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Rabbi Safman's Weekly Message

Dear Friends,

As we join together to celebrate Shabbat we invite you to bring a kiddush cup or any glass filled with wine or grape juice and join together with us at the end of services to share in a l'chayim.

I look forward to celebrating Shabbat with you.

Rabbi K

Shemini 5781


Near the end of the Second World War, American glider pilot Marion Case was captured during the invasion of Holland. Case was sent to a war camp in Germany. He was hustled into a barbed-wire enclosure by a gauntlet of SS guards with snarling German Shepherds. He noticed the emaciated inmates, mostly Frenchmen, devouring chocolate bars distributed by the Red Cross. Suddenly, someone pointed to the American flag on Case's sleeve, and riotous elation swept through the camp: at long last, here was living proof of the much-rumored arrival of American troops in Europe. The starving men showered Case and the other captives in his group with their candy bars. The guards yelled, "Halt!"  But like the ticker tape in a parade, the candy bars continued to rain down on the American pilots. The Germans opened fire, killing two of the French prisoners at point-blank range. Still, the candy bars kept on coming. Case and his comrades screamed "Stop! Stop!" and, finally, the jubilant prisoners stopped. Throughout his life, Case still flinched recalling this suicidal act of defiance on the part of the prisoners in that camp.

What caused these prisoners of war to defy the SS? Why should their senseless deaths occur? The story of the death of Nadav and Avihu sheds light on the truth. Sadly two of Aaron's sons were killed during the inaugural celebration of the Tent of Meeting. Here the entire nation was celebrating. Aaron and the children of Israel were commanded to prepare the sacrifice to G-d. And, for some reason, the two brought a strange sacrifice before G-d. Some rabbis speak of their being intoxicated. Others suggest that they tried to usurp the religious leadership from their father. All of these explanations, throughout the generations, have taught us lessons about our tradition and our view about appropriate behavior. We have learned that one must be in control of one's behavior and nature.

But as I read the Torah this past week, I realized that there was something that I had missed. What was it that caused G-d to get angry with Nadav and Avihu? My first thought was that, like the French soldiers, they got carried away with the festivities. They were so caught up that they forgot that only certain sacrifices were ordained for that day. Beyond that, nothing was to be brought. Yet, unable to control themselves, Aaron's two sons chose to celebrate beyond that which was ordained. They brought their own sacrifice, and for that reason they were consumed. Should one be punished for over-celebrating such an important moment? That they be called קרבי, the closest to me, and that G-d becomes hallowed through their deaths seemed even more horrifying.

But then as I read through the Haftorah portion, I realized that this was truly the lesson of the death of Nadav and Avihu. We read that King David over celebrated as he brought the Ark of the Covenant from Shiloh to Jerusalem. The Book of Samuel describes how David danced before the ark. And then due to all of the merriment, the ark shifted as the oxen transporting the ark stumbled. It is then that his friend Uzzah reaches out to stop the ark from falling to the ground. Seemingly a mitzvah -- stopping the ark from falling... and we all know that if the ark were to have fallen, the people would have had to fast for forty days. Uzzah dies as a punishment.

Like Aaron's sons, there seems to be an injustice. Then the story continues and a few months later King David continues to bring the ark of the covenant to Jerusalem. His wife Michal peers out the window and sees her husband dancing in front of the entire community and the ark. He is scantily dressed and exposes himself in his dance. She asks, “Is that the way for a king to act in front of his people?” and she is punished. The royal throne is not passed through her, but rather through Batsheva's lineage and that of King Solomon.

I remember several years ago when my sister's class got caught for cheating on a test in calculus. For some reason or other, there was one student who the kids hated. While they all had the test in advance, Naomi was not given it. Following the test, she went to the teacher and complained that the class had cheated. The teacher told her he would take her words under advisement. The next day, he announced that he had found out that the students had cheated. Somehow, they had come up with the test. He passed out all the tests and said, "Strange as it seems  you all received almost the same mark that I thought you would get, even though you had the test in advance. However, there was one person who you didn't share the test withand she almost failed the test. That was not fair on your part. I never want this to happen again. I never want you to cheat again. But I don't believe in tattle tails either. Therefore, the marks remain.” Seems totally unfair,yet a lesson was taught. And in some ways Naomi was consumed by her own fire.

But what was it that caused Nadav and Avihu to be consumed by the fire? Here is what was clear to me. Nadav and Avihu were not waiting to bring their own sacrifice. Rather in their excitement they missed that Moses was waiting for G-d to bring down a miracle and a fire would originate from the heavens and consume the sacrifice. Nadav and Avihu chose to bring their own fire. So when G-d brings down his fire of holiness, they are standing in the wrong place in front of the altar. What was the mistake of the two sons of Aaron? It was not the desire to celebrate. Rather it was their impatience.

Lately, I have been wondering about what I will do once this pandemic is considered under control? I am sure that many of you are asking the same questions. All vaccinated, where can we travel... should we travel? Is it okay to stay in a hotel or would an RV be a safer bet? What about masks? Should we celebrate when we no longer need to wear them in public, or be patient and contiue to wear them for some time afterward? The lesson of Nadav and Avihu and their impatience might be prudent advice.

Shabbat shalom and chag sameach.

Rabbi K



Sun, April 18 2021 6 Iyyar 5781