Friday, April 5, 2013

A Time to Preach and A Time to Hug: Parashat Shemini

This parasha contains the rather puzzling account of the death of Aaron’s sons Nadav and Avihu when they entered the Tent of Meeting and were burned by heavenly fire. The reason for this occurrence is obscure and on Shabbat morning I will present a Chasidic commentary which stands more typical explanations on their head. For now, I want to look at Moses’ response to the death of his nephews and Aaron’s reaction.

Moses attempts to offer a theological rationale, saying “this is what the Lord meant when he said “through those near to Me I show Myself holy, and gain glory before the people” -- meaning that Nadav and Avihu were punished for flouting the divine will.

Right after this comment of Moses, the text says “va-yiddom Aharon, Aaron was silent.”

Rabbi Harold Kushner in his commentary on this verse points out that it is rare for the Torah to call attention to someone not doing something. In his book When Bad Things Happen to Good People he points out that people in mourning and in pain often ask what seem to be theological questions but they aren’t. If someone suffers a loss and asks “why did this happen to me?” they are not really asking you to explain either theology or the laws of nature. They are really crying out in pain but don’t have the words to express it. So to push the thought a little further, what Aaron needed at that moment wasn’t a theological explanation of his sons’ deaths, he needed comfort and maybe even a hug.

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