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Written by Sender Rozesz. Sender Rozesz is a practicing attorney with a background in Jewish pluralistic education for adults. The views reflected in his columns represent his own personal views, and are not intended to reflect the views of any organizations, institutes or associations with whom he may be affiliated. For more Double Mitzvahs by Sender Rozesz, check out A Woman’s Vow, Sexual Motive, Choose Your Own Spouse, The Post-Honeymoon Journey, A Wise and Understanding People, The Blessing of Fertility, Abominations, Coitus Interruptus, Sexual Struggles,The Unspeakable Language of Passion, Cut vs. Uncut, The Silence of Bitterness, Sex and the Holiest Day of the Year, Shifting Beds and Sex in the Sukkah,Sex…In the Beginning, A Sexual Reboot, She’s My Beautiful Sister,Kosher Incest?, How They Met, Male-Female Intercourse, The First Kiss, The Power to Transform, Onanism, Daughters-in-Law and Moshiach, Issues with the In-Laws?, The Undoing of Captivity, Shift Beds – Part II, Pharaoh’s Assimilation Policy, Passion vs. Pleasure, Loving in Reverse, Music is Female, Fecund Fluids and Revelation, Sexism in the Commandments, Divine Lust, Name Calling, Mismatched Lovers, Sex and Mirrors, The Challenge of Real Loving,Getting Undressed, The Strangers Among Us, and Wet, Moist Matzah.
Imagine a large ship, out at sea. It bobs gently with the rolling waves lapping against the sides of the ship. It rolls this way and that way, its passengers feeling as though the ship is helpless before the ocean; as though a strong enough wave or current will carry off the ship to an unintended and unforeseen destination. But they know it won’t.
Because of the anchor.
Far beneath the ship, often invisible to its passengers, is a solid anchor, attached to a solid chain, that snakes its way up from the ocean bed to the underside of the ship, holding the ship in place. The ship will continue to rock, to move with the undulating water beneath it; yet almost imperceptibly, the anchor keeps it in its spot. When the ocean grows stormy, as the waves crash more menacingly against the boat’s hull, one may perhaps be able to detect the strain imposed on the place where the anchor joins to the ship – but if the connection is strong and durable, the anchor enables the ship to maintain its position, and to avoid being lost to the churning sea.
Men and women – they are anchors for each other. Oh, they are each individually much more than that, but they are also anchors for each other.
And the Lord God said, “It is not good that man is alone; I shall make him a helpmate opposite him.” Genesis, 2:18.
G-d saw that man, on his own, would be adrift, unable to control his direction, unable to focus his energies, to withstand the forces that would inevitably roil around him. And so he gave him a “helpmate” – one who would anchor him.
And the Lord God built the side that He had taken from man into a woman, and He brought her to man. Genesis, 2:22.
When Eve awoke, she too perceived that her source, the connection that grounded her, was Adam. So she sought out that link, and it “brought her to man.”
Women are generally better at grounding their men, though, than men are at grounding their women. Which was kind of the theme discussed here.
What is it about them, though? Step inside of a woman and marvel at her unfathomable beauty and complexity. Which of her many assets is it that, aside from all else that she is, reaches out, embraces him, and protects him from the buffeting storms swirling around him? Is it her sexuality? Is it her femininity? Is it her superior intuition? Is it a combination of all of her that creates this magical shield?
It’s certainly not something she needs to do. More often than not, like a ship, one doesn’t even feel the anchor. It’s just there. Man goes about his life feeling free to bob here, to roll here, oblivious to gentle connection that holds him. But one senses it in moments of struggle or strain; then he becomes aware of her utter determination to keep him from being lost to the stormy nothingness, no matter how strongly it beckons to him.
In this week’s Parsha, Shmini, the Tabernacle that the Israelites have collectively worked on building for many months, is finally ready to be set up and dedicated. The dedication ceremony is marked by Aaron and his sons bringing certain prescribed sacrifices and offerings on the holy altar, and their efforts are rewarded by the appearance of G-d’s glory to the all of the people.
“And fire went forth from before the Lord and consumed the burnt offering and the fats upon the altar, and all the people saw, sang praises, and fell upon their faces.” Leviticus, 9:24.
Then tragedy strikes.
And Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu, each took his pan, put fire in them, and placed incense upon it, and they brought before the Lord foreign fire, which He had not commanded them. And fire went forth from before the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord. Leviticus, 10:1-2.
Why? Why did they have to die? What did they do wrong?
One of the reasons provided by the Midrash, however, stands out: Nadab and Avihu were unmarried – and were not seeking to get married.
Consider the stark contrast to Christianity’s historic requirement of celibacy as a condition for being a member of the clergy! Here, Aaron’s two sons, the first of the Jewish priests, are killed because they are not married!
Why would being married have saved Nadab and Avihu’s lives?
Most commentators agree on one thing: G-d’s divine revelation was an other-worldly experience. Without the striking of a match, a fire suddenly appeared, and consumed Aaron’s sacrifices. G-d’s presence was palpable, so real. It was as if a portal between the heavens and the earth had opened, and complete spiritual nirvana was within reach. Nadab and Avihu, priests, and spiritual connoisseurs in their own right, could not resist the temptation presented by G-d’s manifestation, and they approached with yet another – unauthorized – offering, seeking to step beyond this world and into the next. The fire that entered their nostrils was not so much a punishing death as it was a consequence of their reckless wish; it consumed them on the insides, as their lofty souls tore themselves from their mortal bodies, no longer able to bear the separation from their Heavenly source.
What might have saved them? Perhaps a gentle tether, the imperceptible whisper of a spouse, the soft tug of a feminine anchor would have reminded them that their place and mission was in this world, not in the next, and that the light pull of their better-half would be infinitely preferable to drifting into the ether.
And here’s a thought: Doesn’t Torah fill the same role for the Jewish people? Whether you are orthodox, conservative, reform, conservadox, reformative, reconstructionist, atheist, agnostic, or simply Jewrotic, don’t we all – at some level – identify ourselves with reference to the Torah? Don’t we orient our Jewish identities around the Torah, whether by rejecting it, embracing it, accepting it, resenting it, disbelieving it? And throughout all of our history, hasn’t the Torah – whether gently or non-gently – always been the fixture that has anchored us amidst all of the turbulence? As we have bobbed, rolled, and been tossed and turned by the myriad cultures, fads, fashions and trends, hasn’t Torah been our constant? Where or what would we be without it?
What would you be without it?