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Parshat Shemini: Stay In Faith (March 30, 2019)

Let’s do #BibleStudyCoffeeTime

This week’s Torah portion is Parshas Shemini, located in the book of Leviticus, Leviticus 9:1 – 11:47. 

Special reading Numbers 19:1-22. 

Supplemental reading Ezekiel 36:16 – 36:38. 
2) The Chumash (Bible) I used is the Stone Chumash in Hebrew and English with anthology. You can get it at @amazon here. If you start at  they’ll donate a portion to charity. (No, I don’t work for them, I just like Amazon’s service.) 
3) If you don’t want to buy anything, you can go to Chabad for some pretty great comprehensive translations and explanations from an authentic Jewish point of view. 
4) I’m reading over the summary and already upset.
5) First let’s capture the story and then we can talk about it.
6) Aharon, Moses’ brother, is the High Priest.

Earlier in the Bible we learn how faithful.

But in this portion, his sons Nadav and Avihu — who serve alongside him — are killed instantly for offering a “strange fire before God.”
7) I learned this story earlier in my life but never really appreciated its magnitude.

Aaron is completely long-suffering and self-sacrificing for the mission. His sons join him, giving up everything else in the world for the priesthood.

They make a mistake.

This is justice?
8) Let me tell you another story.
9) Recently we got an email from someone we know as an acquaintance.
This man told us that he lost his son, a young adult, completely out of the blue, and he would not be in touch for awhile, because obviously.
10) The first thing I thought to myself was, why did this young man die? How did he die? He was so young!

The second thing I thought was, put the father on suicide watch.
11) The pain, the grief, the torment that Aaron, as a man, must have felt.

It is not even describable.

Let alone anger!

Anyone would be furious at God for this!
12) Keep in mind the character of Aaron.

When the men of Israel couldn’t wait for Moses to come down from the mountain, they mobbed him and forced him to make the Golden Calf.

Aaron knew they would kill him in their frenzy. 

He focused instead on creating a delay.
13) But to take his sons.
His precious sons.
What could they possibly have done that was so bad?
14) Let’s read the text very closely, to better understand what happened here. A fate that Aaron accepted in complete silence and submission to the Lord’s will.
15) Leviticus Chapter 10, Verse 1. “And Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu, each took his pan, put fire in them, and placed incense upon it, and they brought before the Lord foreign fire, which He had not commanded them.”
16) Verse 2. “And fire went forth from before the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord.”
17) Now, what exactly was their sin in the first place?
I know, you can read the text, but what does it really mean?
18) Look at the plain text: God adjudicated them as worthy of death, because they ADDED to God’s commandments.

19) Normally, when we think about people who sin, we think about people who VIOLATE an already-existing commandment.

Sexual immorality.


Out of lust, or rage, or whatever.
20) But here, we have the introduction of another form of evil: RELIGIOUS FUNDAMENTALISM. “Fire and brimstone.”
21) It really doesn’t matter if the fundamentalist is an extremist Jew, extremist Muslim, extremist Christian, cult leader, whatever — these people are not “returning” to the original form of religion — THEY ARE ADDING THINGS THAT NEVER EXISTED AND THAT IS WRONG.
22) The only thing I agree with atheists and agnostic about is this: Religious fundamentalism is the cause of all the world’s problems.
23) Because when people turn extreme, & they start adding a million different rules and regulations and laws and strictures, and the people can’t even understand let alone argue about the ever-expanding universe of doctrine, this is the beginning of disunity among God’s children.
24) This man is my beloved grandfather, Rabbi Shmuel Stroli, may he rest in peace.

He taught me not to be an extremist. 
25) When @Medium censored my blogs, they also censored my story about my Zayde, who returned from a WWII Romanian labor camp to find that the Jews of Sarmas, Hungary had been gang-raped, tortured, and massacred by the Hungarians, who threatened all the villagers into silence.
26) My Zayde was extremely religious and learned. But he dressed like a normal person, not like a lunatic from the 1800s, and he talked like a normal person, and he was calm and steady and measured.
27) My Zayde’s profession was that of a tavern owner, and he served in the Romanian military, and he loved Romania and was a Patriot. 

He said: “I am a child of Romania.”
28) There was a boundary issue between Romania and Hungary that was resolved after the war, which is how my Zayde served in the military of the one country but operated a tavern in another. 
29) Here is the long form story of the Sarmas Massacre and my grandfather’s heroism. But the bottom line is, my Zayde focused (as #QAnon advocates) on FOLLOWING THE LAW.

My Zayde testified against the killers and put them in jail. 
30) Every single thing the United States is facing today with the cabal is what my Zayde faced during World War II.

They threatened the villagers to be silent.
He had to shame the Jews into helping bury the bodies.
He didn’t stop until there was a monument to the dead.
31) I have written before about the “search for the radical middle” and my Zayde really exemplified that in his life. It is what I advocate before you here today. And it is the message of the Bible in this week’s portion.

Just follow the law. 
Not more. 
32) The commentaries tell us that the Bible hints that Aaron’s sons were out of line. Leviticus 10, Verse 1, refers to them as “the sons of Aaron.” 

Commentary: “They were Aaron’s sons, but they slighted him by acting on their own, without consulting him,” or even each other!
33) Maimonides, who incidentally was the doctor to the Sultan (and is very much beloved by Muslims), refers to the “radical middle” in another way — as the “golden mean.”

Today it is “radical” to be moderate because people are so polarized. 
34) Verse 1 “an alien fire” — how was it alien exactly? 

Look how exacting the law is.

“Rabbi Yishmael holds that they used fire from the Altar, but it was alien because they had not been bidden to offer it.”
35) Maybe the fire could have been alright – but they didn’t consult with anyone: “Rabbi Eliezer adds that their offense was in ruling that it was permissible to offer the fire…they should have asked their teacher Moses.”
36) My Zayde could have come back from the labor camp, found that the Jews had been gang-raped and tortured and massacred, and purchased a gun to shoot all the perpetrators personally.

He didn’t do that. 

He followed the law.
37) Meanwhile, Aaron’s grief.
38) In the beginning (Leviticus 10, Verse 3), he wasn’t silent.

The commentary Ramban says: “Aaron had been weeping loudly, but upon hearing Moses’ consolation, he stopped.”


What was “Moses’ consolation?”
39) Aaron was a truly religious man. Not a superficially religious man.

And so when Moses said (Leviticus 10:3) “Of this did Hashem (God) speak, saying: ‘I will be sanctified through those who are nearest Me, thus I will be honored before the entire people,” 

Aaron understood.
40) Because the grief was NOT JUST at the loss of his sons. 

It was ALSO at the fact that they had GONE ASTRAY.

Moses was reassuring him that their sin would end up for the good, as people understood the boundaries of right behavior.
41) There are a lot of things going on right now that I personally don’t understand.

For me the lesson of this Torah portion is, to keep going and stay in faith.

But never to go too far — to always hold on to the guardrails of the law.


By Dr. Dannielle Blumenthal. All opinions are the author’s own. Public domain. You can also read this online here.

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