Double Mitzvah – Shemini

Double Mitzvah Jewrotica Parsha

Written by Tamar Fox. Check out Tamar’s last post in this series, Double Mitzvah – Tzav, and a second take on Parshat Shemini by guest contributor Elijah Blumov.

Rated PGIn this week’s Torah portion we read about Aaron’s sons, Nadav and Avihu, who bring alien fire, esh zarah, as an offering to God, and are then instantly killed by God. Famously, Aaron’s reaction is to be silent–though we can be sure he is grief-stricken and horrified, he is acclaimed for his stoicism in the face of tragedy.

The text itself doesn’t exactly explain what was going on with Nadav and Avihu. Why did they bring their strange offering? What exactly did they do wrong? There are a number of theories, but my favorite, which comes from Midrash Rabbah, suggests that they were too proud to find partners:

As Rabbi Levi said, “They were conceited, many woman awaited them eagerly (to marry them) but what did they say? ‘Our uncle is King, our other uncle is a head of a tribe, our father is High Priest, we are his two assistants. What woman is worthy of us?'” (Midrash Rabbah 20:10)

Another line of thinking suggests that the brothers were drunk when they brought their offering, or were too ambitious, anxiously waiting for Moses and Aaron to die so that they could take over.

In truth, we don’t know what caused their divine punishment, and while it can be interesting, and even fun to speculate, we are ultimately guessing.

It’s important to remember how clueless we all are when looking at the tragedies we see in others’ lives. Jewish culture, especially, is apt to point fingers at single people, and suggest their singleness is somehow their fault, and that being single is a problem to be solved. It is easy to be like Rabbi Levi and assume that an unmarried person is being too picky. But the truth is, we don’t know–some people are single because they haven’t met the right person. Others are single because they prefer to be single. And others might be involved in relationships we don’t know about.

When we see tragedies in our communities, we often can’t know how or why they happened. And while speculating is always tempting, it is best, at such times, to remember the example that Aaron set–silence, not speculation.

Shabbat shalom!

Author of Jewrotica's Double Mitzvah column, Tamar Fox is a writer and editor in Philadelphia. She will try anything once, including open relationships, dating someone who is chalav yisrael, and going to Suriname.