Rabbi David Walk
This week's Torah reading contains one of the most harrowing episodes in the entire Bible. Chapter ten begins with the Divine execution of Nadav and Avihu, two sons of Aharon. We're not sure what crime they've committed, but the shock of identifying with a parent losing children is palpable to any reader with kids. Our empathy is challenged by Aharon's reaction. Even a laconic statement could be taken up by all the parents reading this tale. But Aharon is rendered silent and stoic by the incident. The Hebrew word used, va'yidom, doesn't just connote silence, as va'yishtok would. It hints at a soldier's response, since it also means to stand at attention. Has he turned off all human emotion in the face of heavenly justice? I don't think so, because six chapters later, when the Yom Kippur service is introduced, Aharon performs this majestic ceremony, after the death of his two sons. The stony silence is a public front. Inside all manner of humanity is churning, but he finds the strength to carry on and perform the holy rites. Not easy! Before returning to a comment on parenting. I think we should try to answer the most obvious question: What was their sin?
There are all manner of attempts to fill in this gaping void left in the text. The simplest and probably most popular answer is that they performed the
These answers, though plausible, ignore a phrase in the record of the event, eish zara asher lo tziva, an alien flame, which was not commanded (10:1). What was this alien fire? And what made it alien, or, perhaps, strange? There are commentaries who claim that they brought it unbidden. The mere fact that they performed a
We've just finished the holiday of Passover. And none too early, my digestive system couldn't take any more matzah. The holiday begins, of course, with the Seder. At the Seder, the leader must declare that this story is what happened 'to me, when I left
Now is the time to say something about parenting. Parenting is the most rewarding human activity, while simultaneously the most frustrating. The problem is clear. How can I bequeath what's valuable to me in such a way that my progeny adopt it as their own, while maintaining its integrity? It's not easy. However, the way to begin is by letting your children know what's important to you and why. This cup or that custom means a lot to me because it belonged (or was done) by my grandfather. Then they watch as you either venerate or denigrate those acts and objects, by your actions and life style.
Nadav and Avihu were not bad people. In a famous Midrash from parshat Achrei Mot they are specifically referred to as righteous or Zadikim. Their failure or sin, if you will, wasn't in their intention. But their act wasn't for the
Let's turn back to Aharon. Why was he silent and abashed? I think because he felt that he had failed his sons. He gave them the enthusiasm, but not the discipline. If we are to keep this faith community alive and recognizable as our heritage, we need both. We find this story so poignant because it's our story, too.
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