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Rabbi Lyon's Blog - 10_4_9
04/09/2010 02:57 PM Posted by:

From the Desk of Rabbi David Lyon

by David Lyon

4-9-2010

The Book of Leviticus and the portion, Shemini, pose intriguing challenges. An underlying purpose in the Book of Leviticus is to promote ritual holiness in order to gain God’s blessing. Everything points to the efforts of the priests and the people to maintain a high level of order and cleanliness. Their reward is God’s blessing. It sounds like a fairly simple equation for righteous living, but it is more complicated than it appears.

In this portion we read about Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu. As sons of the high priest, we assume that the boys knew their way around holy matters. But, Nadab and Abihu brought an “eish zarah,” an alien fire as an offering to God, and “fire came forth from the Lord and consumed them; thus they died at the instance of the Lord.” In commentaries, the rabbis taught that the boys were drunk when they entered the Tent of Meeting; therefore, their punishment fit the crime. They also taught that they brought an offering that was not commanded. Their offering was the result of their personal interpretation of God’s commands, which was an affront to Moses.

After the boys were consumed by fire, Moses says to Aaron, “This is what was meant when God said, ‘Through those near to Me, I show Myself holy, and gain glory before all the people.’” Then Torah records, “Aaron was silent.” Aaron’s silence has astonished readers ever since. Perhaps it’s the finality of God’s decree. Perhaps it’s the utter silence of Aaron whose grief over his sons is not recorded. Perhaps it’s the finality we’ve all felt at times in our life when “we didn’t see it coming” or “we should have known better.”

This week, I can’t think of this Torah story without also thinking about Tiger Woods. He’s a good example of a man who brought an alien offering and faced the consuming fire of public embarrassment and scrutiny that almost destroyed his coveted golf success. The difference is that Tiger wasn’t perfectly silent. Long ago, his worshipers made him into an idol and he accepted the role. His worshipers demanded an explanation, because idols are not supposed to embarrass their worshipers. He spoke up and gave an explanation. But, it will never be enough for Tiger, until he learns that he is human first, and has a superior golf talent for which he is idolized, second. And, his worshipers will never be satisfied because they don’t know what to do with a man they talked themselves into worshiping. Some will unearth the racial bias they buried after he won his first Green jacket. Others will quietly welcome him back, but disappointed that their idol is only human, not much different from themselves.

If there’s a Jewish lesson in this, then it’s that Jews have never worshiped idols of any sort. It’s a commandment not to and it’s part of our worldview. We only worship God. Someone asked me privately what I thought of Tiger. I said, “In a word --- schmuck!” Forgive me for making public what I said in private; but, honestly, the man is a human being who has held nothing more important in his hands than a golf club (!?), and never nurtured anything more than his ego. This is a fragile human being with an enormous talent. Our hope for Tiger is that he will attend to his human fragility and mend his relationship at home and in his heart. God will forgive him, but only after he makes things right with his wife and in his deeds in the future.

The men of the Masters should learn something, too. Worship God, not golf, not idols, and not man. Take your licks, too, and bury racial biases where they belong so that the human ego can better balance God’s gifts found in every person and the enormous responsibilities they represent in all our hands.

I’m sorry Tiger never had the opportunity to hear the story Rabbi Karff used to tell at High Holyday services every year. Generations grew up on it. It was “The Land of No Second Chances.” I have no doubt that boys and girls who heard Rabbi Karff’s story have drawn on its lesson. Saying I’m sorry is possible in Judaism; but, there comes a point when sorry isn’t enough and blessings and privileges are no longer available. Before we take God’s gifts into our own hands, take to heart the Torah verse, “Through those near to Me, I show Myself holy, and gain glory before all the people.”

From my family to yours, Shabbat Shalom.

_________________________________________________

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