16 Apr Rabbi Hillel Skolnik’s Torah Spark for Parashat Sh’mini 5775
This Shabbat we return to the weekly Torah portion schedule and read from Parashat Sh’mini – a Torah portion that presents one of the most troubling and controversial moments within the Five Books of Moses. Upon the consecration of the Tabernacle, with which the parasha opens, Aaron’s two elder sons – Nadav and Avihu – offer an unsolicited incense and alien fire to God, the result of which is fire coming forth from God and consuming the two priests who are killed. It is controversial because no matter how many commentaries we might read the text does not do a sufficient job of explaining what they had done wrong nor justifying God’s response, and it is troubling because it touches on a painful reality we all face in life which is a seemingly good person’s life ending suddenly and without good reason. Nadav and Avihu were not known to be bad people or disrespecting sons who would have been deserving of God’s severe punishment, just like our loved ones who were good people and didn’t deserve the cruel fate of the world’s incomprehensible randomness that caused them to lose their lives. There are no words of comfort to offer in those moments, no magic phrase that will make everyone feel better or come to some helpful realization about the circle of life. All that there is to do, which Moshe probably could have done a better job of for his brother, is to be there for those who suffer and allow our mere presence to be a source of consolation. It is one of life’s truly difficult tasks, but is nothing compared to the challenge of getting on with life after suffering such a loss.
Rabbi Hillel Skolnik