One could call the first perek of our sedra the ‘holiest’ perek in the Torah, for it deals with the Yom Kippur service - the only time when the Kohen Gadol is allowed to go into the holy of holies, the day of atonement, and the day that we got the Torah in the end. However, this perek has a seemingly out-of-place introduction; it starts with the brief mention of the deaths of the two sons of Aharon (from parshas Shmimi) and makes specific mention of the fact that this topic of the Yom Kippur service was related to Moshe after the death of the two sons of Aharon. We are told that Yom Kippur is also one of our two happiest yomim tovim (mishna Ta’anis 26b); why introduce it with the tragic event of the death of Aharon’s sons? Rashi brings an answer that the second pasuk of the sedra prohibits entering the holy of holies in the mishkan, and that was the sin of the two sons of Aharon (according to one opinion). He points out that it is a much stronger warning to tell someone not to go into the holy of holies like Aharon’s sons did who were killed as a result. And this prohibition, in turn, leads into the Yom Kippur service because therein lies the exception to the rule; on Yom Kippur the Kohen Gadol may indeed go into the holy of holies.
Perhaps we can offer a different answer, via a discussion first. Let’s suggest that this sedra provides the guide for coping with tragedy or punishment [we’ll call tragedy/punishment by its Hebrew word yissurin] The first step is to try and fix the problem which caused the yessurin; hence the above Rashi in noting that the first commandment is to avoid the sin which caused the death of Aharon’s sons.
Next comes the harder task of realising that yessurin have a purpose; they are there so one can spiritually grow from them. Rabbi Frand brings two illustrations of this point. First is a medrash (quoted in Rashi Vayikra 14;34) that says that HaShem guaranteed Bnei Yisrael that they would have to break down their houses (because of tzara'as) and find treasure underneath. Why do we get reward for the tzara'as which was caused by sin in the first place? Similarly, Samson (Shoftim 16;28) asks HaShem to give him the merit of one of his eyes, which had been knocked out by the Philistines, in order to give him the strength to bring down the roof of the hall. How could he ask for reward for his eyes having been poked out; that was a punishment for being swayed by the physical beauty of Delilah? The answer is that punishments are not all there to ‘smack us’ for doing bad - they are so that we can grow from them and become better than we were before the sin. This is how both Bnei Yisrael and Shimshon could receive reward for punishments; because they were actually receiving reward for having grown spiritually from utilising the punishment in the correct way. And one who sinned and did Teshuva for the sin is now in a stronger position than if he did not do the sin at all; for he successfully proved his strength to separate from the sin and is less likely to repeat it (Rambam hil. Teshuva 7;4). As Rabbi Tauber writes in his sefer ‘pirkei machshava,’ HaShem created the world yesh me’ayin - He created something from nothing [from an ‘absence/lack’]. And when we manage to strengthen ourselves because of yessurin we are mirroring HaShem in creating something from a lack/absence.

One might ask that these two steps in dealing with yessurin contradict each other; the first implies that the reason the yissurin came about is as a direct result of something I did, whilst the second step implies that the yissurin did not come about because of my actions, but rather they were sent by HaShem as a means of making me grow spiritually? These do not contradict each other, for several reasons. Firstly, it could be that the yissurin were sent as a reaction to something the person did, but HaShem still wants the person to grow from the yissurin - just like the examples we quoted from Rabbi Frand. Moreover, Rabbi Tauber highlights the point that it has already been decreed that the tragedy will take place; it was just the person’s spiritual negligence that led to the fact that it took place via him. For example, the Torah commands (Devarim 22;8) that one must build a fence round their roof (a ma’akeh) to ensure that ‘you do not place guilt of spilt blood in your house when the faller falls from it.’ The last few words require explanation why does the Torah name the ‘victim’ the faller - why not say ‘the person who falls?’ Rashi brings that the person who fell was pre-destined to fall from a roof; he was already a ‘faller.’ So what’s the guilt of spilt blood for the person who did not build the fence if the victim was pre-destined to fall from a roof and die? Continues Rashi that his negligence meant that it was from his roof that the ‘victim’ fell. According to this, the yissurin were going to be sent anyway, regardless of the person’s actions, just that the person’s actions had the effect that he, to an extent, became part of how those yissurin came about. This answer is complicated, and seems to touch upon the subject of whether one person’s freewill can affect others’ destiny; a topic out of my depth and subject to a major dispute amongst the authorities.
The final point about yissurin brings us back to our initial question. The idea is that it is precisely from the greatest tragedy that one can rise to the greatest closeness to HaShem. The same word ‘anochi’ used by HaShem in the ten commandments - a word which denotes closeness to Him - is used in the verse anochi hastir astir panai bayom hahu; referring to the darkness of galus where HaShem will ‘hide His face.’ The point is that it is from the darkness that we make the steps alone and find closeness with HaShem; hence Moshiach is born on the dark day of Tisha B’Av. In fact, this is exactly what happened to Esther in the Purim story; the moment of walking in to king Achashveirosh to risk her life to plead for the Jewish people’s survival was the same moment that she lost her powers of prophecy and everything seemed lost. It was at that moment that she said keli keli lama azavtani (‘My G-D, My G-D, why have you left me;’ Tehillim 22) and the salvation of the Jews started. Again, it was from the deepest point of darkness and despair that produced the roots of salvation and closeness to HaShem. This is the difference between Pesach and Purim; at Pesach, HaShem brought about the redemption with little involvement on our part. On Purim, we first had to make the effort (we fasted, prayed, and sent our ‘woman on the inside’ to the king to plead) to create the redemption out of the darkness of despair and imminent destruction. The parable is given of a father who holds his child’s hands to teach the child to walk - but at that point the child is not really walking for himself. It is only when the father lets go [and from the child’s perspective it seems like all is lost; he has no help now] that the child really learns to walk alone. And so it is with us; it is precisely when HaShem ‘lets go,’ so to speak, and we are faced with the oncoming darkness of galus/yissurim that we achieve growth by ourselves and show that we really want a relationship with HaShem. And this is why the Yom Kippur portion is preceded by the deaths of Aharon’s two sons. For the death of Aharon’s sons was a huge tragedy; especially for Aharon himself. Moshe says that Aharon’s sons were greater than Moshe and Aharon (Rashi Vayikra 10;3), and they were the future leaders of the Bnei Yisrael - one can imagine Aharon’s pain having lost these precious and holy sons. But it is precisely from the greatest of tragedies that one can rise to the highest of spiritual heights - and this is why the Yom Kippur service comes after their death; the service in which Aharon reaches the lofty spiritual level to be able to go into the holy of holies unharmed and be the agent of atonement for the entire nation.
Have a great Shabbes,

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