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Parashat Shmini

March 25, 2022
22 Adar II 5782
Parashat Shmini
Leviticus 9:1 - 11:47

Dear Friends,

Over the past week, I found myself in the company of fellow clergy in a variety of settings. It seemed as though we were all engaged in the same balancing act -- remaining spiritually grounded in the face of a world that seems to have lost its bearings.

As I write this, I know that this circumstance is not simply a question facing clergy; at this moment, it is facing each and every one of us. The need we perceive in the world seems to have increased exponentially within the last ten years. The world is smaller and so much information comes our way and along with it the need to maintain a critical eye. I think our impulse goes in two directions; one is to step back and not get engaged and the other is to boldly step forward, thinking that our actions will leave us unscathed.

Once more, the Torah comes to teach us what we need in these moments. In this week’s Torah portion, a great deal happens, and then the portion concludes with the laws of kashrut. We go from a sense of that which is momentous to the details of daily living.

The contrast can seem almost jarring -- a sense that many of us are quite familiar with at the moment, as we go about doing the everyday pieces of our lives while the world spins around us. But there is more to it.

We are at the moment when Aaron and his sons are consecrated as priests with Aaron becoming the High Priest. In Leviticus 9:7, Aaron is told by his brother Moses to come close to the altar and offer the appropriate sacrifices. The sages are struck by the fact that Moses needs to tell Aaron what to do. We sense that Aaron is hesitant. Aaron is behaving the way many of us would when approaching a new challenge. He is blessed to have someone who has is back. But both of them know full well that to do the work is fraught with danger, a reality brought home to us with the deaths of Nadav and Abihu, the sons of Aaron who bring strange fire to the altar and are consumed. There are many ways in which the sages explain their deaths; however, the Torah does not give us a clear explanation. What strikes me is the youthful sometimes destructive pattern of running blindly forward thinking that one is impervious.

We are left with an interesting conundrum. Do we hesitate to draw near to the Divine source or do we rush in headlong, trusting our own power?

We may want to put this into the paradigm of being a leadership dilemma, but it is more than that. Fear can be paralyzing, and thinking we have all of the answers can lead to all kinds of destructive behavior. We need to think before we act and find the balance within. As always, we are stronger when surrounded by those who have our backs and we have theirs.

The Torah portion does not end with the death of Aaron’s two sons and its immediate aftermath. It ends with the laws of kashrut. It is quite striking to go from the profound experiences of Aaron and Moses and their families to the seeming minutiae of laws of kashrut. However, if we stop for a moment and go beyond food choices, kashrut is all about living consciously and making thoughtful choices. When those choices become a regular part of the way we live, they have the capacity to serve as anchors within our lives, grounding us as we face whatever comes our way

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Linda Shriner-Cahn

Tue, May 24 2022 23 Iyyar 5782