If only Vayikra had ended last week. The message of holiness that shapes how we live, how relate to one another, how we care and how we love was inspiring. Unfortunately, the rupture of Nadav and Avihu’s death is still not healed. The Cohanim are treated to a whole new set of laws this week. Degraded and dehumanized, they are forced through examinations like show dogs. The Torah is not concerned with their mind or their soul, but only with heir height, weight, and the symmetry of their eyebrows. Their relationships are limited, and the law will now control whom they can love and whom they may grieve. The one priest, who exceeds all his brothers, who has the privilege of entering the Holy of Holies is further objectified. His mobility is limited, and his wife is chosen by the most crass of qualities – only a virgin.
Thank God he did not make me a priest. Thank God he only limited this horrific life to a few. Nadav and Avihu showed us that when personality and care merge with the Holy, the results can be disastrous. The reaction is to clamp down, to eliminate the human from the direct encounter with God. That is the role of the priest. The person whose humanity is stripped to be God’s servant.
The rest of us still have Kedoshim. We still have the world where we partner with God, or take his place in the world. Where we merge our desires and loves with God’s will and do what he will not do in our world. We do not encounter God directly, but rather let God enter our world through our lives.
Imagine what it meant for Korach to rebel against Aaron – to say that we should all be priests. That difficult complicated life, where God’s existence weaves with our own, is insulting to Korach. He does not want humanity, he wants the pure encounter with God, where our own selves disappears. Where thought and logic reign supreme, and love and emotion are left behind. That is the world of the ancient Cohanim. Instead, today, we have Kedoshim.
Imagine what Aaron must be feeling. On what should have been his finest day, God killed, suddenly, publicly, without warning, his two children. Children who did nothing wrong save from trying to worship that same God. He is beyond words. His silence is not that of the suffering saint, but the silence of a man who no longer knows what to think or what to feel.
When the world is strange, when evil appears, and when things don’t seem fair or make sense, we desire comfort. Even after we grow up, we still want a mother to pick us up, to hold us, to assure us that things will work out, and that there is hope. We want to crawl into her bosom and cry, and to be afraid no longer. God is the greatest mother of all. God hears the tears of orphans and widows, of the poor and the abused. But, for Aaron, God is not a mother. God is the murderer, the very one who cast the shadows of chaos on his life. What then? What is to be done after the most senseless of deaths?
The response is a set of laws. No longer will our actions be determined by caprice but by rules and structure. We will now be responsible for creating order, for shaping a world that can make sense. It begins from the most sensitive place, from the Holy of Holies, whose dedication was marred by the bloodletting, and it continues out to all realms of our lives. From how we do business to who we sleep with, each act must be intentful, considered, and performed to improve the world. If God can not mother the world, we will, and if God will not perfect the world – we must.
Vayikra tells of the oscillating flow between tameh and tahor, pure and tainted. Actions and events, some controlled by people, others in God’s hands cast the verdict of tuma’a upon the ancient Israelites. Turned away from public gatherings and from the communal feasts, the impure have time and opportunity to pursue their own interests. Without demands, they can meditate, think, and explore the world. The impure can grow, but it is difficult for them to contribute. Society has its own rules and it does not pause as the hermits reflect.
Time passes, wounds heal, and the erstwhile loners seek the company of peers. The prophets return from wandering in the desert and come to Jerusalem to preach their wisdom. Nursing mothers, after months of loving intimacy, want to shape a world where all can care as they did. God welcomes them all back. God calls them all to come to the Temple, to stand proudly at the gates and declaim their commitment to creating community.
A motley array of the sick, the proud, the outcasts, and the monks, all wait in line to perform their final task – a sacrifice. Before the speeches, balls, and performances the debutantes are commanded to reflect for one last moment, and to feel pain. They must give something away, destroy something alive and beautiful, and know that even at this moment there is death.
In every transition, something must be given up. Old opportunities are sacrificed to create room for new ones. Even when we laud a world of togetherness and purity – the value of solitude and quiet is not impeached. The Torah knows that perfection is impossible, and it does not demand it. It only wants us to pause, at the moment of success, and recognize what we have lost.
Yesterday, I was frightened. Weeks and weeks of racist, xenophobic commercials from Yisrael Beiteinu had my blood pressure up, and polls showing Mr. Lieberman getting as many as 20 mandates on fear alone had me wondering who these Israelis were, and my boycott pencil was being sharpened.
Last night, as I watched results come in, I was curious and confused.
Today, I am feeling better.
Read more »
Here’s my thesis: The best thing that can happen for peace in the Middle East, today, is a decisive military victory for the IDF in Gaza – not an immediate ceasefire. Now that you’ve read that, take a minute to get angry, yell at me, tell me I’m wrong, and the like. Good. Next step, let me explain myself.
Read more »