Friday, April 21, 2017

Parashat Shemini

            Shabbat Shalom! Before talking Torah, it is also time to count the Omer.
ברוך אתה יי אלוקינו מלך/רוח  העולם אשר קידשנו במצוותיו וציונו על ספירת העומר
Baruch ata adonai, eloheinu melech/ruach  ha’olam, asher kidshanu b’mitzvotav v’tzivanu al s’firat ha’omer.
Blessed are you, adonai, our G-od, ruler/spirit of the universe, who sanctifies us with commandments, and commanded us regarding the counting of the omer.
היום אחד עשר  יום שהם שבוע אחד וארבעה ימים בעומר.
Hayom echad asar yom, she’heim sh’vua echad v’arba’ah yamim b’omer.
Today is eleven days, that is one week and four days of the omer.

The mystical realm of this day of the Omer is Netzach she’b’Gevurah, that is Endurance in Strength. On this day in this journey from redemption to revelation, may we remember to be conscientious about sticking with a decision we’ve made.
This week’s Torah portion is Parashat Shemini. The parasha details the inaugural use of the Mishkan, the traveling sanctuary the Israelites worship in during their 40 years in the wilderness. Aaron and his sons take the first sacrifices in, exactly as instructed, and everything looks dandy. Then two of Aaron’s sons, Nadav and Avihu, try to take in a separate sacrifice, a “Strange Fire” that is not instructed, “and there went out fire from the Lord and devoured them, and they died before the Lord.” Moses tells Aaron not to mourn for his sons, and the Israelites carry on as if nothing has happened. The Torah then segues into some more laws that Moses has to relay from God to the people, and so we received the laws of Kashrut. The parasha concludes with the laws regarding the mikveh, a spiritual bath, and a commandment to always distinguish the pure from the impure.
Many readers and commentators are troubled by the deaths of Nadav and Avihu, and make excuses for God’s apparent rejections for their sacrifices. They were too bold, they were drunk, they were trying to usurp Aaron and Moses’s positions of power, etc. And any of those explanations may be right. But we have in Rabbinic Judaism the idea of a “d’var acher”, which means “another thing,” and is often the way rabbis disagree with each other respectfully. It’s like saying, “yes, and” instead of “no, but” when offering a new perspective that doesn’t necessarily prove anything else right or wrong. So the Ohr Chaim, an 18th century Moroccan rabbi offers a “d’var acher” for Nadav and Avihu. He says, “They approached the supernal light out of their great love of the Holy, and thereby died. Thus, they died by a “Divine kiss” such as experienced by the perfectly righteous; it is only that the righteous die when the Divine kiss approaches them, while they died by their approaching it... Although they sensed their own demise, this did not prevent them from drawing near to G‑d in attachment, delight, delectability, fellowship, love, kissing and sweetness, to the point that their souls ceased from them.” Conscientious may not be the right word for their behavior, but in this reading, they certainly were committed to following through with what they started, and demonstrated an enduring and strong commitment to God.
I’m not advocating acting dangerously in the name of some religious fanaticism or anything. But I recently rewatched Fiddler on the Roof, and I can’t help but think of Perchik’s song, Now I Have Everything, in which he sings, “I have something that I would die for, someone that I can live for too.” He has a goal in life, a passion and a drive that consumes him, a cause he would die for, and then he falls in love and he calls Hodel “someone [he] can live for.” They don’t cancel each other out. He doesn’t say now he’s going to step back from the fight for equality so that he can be a better partner to Hodel; he says that now he has everything. A new joy to his life. Hodel, reciprocates in kind, and runs to his aid when he is sent to Siberia, a destination that often meant death. But they are devoted to each other and to their cause. They have endurance and strength, and they are committed to following through on their ideas, even if they sense their own demise approaching in their perseverance.
Take all possible precautions and do your best to keep yourselves and your loved ones safe, but find yourself a passion. A cause you are willing to fight for. A project you refuse to give up on. This sort of devotion can be holy, especially if you are willing to bring a spiritual grounding to it. Bring love and joy to your passion and your cause, and you too can have everything.     

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