Wednesday, April 7, 2010


There is a well-known narrative in this parasha that describes the death of two of Aharon's sons - Nadav and Avihu.  According to the text (chapter 10, verses 1-4) the following happened (translation according to Everett Fox):
Now Aharon's sons, Nadav and Avihu, took each-one his pan, and, placing fire in them, put smoking-incense on it.   And brought-near, before the presence of Adonai, outside fire, such as He had not commanded them.  And fire went out from the presence of Adonai and consumed them, so that they died, before the presence of Adonai.  Moshe said to Aharon:  It is what Adonai spoke about, saying:  Through those permitted near to me I will be proven holy.  Before all the people I will be accorded honor!
Aharon was silent.
What do commentaries and commentators say about this event?
Role Models for Leadership discusses some classical understandings of this strange event, along with a modern message.
Alcoholism and the Nation Priests builds on verse 9, in which Aharon is instructed not to drink before entering the Tabernacle.  Is this the real reason his sons were killed?

Some questions to consider:

  • Is it always possible to find meaning in events?
  • Do we always remember things accurately?
  • How does our view of the world affect the way we tell our story?
Here are some interesting articles about the way we understand history.  You may want to read them and think about the possible relationship to the way in which we understand Torah.

  • A Closer Reading of Roman Vishniac appeared in the NY Times, and suggests that the way in which this famous photographer portrayed pre-Shoah Jewish life in Eastern Europe may not be as complete as we might have thought.
  • Thine is the Kingdom may seem a strange choice for an article in a blog about Jewish education and thinking.  I suggest you read it, however, because it seems to me to address the same fundamental issue that James Kugel struggles with in his book How to Read the Bible - is it possible to reconcile theological understanding of religious text with scientific and historical reality (whatever that is in the shifting sands of knowledge!)?  And, more important, does it matter?
  • Finally, please read China's Ancient Jewish Enclave.  Though not exactly parallel to the others, it does ask the reader to consider how a group understands its history and connection to community. It also made me wonder what the "tipping point" is between 'being Jewish' and 'being of Jewish descent'.  

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