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42http://www.beth-israel.org/blog/2011/03/Rabbi-Lyon%27s-Blog---03_25_2011
Rabbi Lyon's Blog - 03_25_2011
03/24/2011 11:04 AM Posted by:

From the Desk of Rabbi David Lyon
March 25, 2011

 

                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.

                It’s in this portion that we read about Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu. Sons of the high priest, one could 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” (Leviticus 10:1ff). In at least two responses to this event, rabbis have upheld the record that the boys were drunk when they entered the Tent of Meeting with their offerings; therefore, their punishment fit the crime. They’ve also suggested 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 Aaron, their father, said, and Torah records, “Aaron was silent” (Leviticus 10:3). 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 is not recorded in Torah. 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.”

                The clearest lesson is found in what God said about the matter, namely, “Through those near to Me.” It reveals that Aaron and his sons were called to serve God, and their position came with inextricable rules about comportment, leadership and holiness. The higher the office, the higher duty; or we might say, the higher you climb, the farther you fall. That is not to say that jobs with less responsibilities are more forgiving, but it is consistent with our expectations that a person who leads from on high also demonstrates exceptional moral and ethical judgment.

                While there are no longer high priests in Jewish life, nor a priestly caste in modern Judaism, the covenant we enjoy in Judaism still holds us to a high standard for moral and ethical living. After all, a mitzvah is a commandment, and this presumes there is a commander. In a covenant such as ours, the commander is God. The ethical and moral teachings found in Torah, which we believe are inspired by God and written by man, are our best representation of covenantal law and duty. If, however, your vision of the commander is not God, but rather the duties of the heart that compel you, personally, it’s not impossible to conclude that your principal teachings don’t also come from the same source in Torah. Thus, Torah is our unifying text. We share the same duty to perform deeds that correspond to expectations that devolve upon us from our heritage of Torah ethics.

                Whether or not we perform our duties well or often is a matter of personal conviction. Yet, I have observed time and again that events in our life, whether they are joyful or sorrowful, deeply move us emotionally and spiritually. In recent weeks, I have officiated at four weddings, three funerals, and a baby naming. Imagine the avalanche of emotions among everyone involved. Like Aaron, members of the families who tried to find words to reflect on their joy or their sorrow could not. They stumbled or they were silent. At best, they composed their words on paper to be sure they were prepared. To me their effort reflected the stunning reality and finality of the transitions we face as life unfolds. The small child who enters the chuppah is all grown up; the beloved who is accompanied to his/her final resting place on earth is physically no more; and the baby just entering the world is a miracle to his/her parents and grandparents. At these times, who isn’t rendered silent; who isn’t in awe? They are part of the rhythm of life we cannot control. Indeed, there is a commander who animates the Divine in each of us.

                As Shabbat comes, reflect on the moments in your life when you were at a loss for words. Maybe they were holy moments and times of sacred transitions.

                From my family to yours, Shabbat Shalom.

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