- Posted by Elaine Zecher
- On March 29, 2019
- 0 Comments
Welcome to Shabbat Awakenings, a weekly reflection as we make our way toward Shabbat.
This week’s portion begins on a high note.
Following the ordination of Aaron and his sons as priests, the offerings were brought forward and then Aaron blessed them. Soon, the spiritual climax of the moment occurred. Aaron lifted his hands toward the people and blessed them. (Lev. 9:22) The Presence of the Divine appeared to all the people with a blaze that consumed the burned offering. When they saw this, the community joyously shouted, and fell on their faces.
The ecstasy of the moment, however, soon disappeared and transformed into tragedy when Aaron’s sons, enlisted now as priests, offered alien fire. Like the burnt offering, they themselves were consumed by a divine blaze, which brought about their immediate death.
Questions swirl in our head, enough to fill an entire Torah study many times over: What did these young men do to cause their mortal demise?
Commentators throughout the centuries tried to understand what happened to Aaron’s sons, Nadav and Avihu. Their responses vary greatly and could be seen as a Rorschach.
- For those worried about change: Clearly, it demonstrates what happens when you institute something new, unfamiliar.
- For those threatened by those right behind them: Clearly, the younger generation was just too haughty to think that they could quickly replace their elders.
- For those who reinforce the importance of the law and the rules: Clearly, one should never alter in any way what God has instructed and offer alien fire.
- For those who understand their behavior as mystical: Clearly, the display of fire was a means by which Nadav and Abihu actually became one with the divine elevating them to a higher spiritual plane.
I wonder about the tension between the struggle of receiving a tradition as set and contemplating the way to go forward.
Does each generation have to do it exactly as the previous one? Instead of understanding the story of Nadav and Avihu as a warning, might it be possible to see it as a challenge?
After all, according to Exodus 6:23
Aaron took to wife Elisheba, daughter of Amminadab and sister of Nahshon, and she bore him Nadab and Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar.
The midrash placed Nachshon at the water’s edge when they arrived to the Sea escaping Pharaoah. Nachshon took a risk and moved into the waters, which in turn made the waters part.
Nadav and Abihu were part of a priestly lineage, but from their mother’s side, they were spiritual risk takers.
Sometimes, like Nachshon, entering new waters, brings on redemption. Sometimes, like Nadav and Abihu, we might get burnt. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.
Our Torah texts open up possibilities for interpretation and for truths to be revealed, handed to us by the ancients and made real by our own understanding and inspiration.
What do you think happened to Nadav and Abihu?
We gather tonight at 6:00 p.m. for Qabbalat Shabbat. We have two baby namings, so lots of joy to celebrate. Live web stream here.
At 9:00 a.m., we start our Torah study with a short service and Torah reading followed by a lively discussion.
Share with me your thoughts and response to my question here.