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In this week's parsha, we see the sudden and disturbing death of two of Aharon's sons, Nadav and Avihu. In exploring the text more closely, what earlier Biblical story shows parallel themes and language to this story, and what does is the meaning behind this connection?
This is Rabbi David Fohrman and welcome to Parshat Shemini. Before we begin, I want to let you let you know that the idea that I want to share with you here was suggested to me by a student of mine, Jonathan Grossman. I want to give credit to him for what I think is a fascinating idea. Let's jump right in and take a look. This week's Parshat contains the very puzzling story of the death of Ahram's two sons - Nadab and Abihu [00:00:24.14]. Just at the commondating moment of the dedication of the 'Hebrew [00:00:30.28]', at mid celebration, these two children brought an incense offering into the 'Mishkan [00:00:36.23]' before God, and were immediately struck dead by a divine fire that consumed them. Its a mysterious story and the Torah does not give that much more explanation other than suggesting that the fire that they brought was not the fire that they were not commanded to bring. Well, today I will add to the mystery of that, by pointing out what I think is some very intriguing parallels between this story and another very famous story, 'Khumash [00:01:11.17]'. The Torah seems to be saying that if you really want to be understanding the story A, you need to understand it in reference to Story B. I want to point out a number of elements to the story; and then, let's play this game together - Where have we heard all of these before? Element A, the idea of time by 'Hebrew [00:01:30.00]', "It all happened on the 8th day." There were 7 days of dedication of the new 'Hebrew [00:01:36.21]' and on the 8th day, the commonating moment of that dedication is when this tragedy struck. Element number 2, the idea of blessing; Chapter 9, verse 22. "Hebrew [00:01:47.09]' And Ahram picked up his hands and he blessed them. After that, 'Hebrew [00:01:53.27]' - Moshe and Ahram together, they blessed the people. Element 3, the sin itself. 'Hebrew [00:02:04.01]' - the children of Ahram; 'Hebrew [00:02:07.03]', - each took pans; 'Hebrew [00:02:11.06]' - they put fire in the pans; 'Hebrew [00:02:14.21]' - and put incense; 'Hebrew [00:02:18.22]' - and they brought before God, before the fire; 'Hebrew [00:02:22.08]' - but they were not commanded to bring. Where else on the Torah do we have a sin, characterized with these two verbs, 'Hebrew [00:02:31.02]' - 'taking' and 'giving'. The sin that is also characterized by doing something 'Hebrew [00:02:42.18]', something that quote 'God did not command them to do'. If we keep on reading about 'Hebrew [00:02:48.11]', fire came out throughout the 'Mishkan [00:02:52.23] and consumed them. This other sin that we are speaking of in the Torah also has to do with consuming 'Hebrew [00:03:01.29]', which of course literally means eating. 'Hebrew [00:03:04.22]' - the children of Ahram died before God. That other sin also has to do with dying. Ater the children of Ahram die, their brothers are told to come into the Mishkan and to carry out the corpses of the deceased. And when they are told to do so, they are told to carry them out in their clothes, like 'Hebrew [00:03:23.22]' - the particular word used to describe their clothes, 'Hebrew [00:03:28.06]'. Where else was 'Hebrew [00:03:29.23]' used? In the aftermath of the sin to describe clothes. Where else in the aftermath of the sin are those who sinned to take it in 'Hebrew [00:03:40.26]' - outside - so to speak of the camp. so let's add up all these elements and ask ourselves, "Where have we heard all of these before?" The answer seems to be, 'way back to the beginning. Its accurately the very first sin ever recounted in the Torah - the sin of the Tree of Knowledge. It's interesting that right before Parshat Shemini, we hear about the seven days in which the temple was dedicated and in which we were told that 'Aaron [00:04:17.04]' the Priest was to sit at the doorway to the Mishkan, night and day for seven days. They weren't supposed to do anything except 'Hebrew [00:04:25.08]' - just to watch over the Mishkan. Where else do we have that kind of an idea - seven days, not doing anything? Just watching over? Seems to evoke the memories of the Sabbath, 'Hebrew [00:04:39.11]' - 'watch over the Sabbath'. The Sabbath also is something in which we sit and which we don't do. There was a 'Hebrew [00:04:48.05]' of Sabbath here on Parshat Shemini, and after the Sabbath there was an eighth day. But of course, there was a first Sabbath - the Sabbath of creation. For six days, God created the world. On the sixth day, man was created. At the end of those sixth day God blessed man. Then there was the Sabbath. And then what was there? Right after the Sabbath narrative - what is the next narrative? The next narrative is the Tree of Knowledge story. Now there is a comment by 'Hebrew [00:05:22.23]' that Adam and Eve actually sinned on the sixth day. But it's interesting that the Torah records that sin right after it talks about Shabbat. It's almost as if this text is presenting this as another day - a day on which people eat, that which they were commanded not to eat. That indeed is the language of the verse. I mean, 'Hebrew [00:05:45.01]' - "Have you indeed eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat from?" God says. And look at the verbs that describe the sin itself, 'Hebrew [00:05:55.01]' - "and she took from it fruit and she ate; she gave to her husband and he ate too." But we remember those verbs, don't we? 'Hebrew [00:06:07.06]' - 'taking'; 'Hebrew [00:06:09.24]' - 'giving'; 'Hebrew [00:06:11.27]' - consuming, eating. The difference is, with the tree of knowledge the people consumed the fruit of the tree. But in the story of this week's Parshat, the people were the ones who were consumed. Death, of course, comes to the children of Ahram. But death also came to the children of men in the Tree of Knowledge story. God promises that the day that you eat from the tree of knowledge, you will die. You won't actually die, but you become mortal. You become beings that do die. Death follows up on each sin. And of course, exile follows as well. Being taken outside of the gate. In one case, the camp is the Mishkan. In the first case of course, the camp was the garden. The garden of Eden. Adam and Eve, wearing new clothes, minted for them by God Himself, closely described as 'cloaks' - as 'Hebrew [00:07:06.28]' - were told that they must leave the Garden, never to return. What are we to make of all these parallels? What is the Torah telling us? The Torah seems to be saying, that to understand the story of the death of the children of Ahram, we need to understand the process through which death came into the world in the first place. We need to understand the very first sin of all - the story of the Tree of Knowledge. In the story of the Tree of Knowledge, God had just made a world for us. A whole environment for the benefit of people - a Universe, a Solar System, a planet that mankind could call home. God had done that in six days, rested on the seventh. But on the eighth, something went wrong. In this week's Parshat, mankind on His planet finds himself all alone. So, he makes a little home for a God, a place that God could call home in our world, in our planet. After building this world for God, we rest for seven days. But on the eighth day, something went wrong. The possibility that I am suggesting to you here, of course, is that at the story of the death of the two sons of Ahram, my make sense in a certain way - the story of mortality comment; the very first two people, Adam and Eve. It is almost as if this is another Tree of Knowledge story. But if it is, it makes us wonder conceptually how do these two stories relate to each other. It seems like the Torah is setting up the story of 'Hebrew [00:08:34.21]' as being a kind of 'Tree of Knowledge' story; but why? What is there about these two stories? Allow me to suggest a kind of theory I want you to think about as well. Perhaps the torah here is giving you a window into understanding the 'Tree of Knowledge' story. It's saying that if you really want to understand what is going on in the 'Tree of Knowledge' story, look at how that story reflects itself in the book of 'Hebrew [00:08:59.00]'. The first 'Tree of Knowledge' story takes place in a little apartment that God makes for Himself in a world, in the Garden of Eden. The second 'Tree of Knowledge' story takes place in a little apartment that we make for God in our world, a Mishkan. And perhaps that whenever it is that you are living in God's world, a great temptation arises. The temptation which comes about, ironically, by being so close to God. Here we are, so close to God. How do we take that last allusive step to 'rebel against [00:09:30.21]' our Creator? Listen to the way the snake puts it in the 'Tree of Knowledge' story. "Eat from the one tree that the God puts on limits because it has divine knowledge. 'Hebrew [00:09:42.07]'. Eat it and you will become like God who knows good and evil." So we eat the tree under the delusion that if we only eat from it, it will give us the lasting connection to God that we desire. We would cling to God and truly become God-like. But that's not the way it works. We become God-like by listening to what God wants from you. And by living alone, the part of what God only restricts you from. Ironically,sometimes you come closest to God, but you back away. When you honor the restrictions He places, the distance that God insists must be there between the Creator and the created. And later on, in the Mishkan, the same temptation takes hold. You're so close to God, what's the last thing you can do to try to truly become Godly? God's presence is in the cloud, hovering over the Earth; there's another cloud in the Mishkan - the cloud of the incense coming from the incense holder. "'Hebrew [00:10:37.00]'" - you take the incense and bring it in a way that God did not command - merging the incense cloud that humans make - merging that cloud with God's cloud in an attempt to finally, fully become embraced by God. That's not how you become embraced by God. You have to let God be God; and listen to what God wants. Both 'Tree of Knowledge' story is about the seductive temptation to take the final step to cling to God in a way that God has not commanded. Both stories are about a failed attempt to achieve the heights of Godliness, something which ironically we achieve sometimes by listening to a restriction that seems to keep us away from God; but that in fact, gives us the connection that we truly seek. Hi, this is Rabbi David Fohrman. I want to let you know I always love hearing your feedback. There's a little space for comments underneath these videos. Please take advantage of that. Leave comments that I or your fellow students can take a look at.
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