], for it does not chew its cud,” implying that if its nature changes and it begins to chew its cud, it may be eaten.

As a source for this concept, Harav Chaim Palagi cites the Midrash on the words in Tehillim (146:7) “Hashem mattir asurim” — Hashem releases the bound. The Midrash says that every animal that it is presently forbidden will one day become kosher.

The Livyas Chen cites the Gemara in Chullin (109b) that says that Rav Nachman’s wife Yalta told him that everything that Hashem prohibited to us has a permissible counterpart that is comparable. One of the examples she cites is that although the Torah forbids us to eat pigs, we are allowed to eat the brains of a fish called shibuta that have a similar taste. The Midrash teaches that when the Jewish people were exiled to Babylon, 700 kosher species of fish, 800 kosher species of grasshoppers and an innumerable number of kosher birds accompanied them.

When the Jews returned to Eretz Yisrael, all of these animals came with them except for the shibuta, which wasn’t strong enough to swim upstream to Israel, which is taller than its neighbors (Sanhedrin 87a), but the Midrash adds that eventually, the shibuta will manage to return as well. The Livyas Chen suggests that when Chazal say that swine will be returned to us in the future, they are referring to the brains of the shibuta fish, which have a comparable taste that we will once again be able to experience.


Originally from Kansas City, Rabbi Alport graduated from Harvard, learned in Mir Yerushalayim for five years, and now lives in Brooklyn, where he learns in Yeshivas Beis Yosef, is the author of the recently published sefer Parsha Potpourri, and gives weekly shiurim. To send comments to the author or to receive his divrei Torah weekly, please email oalport@Hamodia.com.