Special needs adoption from a Jewish perspective.

Special needs adoption from a Jewish perspective.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Torah Connection - Sh'mini

We now return to our usual scheduled Torah programming.  Today's reading includes 3 seemingly unrelated topics.  First, Aaron follows Moses' directions to prepare for witnessing the Divine Presence:

 2 He said to Aaron: "Take a calf of the herd for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering, without blemish, and bring them before the Lord. 3And speak to the Israelites, saying: Take a he-goat for a sin offering; a calf and a lamb, yearlings without blemish, for a burnt offering; 4 and an ox and a ram for an offering of well-being to sacrifice before the Lord; and a meal offering with oil mixed in. For today the Lord will appear to you."

They are splendidly successful:

 23 Moses and Aaron then went inside the Tent of Meeting. When they came out, they blessed the people; and the Presence of the Lord appeared to all the people. 24 Fire came forth from before the Lord and consumed the burnt offering and the fat parts on the altar. And all the people saw, and shouted, and fell on their faces.

Then we switch gears to the story of Nadab and Abihu and their "unorthodox" sacrifice:

1 Now Aaron's sons Nadab and Abihu each took his fire pan, put fire in it, and laid incense on it; and they offered before the Lord alien fire, which He had not enjoined upon them. 2 And fire came forth from the Lord and consumed them; thus they died at the instance of the Lord. 
Aaron and his surviving sons Eleazar and Ithamar, as well as his cousins Mishael and Elzaphan, end up having to clean up the mess, both literally and figuratively.

These 2 stories seem somewhat related, as they contrast the "correct" sacrifice with the "wrongful" one, but then we totally switch gears to begin the discussion of the laws of Kashrut (dietary rules).  We get here the quick run-through of the various kinds of mammals, birds, fish and insects, and learn how to differentiate the kosher from the non-kosher.

Seems to me that this juxtaposition is not accidental at all!  Nadab and Abihu's sacrifice seemed reasonable, and was motivated by the best of intentions.  Yet it was not the prescribed ritual, and was therefore rejected.  Likewise, a non-kosher meal may be delicious and nutritious, but is nonetheless spiritually defiling.  In fact, the connection is suggested earlier, when G*d explains the rationale for the steps that must be taken after the transgression:
8 And the Lord spoke to Aaron, saying: 9 Drink no wine or other intoxicant, you or your sons, when you enter the Tent of Meeting, that you may not die. This is a law for all time throughout the ages, 10 for you must distinguish between the sacred and the profane, and between the unclean and the clean11 and you must teach the Israelites all the laws which the Lord has imparted to them through Moses.
Reading the process that Aaron and his clan had to go through to clean up gives insight into what is involved:

12 Moses spoke to Aaron and to his remaining sons, Eleazar and Ithamar: Take the meal offering that is left over from the Lord's offerings by fire and eat it unleavened beside the altar, for it is most holy. 13 You shall eat it in the sacred precinct, inasmuch as it is your due, and that of your children, from the Lord's offerings by fire; for so I have been commanded. 14 But the breast of elevation offering and the thigh of gift offering you, and your sons and daughters with you, may eat in any clean place, for they have been assigned as a due to you and your children from the Israelites' sacrifices of well-being. 15 Together with the fat of fire offering, they must present the thigh of gift offering and the breast of elevation offering, which are to be elevated as an elevation offering before the Lord, and which are to be your due and that of your children with you for all time — as the Lord has commanded.
16 Then Moses inquired about the goat of sin offering, and it had already been burned! He was angry with Eleazar and Ithamar, Aaron's remaining sons, and said, 17 "Why did you not eat the sin offering in the sacred area? For it is most holy, and He has given it to you to remove the guilt of the community and to make expiation for them before the Lord. 18 Since its blood was not brought inside the sanctuary, you should certainly have eaten it in the sanctuary, as I commanded." 19 And Aaron spoke to Moses, "See, this day they brought their sin offering and their burnt offering before the Lord, and such things have befallen me! Had I eaten sin offering today, would the Lord have approved?" 20 And when Moses heard this, he approved.

Reading these injunctions as though they are a response to an unkosher meal puts the whole thing in a different light.  Distinguishing the permitted from the forbidden is the common thread, taking that which has been assigned to you, and leaving that which was not, is an important precept.

1 comment:

  1. To many, these passages -- and even the concept of Kashrut in general -- has the feeling, not simply of following rules, but of blindly following meaningless rules (or, at any rate, rules that make no obvious sense to the intended follower).

    A great deal of commentary has been offered on this. Some rabbis have even suggested that the rules of Kashrut are not supposed to make sense, and as such are an example of our willingness to follow God's will even when it does not make immediate sense to us. Other commentaries take us in other directions (e.g. Rabbi Kushner's thoughts on the laws of Kashrut vs. vegetarianism).

    In today's world, we prize individualism and initiative, and the concept of blindly following orders is anathema to many. (For Jews, of course, the horrible example of the Nazis blindly following orders, no matter how monstrous, makes this particularly important.) And yet... the ability to follow orders, without understanding them fully ahead of time, is an important skill. We acquire it as children (when our parents teach us to stop when they shout STOP, and not wait for them to explain patiently why crossing the street at rush hour is a bad idea)... but we seem to shrug this off, proudly, on our way to adulthood. Some of us re-learn it, painfully, in military training or in the corporate world. Others never do. Yet we DO sometimes have to do what we're told, knowing that the full background story is unavailable to us (and may always remain so). People who work in intelligence, or use information from top-secret reports -- in fact, anyone who works in a field where information must remain compartmentalized -- are well aware of this.

    It's an interesting philosophical conflict. How can a person maintain a sense of conscience, and responsibility for one's own actions, while following orders?

    I always found it striking that, in the Israel Defense Forces, this is addressed directly -- by telling every recruit, very explicitly and more than once, that they have an obligation to refuse military orders that they find morally repugnant. (In other words, the Nuremberg defense -- "I was just following orders" -- will never be an acceptable excuse for IDF soldiers, and the soldiers know it from the beginning.) And how does the IDF deal with the conflict between obedience and initiative? -- By expecting soldiers to use their initiative to decide.

    And that's one answer -- that we should recognize the necessity, sometimes, of following orders we don't understand... but that we should never shut off our minds completely, or surrender ourselves totally to the authority of another. As the saying goes, "God doesn't give gifts to people without expecting them to be used"... and that certainly applies to our free will, and initiative, and sense of conscience, if it applies to anything at all.


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