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Student perspectives

Acharei Kedoshim

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This week’s Torah portion opens with a detailed description of how one might enter, and make an offering at “the holy,” (tabernacle, altar) and enumerates many steps to ensure ritual purity and procedures for sacrifice. After we are told exactly how to sacrifice an ox or goat, God starts talking to Moses saying, “You shall observe My statutes and My ordinances, which a man shall do and live by them. I am the Lord” after which comes a laundry list of things that need to be done so that we may be in accordance with God’s plan.

As things age and time goes on, parts of this list have become obsolete or redundant, including not sleeping with your brother’s wife, or letting your wives who are also sisters, see each other naked. Which is okay. In today’s society those rules aren’t much of an issue anyway. But there are parts of this list that still ring true, especially when interpreted in a more metaphorical sense--you should not lie carnally with your neighbor’s wife--is a pretty good directive to not sleep with your friends’ significant others.

But to me, the most striking directives that we encounter in the Torah this week are those that ask us really hard things and can even be interpreted in a nearly literal sense:

You shall commit no injustice in judgement

You shall not stand by the shedding of your fellow’s blood

You shall not hate your brother in your heart

You shall love your neighbor as yourself

What beautiful commandments. I wish I woke up every day to someone reminding me to withhold judgement and to love my neighbor as myself. Because sometimes it’s really difficult to remember.

Some mornings when I’m walking to class and haven’t had my coffee yet, and someone is taking up the whole sidewalk, on their phone, moving at a glacial pace, I want to pick them up and move them out of the way. What really just blows my mind is when I’m at the gym and someone sits down on a machine I was in the middle of using and all I can do is stand there thinking, “you’ve just ruined my whole day…”

And these people, that most of the time we don’t even know, that we feel are agents of evil, there to completely ruin our day, have no idea (or they just don’t care.)

Love your neighbor.

What if we were so perfect, such elevated beings that when someone cut you in line or screwed up your Starbucks order, you smiled and wished them the best? How cool would it be if you could move through life, unaffected by the unintentional inconveniences others caused you?

God knows what’s up. He knows Becky took your cold brew and now you’re stuck with her venti caramel mocha. And I don’t think he’s upset that you’re upset. Because when he told us to love our neighbors, like many other rules of his, I think he made it the ultimate goal. And as we work toward that goal, we fill the earth with a relaxed compassion for others that makes their inadvertent transgressions so much more bearable, and in doing so we become closer to God. As often as we can remember his words “love your neighbor,” we can do our best to actually love our neighbor. Our slow sidewalk friend. Our gym partner with terrible timing on which machine to pick. We can tap our foot less and we can love all of these people. And maybe, hopefully, they can love us too.

My theory is, that if we practice, this abundant, free flowing, love that alleviates our burdens, makes daily injustices a little bit less tedious, and connects us to those around us, we can all make this planet a little bit less aggravating, and more comfortable for everyone on it.

So, as we look at this last week of class, dead in the eye, let’s remember everyone is going through something, and if we can do nothing else for them, let’s at least show our neighbor some love. Shabbat shalom.

To learn more about this past weeks Torah Portions you can click  here and here

Nadav and Avihu Strange Fire

 

student.jpgIn this week’s Torah portion, Shemini, we are introduced to Kashrut laws, or what defines a Kosher animal. Split hooves, chewing cud, fins and scales, the whole nine yards. And there are a lot of lessons to be learned from this subject matter, none of which I will discuss today.

Instead, I will focus on an episode with Aaron’s sons, Nadav and Avihu. Nadav and Avihu were both priests in the Tabernacle, a makeshift travelling temple in the desert. They are remembered in the Torah for offering an improper sacrifice to G-d and their actions have made them scrutinized by scholars for decades. Wrongfully so, I think.

וַיַּקְרִ֜יבוּ לִפְנֵ֤י ה' אֵ֣שׁ זָרָ֔ה אֲשֶׁ֧ר לֹ֦א צִוָּ֖ה אֹתָֽם: and they brought before the Lord foreign fire, which He had not commanded them.

וַתֵּ֥צֵא אֵ֛שׁ מִלִּפְנֵ֥י ה' וַתֹּ֣אכַל אוֹתָ֑ם וַיָּמֻ֖תוּ לִפְנֵ֥י יְהֹוָֽה: And fire went forth from before the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord.

Nadav and Avihu were responsible for performing basic religious functions, including offering traditional sacrifices. However, in this instance, they brought forth a “strange fire” and were punished accordingly.

Rather than to write off these two characters as “drunk fools,” as they’re commonly interpreted to be, I’m here to defend them. They did not offer this “strange fire” out of malice; they offered it out of service.

Throughout college, we make irrational decisions to garner approval from others. We partake in toxic gossip about our friends to show we’re “in the know”, we agonize over Instagram captions to generate satisfaction from distant friends and we participate in destructive habits to “fit in” with the cool crowd. All the while, we justify our “strange” actions by their intended results: approval from our peers.

Commentaries are quick to assert a few possible scenarios for why Nadav and Avihu were punished for offering a “strange fire” to G-d: they were drunk, they improperly prepared the sacrifice, they lacked authorization and they entered forbidden areas. These potential scenarios seek to rationalize the punishment Nadav and Avihu endured. But truth be told, none of us can know what truly warranted this punishment. This punishment was delivered from G-d, by G-d because of a misstep to G-d. There are two types of crimes: those between one person and another and those between a person and G-d. Punishments for crimes of the former include penalties, fines and jail time. Punishments of the latter include, well, death by Divine fire. Just as we can’t understand the punishment, we can’t understand the reasoning either.

Perhaps Nadav and Avihu offered this sacrifice to seek approval from G-d. After all, their priest status committed them to lifelong service to G-d. Perhaps, this sacrifice was an attempt to show G-d their commitment to the Tabernacle, the service and the Jewish people. Perhaps they acted with pure intentions, but they just executed it very poorly. And since they did it on such a grand stage, the consequences were great. But we don’t have as much at stake today.

People are often judged by their actions, not their intentions. Of course, people should be held accountable for their actions, but to judge someone’s intentions and character solely by the result of their actions is naïve. People are multifaceted, dynamic creatures who make mistakes. In our everyday lives, our peers make mistakes and we are quick to judge them for them.

I’d like to offer an alternative method. Next time your friend, family, roommate, classmate and even professor make a mistake, take a step back, consider the intentions, and go from there. That will lead to a greater level of understanding between you and your peers and more productive decision-making moving forward.Life is full of mistakes, and we are bound to make them. So go out, make mistakes, learn from them, but don’t forget to allow others to learn from them too. Shabbat Shalom.

To learn more about Nadav and Avihu click here. 

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