Shemini 5779 – One Decision

By: Michael Carr

As a Citizen Support Team member with the Dallas County Sheriff Reserves I volunteer with sworn deputy sheriffs who are trained, licensed, and insured to carry guns. Recently I visited the Dallas County Quartermaster. For those who may not know – the Quartermaster provides uniforms and equipment for peace officers (police, first responders, sheriffs). When I went in to pick up my traffic vest for upcoming events I commented to the Quartermaster that it was interesting that like the peace officers who come to get their uniforms and equipment issued that the scene reminded me strangely enough of the County jail when prisoners are at intake getting their uniforms issued. The Quartermaster commented that WE ARE ALL ONE DECISION AWAY (from jail intake).  Not sure how many of you have friends or family or you yourself have experienced incarceration – it’s more common than one might imagine and definitely a punishment that extends far beyond ones childhood punishment of standing in a corner for an hour.

This circuitously brings me back around to today’s parsha and specifically Aaron’s two sons Nadav and Avihu who made at least one bad decision that lead to their untimely deaths. We could spend time today exploring the laws of Kashrut or how the Tabernacle was consecrated – though this portion of Shmini is very thought provoking.

There is much midrashic speculation on why Nadav and Avihu were killed on the day of and shortly before inaugural sacrifices were to begin in the Mishkan.  For example –

Were Nadav and Avihu drunk?

Had they committed moral sins that they were punished for on the auspicious occasion of the dedication to make an example of G-D’s power/authority?

Did the brothers not know the rules about approaching G-D without G-Ds authorization to bring fire to the Mishkan?

Were Nadav and Avihu’s limbic and prefrontal cortexes mis-firing- (that is: the limbic system that produces emotions like fear while the balance from the prefrontal cortex provides thoughts that are deliberate along with rational thinking and potential consequences)?

Had Aaron’s son’s missed the numerous occasions their uncle Moses shared the risks of death that G-D shared with him? For example, if one were to look at or get too close to G-D when G-D spoke to the people of Israel- for example looking directly at the cloud or other natural images such as a burning bush or an early ascent of Mt Sinai?

In fact in Exdous (20:17) G-D warns Moses that no one shall ascend Mount Sinai:  G‑d spoke to Moses (again): “Go to the people and prepare them…. And they shall be prepared for the third day, for on the third day, G-D will descend before the eyes of all the people upon Mount Sinai. And you shall set boundaries for the people around, saying, Beware of ascending the mountain or touching its edge; whoever touches the mountain shall surely be put to death.’ No hand shall touch it, for he shall be stoned or cast down; whether man or beast, he shall not live. When the ram’s horn sounds a long, drawn out blast, they may ascend the mountain.”

OR were Nadav and Avihu simply two enthusiastic zealots with a desire to do good and follow G-D’s commandments in spite of their otherwise ONE DECISION resulting in their premature and imminent deaths?

Why should this event be remarkable – I mean doesn’t this happen today? For example, like Moses, with well known people of the time, like Felicity Huffman, Lori Loughlin and author Jane Buckingham who made fateful decisions that got them ‘BURNED’ in a different way – while also showing their progeny and the world how little they believed in their children’s abilities. Hey – at  least Moses had bestowed G-d’s blessing on Aaron, Nidav and Avihu because one would have to believe G-D had faith and confidence in the collective brother’s ability and perhaps enthusiasm to follow G-D’s commandments.

Of course ubiquitous rules help us with daily decisions. Rules/regulations/laws are the guides that help business grow and flow and sports teams and athletes win and lose. They help maintain boundaries to make informed and appropriate decisions.  When a ticket is required for transportation or when a ticket is required for speeding.  And rules change except for pi – isn’t it always 3.1415…?

Maybe Nadav and Avihu thought the ‘RULES’ had changed for them upon their anointment to share the responsibilities with the high priests – the Kohanim.  Or maybe the brothers thought the rules were simply advice and they thought – well hey G-D really trusts us -let’s bring him some fire to thank him and we will light the place up.

Obviously Nidav and Avihu were not around to read Terry Pratchett’s Thief of Time  where Pratchett wrote:  “Look, that’s why there’s rules, understand? So that you think before you break ’em.”

So let’s all take time to learn, practice and remember the rules and make wise decisions.  Oh yeah & remember your sweater so you don’t get cold!