Sh’imini – Lev. 9:1-11:47 (4/17-18)

As the Torah Turns

Rabbi Lader’s Weekly D’var Torah

Sh’imini – Lev. 9:1-11:47 (4/17-18)

This Shabbat, we return to our Torah readings as we make our way through Leviticus.  Our portion is Sh’imini – Lev. 9:1-11:47, and opens with the eighth (Sh’mini) day conclusion of the consecration of Aaron and his sons as priests.  This is done very publicly, so that all could see and be a part of the ritual. There is a final burnt offering, which is consumed on the altar by fire from before the Eternal.  Eight days of pomp and circumstance, consecration and celebration.  The boundaries between the holy and the everyday are drawn and maintained… And then, Aaron’s sons – Nadav and Avihu – cross a line.  “Each took his fire pan, put fire in it, and laid incense on it; and they offered alien fire before the Eternal which God had not enjoined upon them. And fire came forth from before the Eternal and consumed them; thus they died before the Eternal…” (Lev. 10:1-2) And Aaron was silent. What could he say?  What words could he find at the loss of two [of his four] sons?  How much pain can one endure?  Rabbi Harold Kushner, in his book When Bad Things Happen to Good People, wrote: “Pain is the price we pay for being alive. Dead cells—our hair, our fingernails—can’t feel pain; they cannot feel anything. When we understand that, our question will change from, “Why do we have to feel pain?” to “What do we do with our pain so that it becomes meaningful and not just pointless empty suffering?” After the silence, Aaron rises and moves forward in his duties… in his life… step by step.  What did Aaron do with his pain?Jewish tradition teaches us that Aaron was a peacemaker; when he heard that two people were arguing, he would go to each of them and tell them how much the other regretted his actions, until the two people agreed to face each other as friends.  Perhaps this was Aaron’s way of turning his grief, turning his suffering, into a meaningful tribute to the sons that he lost… and a loving model for his surviving sons. May we, too, find the courage and strength to move forward after suffering loss and grief in meaningful and loving ways._______________________________ Dr. Sylvia Rimm shared this poem, written by her granddaughter, Rachel Rimm.  Rachel is 27, works for a non profit that feeds the poor in Boston, and has been writing poetry since her high school days.  Rachel read the poem at their family seder; 18 zoomed in.  “Scarred By Fire” by Rachel Rimm There is immense loss.There is pain I’ll never know.The rug was pulled out from under all of us and we’re still scrambling to find our footing.  I hear fear in the voices on the radio,even in those that are trying to laugh or distractIt’s a mass mourningfor life as we knew it.We are sitting shiva for stability, security, any ounce of predictability we thought we had. There are upsand downsand downsand downsand ups Depends on the dayDepends on the minute, really. Yet, in all those little red dotsscattered across the infection map,like the map of lightsthat can be seen from space,I see a Unity we’ve never known. Call it trauma bonding, but when have we ALLbeen in the same ship like this,whether sinking or sailing? The yearning for connectedness feels different than it used to.There are mutual aid networkssprouting up like the spring bulbsthat will go unseen this year. The 7 o’clock pot-banging, clapping, cheering from balconies,draws salt from eyesrecognizing a new nightly paradoxof being alone together.  We are —Social Distancing— yet we are meeting our neighbors,calling our grandparents,FaceTiming far flung friends,writing letters again. We are reconvening with our own bodies, touching ourselves more tenderly,holding happy hours for all the versions of ourselves,humbly greeting the ones we lost touch with,clinking glasses,reuniting. And for every asshole panic buying toilet paper and selling Purell for the price of gold,there seem to beten grannies sewing masksten teens doing grocery deliveries for aging auntiesten hospital custodians clocking into a war zone for minimum wage,doing the silent work just to feed their families. There is destruction.There is death.There are new tragedies unfolding every minute of every day.I know this.And I know that sometimes it’s gotta burn red hot before the fire goes out. Before life there is always death. Death the original fertilizer. Fire expedites the return of nutrients to the soil from beings no longer being. Indigenous communitiesintentionally set fire to vast swaths of land to keep things in balance.Farmers and land keepers prescribe controlled burns to minimize invasive spreadand manage dangerous pests without chemicals. Red hot burnsmake space for the sunlight to shine through,reaching the smallest trees on the forest floor,some whose seeds must be scarred by fire to germinate at all. Yes, the crisp, charred woodlandsin all of their tragedycan be a blessing and a birthplace.  We will use this burnto plant new seeds. We will scar,and we will grow from this.

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