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[KE CyberTorah] Living After



Living After

The worst possible thing had happened. Aaron had four sons. His two oldest boys, Nadav and Avihu, were treasured and loved. Just as their father and his brother, Moses, had led the Jewish people, they were raised to know they too would lead the community. Yet as they aged, Aaron and Moses showed no signs of slowing down. As they grew to maturity, they remained the heirs, waiting in the wings.

Then came a great day. The new Sanctuary, the Mishkan, was dedicated. The people sang, they danced, they carried on. Offering after offering was presented and the people grew more and more excited. Finally the ritual was concluded and the people – and Nadav and Avihu- hungered for more. So they brought “strange fire” that God had not commanded. A fire came from the altar, and they were consumed.

Why did they do it?  This, thought Aaron, I will never know. Were they impatient to replace me? Were they ready to step up and thought that one more offering, one more act of piety, would cause God to choose them, finally, to take the mantle for which they had prepared their whole life? Or, were they so drawn in, so moved by the power of the day, that they couldn’t stop, didn’t want to stop, and brought one more offering, offering themselves to be consumed and subsumed into God?

The fire came down; and God consumed them entirely. For this and more, Aaron was silent. He didn’t know what to say. To praise their devotion? To weep at their stupidity? To scream in anger at a God he had served faithfully his whole life who had taken or murdered his two oldest sons? In the face of that and more, Aaron was silent.

Aaron lived on after the death of his sons. The anger and confusion never left him. In living after, he faced a choice. He could become bitter and angry, he could turn away from his faith, and curse God. Or: in anger, in hurt, he could dedicate his life to love and compassion. He could choose to take the wrenching heartbreak of his own life and use it as a tool, perhaps even a tool of defiance, to be a bringer and pursuer of peace.

He chose to sanctify life. He chose to be the High Priest, the forever wounded and doubting servant of God. He chose to heal broken relationships and offer comfort to others who lost children or spouses or friends. And we, who also live after, will never know whether he did it in defiance and anger at all that had happened, or out of love and service of God. Or: if both dwelt in his heart at the same moment, a forever uncertain quantum wave form of faith and doubt, love and anger, service and defiance.

We always live after. And right now especially so. This global pandemic has brought devastation and loss of life in its wake in ways we could never have imagined a year ago. It has left in its wake isolation, depression, and economic uncertainty. In such a moment we too have a choice. Each of us has reacted in our own unique ways to this time and to its gradual end. Some are ready for everything to resume; others feel much more cautious. 

We could choose to become even more isolated and alone, each dwelling in our own place with no room for the many and varied reactions to this strange and wrenching year. Or: we can choose to follow in Aaron’s footsteps and bring all of our complicated feelings and hurts, our love and frustration, our faith and doubt, into loving service of one another. 

I invite you to be a student of Aaron. To be exactly as you are in all that is behind us and in front of us. To know you are living after. And to pursue and seek wholeness and peace. To offer love and compassion to people who have walked through this time on very different paths with very different outcomes. And to strive: to bring us together, to recognize we are all created in God’s image. All unique and all of inestimable value.

May this Shabbat bring your wholeness, strength, and peace

Rabbi David Booth

Tue, September 26 2023 11 Tishrei 5784