[JOI Word of Torah] Big Tent Judaism: Shmini
Kerry M. Olitzky
KOlitzky at joi.org
Mon Mar 24 18:11:52 GMT 2008
"Big Tent Judaism" Word of Torah
March 29, 2008 / 22 Adar II, 5768
The portion begins "On the eighth day Moses called Aaron and his sons, and
the elders of Israel" (Leviticus 9:1). Because of the phenomenon of what has
been called "cultural literacy," the mention of the eighth day makes you
think immediately of brit milah (ritual circumcision). So from the start,
your ears are attentive to children in this portion. That is why it is no
surprise to read about Nadab and Abihu-two of Aaron's sons. You expect it.
But what is surprising, overwhelming, and then sickening is their deaths,
especially when you read that they are consumed by the very fires they lit
in their attempt to come closer to God.
Shortly after the deaths of Nadab and Abihu, the text tells us "And Aaron
was silent" (Leviticus 10:3). He was dumbstruck. This is no surprise. He
plummets from the pinnacle of happiness to the depths of despair. But his
silence is not of the contemplative kind that brings tranquility or that
shuts out the noise around us in an attempt to reach inward. Aaron's silence
cries out louder than any other voice in the text. I can hear its piercing
screams whenever I open this portion. For me, it is like some of those
indelible photos that I have in my mind from my days as a congregational
rabbi, accompanying to the grave those who deserved it least-the very young.
This section of the narrative also reminds me of the silent scream of the
Hasidic master, Nachman of Bratzlav-which he himself practiced and
recommended among the other spiritual practices that he advocated. It was a
technique that Nachman suggested we add to our regular spiritual discipline,
and it is practiced simply. We are told to reach inside of ourselves, open
our mouths and then scream as loudly as we can without emitting a sound.
Sometimes, though, we do need to raise our voices. Just as I refuse to be
still following the silencing of Nadab and Abihu in the text, I refuse to be
silent when I see that the community is not willing to embrace all those on
the periphery. It's our duty to welcome and engage everyone who casts their
lot with the Jewish people, even if they don't quite fit the mold shaped by
Rabbi Kerry Olitzky is the author of many inspiring books that bring the
Jewish wisdom tradition into everyday life, and is, among other books, the
author of Introducing My Faith and My Community: The Jewish Outreach
Institute Guide for the Christian in a Jewish Interfaith Relationship
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You are welcome to use these ideas in your own work and writings as long as
you would be so kind as to credit Rabbi Kerry Olitzky and the Jewish
Outreach Institute, thank you.
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