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Shmini Midrash Top
Shmini Midrash Bottom
At a glance, this Parsha spells trouble! That's because it starts off with that worrisome word "Vayehi." Now, literally, "vayehi" is harmless. It means "and it came to pass." Simple enough! But when "Vayehi" comes at the beginning of a Perek (chapter) it translates to doom and gloom! Usually, "Vayehi" is paired off with "bimay" as in "and it happened in the days." But don't let that double dose trick you - "Vayehi" is trouble enough when it appears alone! "Vayehi" is a contraction of the words "vay" and "haya" (a bad event happened). In Parshat Shmini, the zing zooms in on Aharon's two sons, Nadav and Avihu. They get caught up in the dedication celebrations, and in a drunk stupor, light the Mizbayach with their own fire. Well, those two zealous Kohanim get fired.... literally! Hashem sends a swoop of Heavenly fire and burns them inside out.

Here are some more examples of tough times on the "Vayehi" front:

1.  "Vayehi Bimay Amrafel" - "And it came to pass in the days of Amrafel" (Bereishit 14:1). Even if you don't know Amrafel, you can be sure that there's trouble a-brewing! In this Perek, it's the four kings vs. the five in a major canaanite war that puts Lot right in the center of the battle. During the course of this war, Lot is captured. Tragic, huh? Well, anyone who knows Lot knows that he might be worth a "Va" but not a "vayehi bimay!" The real tragedy lurks around the bend as Lot is used as bait to draw Avrohom into the conflict. The true intention is to kill Avrohom. Now that would be a tragedy! Little do these gentile kings realize that Avrohom is the light of the world. It goes to show us readers the greatness of Avrohom - a true "vayehi-worthy" tzadik!

2.   "Vayehi bimay Achaz Ben Yosam..."...- "And it came to pass in the days of Achaz, son of Yosam, ..., King of Yehuda, that Retzin, king of Aram, and Pekach, son of Rimalyahu, king of Israel, went up to Yerushalayim, to wage war against it..." (Yishayahu 7:1). Well, so much for the obvious! True, waging war on Yerushalayim is tragic, but Chazal (our sages) attribute the "Vayehi bimay" to a sign of the times: Achaz was one wicked idol-worshipping king! He was bent on driving the Shechinah away from the Jewish people. Achaz locked up all the Yeshivas, houses of learning and Batei Midrash. Learning Torah was forbidden. He especially made sure that the children remained ignorant. That way the next generation of Torah leaders wouldn't know Adam from Adam.

Baruch Hashem, his plan failed and Torah triumphed. Still, the unbroken chain of tradition was weakened and much Torah was lost in the process... a terrible tragedy!

3.  Then there's the most famous "Vayehi Bimay": "Vayehi Bimay Achashverosh" - "And it came to pass in the days of Achashverosh." Surely you recognize the opening line to Megillat Esther! Haman plotted to destroy the Jewish people on the 14th of Adar. And he almost succeeded! Unfortunately for him, Hashem planted Esther in the palace and Haman's plan went kaploowie!

Now, the "Vayehi (Bimay)" connection is a good general rule for tracking tragedy. But be warned that some sages say that it doesn't have a 100% track record. Rabbi Yishmael, however, is a firm believer in the "volatile Vayehi." And so, when some sages challenged him to explaim the tragic score of "Vayomer Hashem Yehi Ohr, Vayehi ohr" ("and Hashem said let there be light, and there was light"). Where's the tragedy in the light of creation?, they wondered.

Well, Rav Yishmael was well prepared. He explained that the light of "vayehi ohr" never made it to the sixth day of creation. This light was deemed to be too wonderful for this world. One day into creation, Hashem has already determined that mankind is not going to be worthy of greatness! (How do you like that? Doomed before the first man even makes an appearance!). So Hashem took away this heavenly light and replaced it with a dimmer bulb. The original light is reserved for Tzadikim to enjoy in Olam Habah (the next world).

Okay, that clears up "Vayehi ohr." But why does each day of creation wind up with a "vayehi" (as in "vayehi erev, vayehi boker yom revii; and it was night and it was day, a fourth day")?

Rav Yishmael explained that these "vayehis" teach us that this world was not created in a state of perfection. For example, grains grow from the ground, but you've got to grind and bake them before you can eat them.

When Hashem zapped Nadav and Avihu, the heavenly fire burnt them from the inside, sparing their bodies and the clothing of the Kehuna that they wore. Like clockwork, the dedication continued on. Perhaps this hints at the true meaning of "vayehi." In every case of calamity, there is always a hint that hope looms on the horizon: Avrohom defeated the kings and rescued Lot; Achaz could not extinguish the light of Torah; As hard as he tried; Haman's plot was foiled; Hashem will once again reveal His wonderous light in the future when Moshiach comes; and finally, although this world is not perfect, Hashem has revealed the secret to achieving perfection - Torah, the light of all creation!

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