For my German readers: Kurzkommentar: Wir wissen nie, wann eine Tragödie uns trifft. – Parashat Shemini Levitikus 9-11  

Nach einem Leben im Schatten seines jüngeren Bruders Mose, kam Aaron doch noch zu Ehren. Moses führte das Volk aus der Sklaverei. Mose empfing die Tora auf dem Berg Sinai. Aaron spielte immer nur die zweite Geige. Aber für acht großartige Tage konnte er das alles hinter sich lassen als er sich an der Zeremonie freute, die ihn zum Hohen Priester des Volkes machte.

Und dann verwandelte sich die Feier im Nu in Asche. Aarons Söhne Nadav und Abihu opferten “esh zarah”, “fremdes Feuer” (Levitikus 10,1) auf dem Altar des EwigEinen und plötzlich fraß sie das Feuer.

Warum?

Die Midraschim und moderne Kommentatoren bieten verschiedene Erklärungen an:

  • Sie wünschten Mose und Aaron den Tod, damit sie die Leitung des Volkes übernehmen konnten (B. Sanhedrin 52a).
  • Sie beten Götzen an.
  • Sie waren pietä
  • Sie waren betrunken.
  • Sie ersuchten unerlaubt das Allerheiligste zu betreten.

 Aber die Erklärungen befriedigen nicht.

Wir werden nie erfahren, warum Nadav und Abihu starben. Aber es lässt sich aus der Erzählung etwas lernen, das Rabbi Jack Riemer in einer kurzen -Geschichte auf den Punkt bringt:

Ein weinender Mann kauert nach dem tragischen Tod seiner Frau an ihrem Grab. Nach einiger Zeit drängt ihn der Rabbi zum Auto zu kommen, das ihn nach Hause bringen soll. “Du verstehst es nicht, Rabbi”, weinte der Mann, “Ich habe sie geliebt.” “Ich weiß, du hast sie geliebt”, sagte der Rabbi. “Ich habe sie geliebt”, unterbricht ihm der Mann, “und beinahe hätte ich es ihr erzählt.”

Tragödien können uns plötzlich treffen.

In einem einzigen Moment kann sich unsere Freude in Leid verwandeln und unsere Träume zu Asche. Kein Geld und nicht Macht oder Ruhm schützen uns davor. Die Tragödie des Nadav und Abihu mahnen uns, jeden Moment der Freude und Liebe zu ergreifen und auszukosten, denn wir wissen nicht, was der nächste Tag bringt.

Translation: Pastor Ursula Sieg

Quick Comment: We Never Know When Tragedy Will Strike —Parashat Shemini Leviticus 9-11

After a lifetime in his younger brother Moses’ shadow, Aaron was finally having his moment! Moses led the people from slavery. Moses received Torah on Mt Sinai. Aaron was always “the second banana.”

But for eight glorious days all of that was behind him as he reveled in the ceremony establishing him as the high priest of the people.

And then in an instant the celebration turned to ashes.

Aaron’s sons Nadav and Abihu offered “esh zarah” “alien fire” (Leviticus 10:1) on the altar of the Eternal One and in an instant the fire consumed them.

Why?

Midrashic and modern commentators offer several explanations:

  • They wished Moses and Aaron dead so they could take over the leadership of the people (B. Sanhedrin 52a).
  • They worshipped idols.
  • They were irreverent.
  • They were drunk
  • They attempted—unauthorized–to enter the holy of holies.

But no explanation satisfies.

We will never know why Nadav and Abihu died but the account teaches us a vital lesson illustrated by this story told by Rabbi Jack Riemer!

A weeping man lingered at his wife’s gravesite after her tragic death. In time the rabbi urged him to return to the car waiting to take him home.

“You don’t understand, Rabbi,” the man weeped, “I loved her!”

“I know you loved her,” the rabbi answered…”

“I loved her,” the man interrupted, “and once, I almost told her.”

Tragedy can strike any one of us in an instant.

In a moment our joy can turn to sorrow and our dreams to ashes. No amount of money, power or fame protects us from that possibility.

The tragedy of Nadav and Abihu urges us to embrace and savor every moment of joy and love that life offers because none of us can know what tomorrow will bring.

Why the letter Kof?

In response to those reader who ask why I use the Hebrew letter ק (Kof) as the symbol for my blog.

Finding Ourselves In Biblical Narratives

The Hebrew letter Kof stands as a symbol of my web page.  I chose it because it is the first letter of the Hebrew word “Kadosh” which means holy.

One of the most famous lines of the Torah teaches (Lev. 19:1) “You shall be holy for I the Lord your God am holy.”

“Holy” really means set apart or different from the ordinary.  Torah came into the world because the ordinary values of the ancient world were not good enough for our people. Our tradition calls on us to be different: to strive for an ever higher standard of justice, righteousness, kindness and compassion than those which prevailing societal norms uphold.

In terms of time we are taught to make a distinction between ordinary time — the time to do the work of living — and time that is Kadosh, holy.  In Kadosh time we step back and ponder why…

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For my German Readers: Kurz-Kommentar: Tora-Lesung für den letzten Tag des Pessachfestes

Dieser Schabbat birgt ein Tora-Lesungs-Dilemma für Reformjuden. Es ist der achte Tag des Pessachfestes, aber die meisten Reformjuden feiern nur sieben Tage. Die offizielle Lösung progressiven Judentums – die ich willkürlich finde und unbefriedigend – trennt sich vom Rest der jüdischen Welt und teilt den Toraabschnitt Shemini (Levitikus 9-11) in zwei wöchentliche Abschnitte. Eine Hälfte wird an diesem Schabbat gelesen, die andere nächste Woche. Ich bevorzuge den Toraabschnitt des achten Tages des Pessachfestes wegen seiner herausragenden Lektion. Sie zu würdigen müssen wir auf einen krassen Widerspruch im Text achten.

In Deuteronomium 15,4 lesen wir ein kategorisches Statement das mit dem kategorischesten aller hebräischen Worte beginnt: “efes”, d.h. “null” oder “niemand/ keine”. “Es soll keine Bedürftigen bei euch geben.”Aber nur wenige Sätze weiter (Deuteronomium 15,11) heißt es: “Es wir immer Arme in eurem Land geben.”

Wenn jeder Gottes Geboten folgen würde und seine Hälfte aus dem Bund, den der EwigEine mit Abraham begann, erfüllen würde, gäbe es tatsächlich keine Bedürftigen. Dieser Bund ruft uns auf,

  • ein Segen zu sein (Genesis 12,2).
  • so gut wir können Gottes Weisungen zu verstehen und ihnen zu entsprechen (Genesis 17,1).
  • und unsere Nachkommen so gut wir können zu lehren, die Welt mit Tzedakah und Mishpat, mit “Rechtschaffenheit und Gerechtigkeit” zu füllen (Genesis 18,19).

Ja, die Tora lehrt, dass es keine Bedürftigen gäbe, wenn jeder so handeln würde. Aber es bleibt bei der bitteren Wahrheit, dass nicht jeder diese Lehren befolgt. Deshalb wird es immer Bedürftige unter uns geben.

Der Imperativ für uns, die wir die Tora ernst nehmen, ist also, dass wir das uns Mögliche tun, um die Armut zu lindern, die wir um uns herum sehen. Wir wagen es nicht, unsere Herzen hart zu machen oder unsre Hände zu verschließen angesichts der Armen, die nach uns rufen. So gut wir können müssen wir Verantwortung für sie übernehmen und tun, was wir können um zu helfen.

Natürlich bedeutet das für jeden Menschen etwas anderes. Die Tora sagt uns nicht was exakt wir zu tun haben. Sie zielt darauf unsere Einstellung zu beeinflussen. Jeder von uns muss selbst entscheiden, ob wir für die Verbesserung der Lebensbedingungen in der Welt Verantwortung übernehmen oder ob wir nur über unsere selbstbezogenen Bedürfnisse nachdenken. Die Antwort der Tora ist klar und das Ende des Festes, bei dem wir verkündet haben “Lass alle Hungernden kommen und essen!” (Haggada), ist der passende Moment uns an diese Weisung der Tora zu erinnern.

Translation: Pastor Ursula Sieg

Quick Comment: Torah Reading for the Last Day Of Passover

A Torah Reading Dilemma

This Shabbat presents a Torah reading dilemma for Reform Jews. It is the eighth day of Passover, but most Reform Jews observe only seven days. The movement’s solution– which I find arbitrary and unsatisfactory–is to separate from the rest of the Jewish world by dividing the Torah portion Shemini (Lev. 10 12) into two weekly portions. Half will be read this Shabbat and half next week.

A Magnificent Lesson

I much prefer to read from the eighth day Passover portion because of the magnificent lesson it teaches. To appreciate that lesson we must pay heed to a stark contradiction in the text!
in Deuteronomy 15:4 we read a categorical statement beginning with one of the most categorical of all Hebrew words, אפס (efes), which means, “zero” or “not a single one.” “There shall be no needy among you.”
But just several sentences later (DT:15:11) we read,”For the poor shall never cease to exist in your land!”
The lesson is that if everyone followed God’s commandments and fulfilled our half of the covenant the Eternal One first made with Abraham and Sarah, there would indeed be no needy among us. That covenant calls on us to
–be a blessing in our lives (Genesis 12:2)
–try as best we can to understand and be worthy of God’s teachings (Genesis 17:1)
–and to our best and teach our progeny to do their best to fill the world with Tzedakah and Mishpat, “righteousness and justice.” (Genesis 18:19)

Yes, if everyone did those things, there would be no needy among us!
But the hard truth remains that not everyone will live up to those teachings, and therefore, there will always be needy among us.

Our Mandate

The imperative, then, for those of us who take Torah seriously is to do all that we can to alleviate the poverty around us. We dare not harden our hearts nor tighten our fist in the face of the poor who cry out to us. Rather to the best of our ability we must take responsibility for them and do what we can to help.

Not a Formula But an Attitude

Of course that will mean different things to difference people. The Torah is not telling us each precisely what we must do. It’s goal is to affect our attitude. Each of us must decide: do we take responsibility for improving life in our world or do we simply consider our own selfish needs? The Torah’s answer is clear, and the end of the festival during which we have proclaimed,”Let all who are hungry come and eat, (Haggadah)” is a perfect time to remind ourselves of that lesson.

Role Reversal

Yesterday was a special day because I played tennis with my older son Leo. Tennis is a strong bond between us, but at this point he clearly does  me a favor by hitting with me. Leo is a good local tournament player, who at 38 is a little—but not much—past his prime. At 69 I do not come close to matching his pace, consistency or stamina.

Once upon a time …

But it seems like yesterday when he was very small, and he sat transfixed next to Vickie by the side of the court as I won a hard fought final to claim my third Columbia, MD, Memorial Day Singles title. The moment my opponent and I shook hands (that was his signal) he gleefully came running down to the courts with his racket ball racket for me to play with him. That became our ritual every time I played a match.

Who’s your coach?

We played a lot over the years. I loved it, and I taught him everything I knew. As he got older he also took clinics from pros. But when he started playing Junior Tournaments, the first question people asked him was, “Who’s your coach?”

Unlike the other players he didn’t really have coach, but I was the closest thing to it. So jokingly I suggested that when people asked he should say, “I go to O.M.P.T.A.” No one ever asked, but O.M.P.T.A. stands for, “Old Man Pops Tennis Academy.”

A Treasured Gift

Looking back, I am not precisely sure when the balance tipped and he became the better player. By the time he became Brandeis’ number one, though, he had long since snatched the baton. One Fathers’ Day, when he was in college, he presented me with a gift I still treasure. It was a warm up suit, with O.M.P.T.A. embroidered on the back of the jacket in big letters, and “Head Coach” stitched in small letters on the front. When I would play Sr. Tournaments, he gave me advice, and I listened very carefully. It always helped.

Coming Full Circle

Yesterday, we played again. Although it was certainly not a challenge for him, I am glad he enjoyed it. As for me,  I took to the court filled with the same joy I saw on Leo’s face when he ran to play with me—after the handshake—when he was very small.

This I Believe About God

The more I learn the more of a mystery God becomes. And the greater my faith grows that life has purpose and meaning!

Finding Ourselves In Biblical Narratives

http://http://www.last.fm/music/Garth+Brooks/_/Unanswered+Prayers

My Unanswered Prayer

God and I have always had a very personal relationship. So it seemed natural to me that when I was 18 years old and stepped onto the ice for my first hockey practice at Hamilton College I offered God a deal: “God, if you make me an all-American hockey player, then, I’ll become a rabbi.” As any witness to my Hamilton hockey career can attest, God categorically rejected that proposal.

Now, a half-century later, I think God must have laughed at my offer and said. “Miracles I can perform, didn’t I part the Red Sea? But, Steve, you are asking too much. No, I have given you just enough athletic talent so that if you work really hard, you may achieve some limited success but you will learn important lessons that will help you for the rest of your life. As far as becoming a rabbi…

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Quick Comment: Torah Portion for the First Day of Passover (Exodus 12:21-51)

After 430 years on this very day I the Eternal One brought you forth from the Land of Egypt (Exodus 12:41)

The Passover Haggadah insists: “In every generation each of us should act as though we ourselves came for on this day from bondage to freedom.”

More than a Party

The Passover Seder is more than a nice family dinner. It is more—at least it purports to be more—than four questions, hiding the matzah, singing Dayenu, and having someone shake the table to indicate that Elijah has drunk from the cup set aside for him

An Annual Journey

Each year we leave slavery behind and begin a 50-day journey to Sinai where on Shavuot we joyously bind our selves to the Covenant God first made with Abraham to pursue justice and righteous by caring for the poor, the elderly, the hungry, the homeless and the disenfranchised.

We count each day of the journey, thinking of ways to use our talents to make the world a better place

Interestingly, Passover falls almost midway in the calendar year. At the beginning of the year we review the wrong we have done in the year just ended. We repent, we ask forgiveness and we resolve not to repeat those actions, which cause pain to another or diminish the Divine Image in which God created us.

But at year’s midpoint we yearn for more. We relive our journey from slavery to freedom determined to help others make that same journey.

What will we do? We each must answer that for ourselves. We each have different talents and abilities. The Passover Seder touches each of our senses—sight, taste, sound smell and touch—in its call to us to make a sacrifice not of a lamb but of our time talent and energy toward the goal of creating a more just, caring and compassionate society for everyone.