This past week we had another double portion, Achrei Mot-Kedoshim. This comes right after the death of Aaron’s sons Nadav and Avihu. Aaron had two other sons, Elezar and Itamar, but we will talk about them some other time. Today I am going to focus on what happened right after these deaths. It is a curious thing to read about the deaths – they brought fire to the Lord that they were not enjoined to do and God took their souls from them; they died on the spot in the His presence.
There are a lot of differing opinions about about what actually happened and why God took their lives. I mentioned in my teaching this past week that I am fascinated by strange laws in cities and countries. In my country, the United States, there are some very weird laws for example with regard to animals. One city has a law that on Tuesday you cannot ride an elephant down the main street. Why would you have such a law?
This goes back to something my parents used to say when I was young: there are no rules until you break one. This is a funny saying that we still use with our children. For example, if one of our children was jumping off the fence and was injured then a no rule would be instituted – no jumping off the fence. We had no need for the rule before but because something happened we needed to put a rule in place. It makes me wonder who rode an elephant down the main street of their town? On Tuesday.
The reason I bring this up is that at the beginning of Achrei-Mot there is an injunction to Moses to make sure he tells Aaron and his sons not to enter the holy place at just any time. And not to do it unless they are wearing the specific garments that they are supposed to wear. So did Nadav and Avihu enter in the wrong way? In the wrong spirit or in the wrong manner? This is the question.
Rabbi Berg, a United States rabbi, had something interesting to say about this: perhaps Nadav and Avihu were trying to do something good but something bad resulted. Some people think that the deaths were an atonement for the Jewish people. Some people think the deaths were positive, that they reached up to the heights of their spirituality and their bodies could no longer hold their souls. There are others who think it was more of a punishment for doing something wrong or at least in the wrong way.
So there is this idea of doing something intrinsically good but going about it the wrong way. Rabbi Berg compares it to the way Moses speaks to Aaron after the incident. In the Hebrew it says that when Moses speaks to him Aaron is essentially speechless, you could say he was paralyzed into speechlessness as if the words were very deeply affecting.
Moses is trying to bring some order, some discipline, to make sure it doesn’t happen again – a worthy goal. But his words may have hurt Aaron in some way. It reminds me of the friends of Job that come to sit with him for seven days as is the custom of sitting shiva. They don’t speak for a whole week and it is when they open their mouths that they begin to get it wrong. Sometimes we have a good intention but what we say, or how we say it can be taken in a way that is hurtful.
We need to be very careful with our words and with the occasions that we take to tell people different things that they need to hear. There are always two ways that you can say something and still get the same result. One is a way that lets the person down easy, with kindness. The other way does not and perhaps has no kindness in it.
What about you? During this pandemic or maybe during a time of the death of a friend’s loved one you are tempted to say things that you intend to be comforting but you are not getting the expected result. Sometimes the way we say something is just as important as what we say, as the words themselves. I pray that as you deal with the people in your world that you not only say the appropriate things at the appropriate time but also say it in the appropriate way. Remember, the bible says do not let your good be spoken evil of.
Please keep us in prayer as this week we will be filming in Orlando at the Yeshua Bread of Life Congregation with Pastor Dumisani Washington. Tom Flores is the leader and it will be wonderful. I am doing a whole course for the Uri program called Zionism and the Black Church which is an amazing book by Pastor Dumisani.
If you are interested in our Uri program, which is building a bridge between Africa and African Americans, please go to af.shuvu.tv. There are still a few scholarships left and you can even work toward your Associates Degree in this fully accredited program, after that you can work towards a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree.
Shalom and Kol Tuv