Perashat Shemini 5779
Perashat Shemini 5779Friday, March 29, 2019
Nadav and Abihu are the two sons of Aharon who are punished in this week's perasha. We know that in Jewish thought a person's name is a window into understanding both their positive and negative powers.
How is it that someone whose very name, Nadav, meaning giving and generosity, could have made the mistakes he did? His brother's name, Abihu, means "He is my father". Sounds beautiful.
It is always our biggest strengths that are our deepest weaknesses. Conversely, it is also always the elements about ourselves that we find to be the most deficient that are at their core powerful drives that can be used for tremendous good. Nadav's generosity made him want to give so much, to the point where he wanted to lead his leaders, dictate policy before his own mentors and bring sacrifices that weren't warranted. It came from the right place, but left untended, it spiraled away from that place. Abihu too had a blindingly clear understanding of the fact that Hashem was his father. However, the stronger the relationship with Hashem as a father, the more liberties a person feels they can take. After all, He is my Father!
The Mishna in Avot talks about doing missvot with love, but ends with an interesting thought, "And the fear of Heaven should be upon you". The commentators ask, if you just told me to do missvot from a place of love, why in the same breath are you telling me to act from fear? The answer is exactly our point. Love is the way. However, if love is not balanced with respect and the awe of G-d, we are liable to become all too familiar and cross boundaries that cannot, and should not, be crossed.
Some parents encourage their children to call them by their first name in order to create a closer relationship with them. They want their child to see them as a friend; yet they are often surprised that as such a progressive, "normal" parent, the child still doesn't show them the proper respect. Sometimes the price you pay for closeness is familiarity. You wanted them to treat you like a friend, like an equal. They are. Why then does it upset you when they do? You can't have your cake and eat it too.
The lesson here is far more universal than a take home about a Kohen who overstepped. Rather, it is a lesson in equilibrium, in recognizing that human beings love to see things in black and white. After all it's much easier to see life that way. But the truth so often lies in the space between those two poles. People who give without limits become people pleasers and doormats. People who are all loving, forget to stand up to evil. People who are always standing up for things, forget that they have families who wait up for them while they are on the newest crusade or protest. The Hebrew word for balance is איזון which shares its root with אוזן, or ear. It is no coincidence that a person's inner ear is what governs his balance. When we can listen closely, understand all of the ramifications of a decision or action, hear the other person deeply, we can find a way to remain balanced, healthy and responsible in all our ways, no matter what our tendencies are.
Rabbi Shlomo Farhi
May 26 2019
Iyar 21 5779