Shemini: Realities

Every day I explain to my 92-year-old mother why I moved her into assisted living near me. Every day she says she managed just fine living alone, and every day I remind her of serious problems that she ignored and then forgot about.

Sometimes I explain reality to her in person, sometimes over the phone. And she believes me—until she forgets what I said. I am touched that she trusts me now, and relieved that she has moved beyond her old habit of inventing her personal version of reality and defending it.

This week I am still solving problems and helping my mother unpack, so I do not have the quiet time I need to write a new blog post. But I have been thinking about this week’s Torah portion, Shemini, in which God creates a fire that sweeps out of the new tent-sanctuary and ignites the animal offerings on the altar. Immediately after this divine consecration of the altar, the high priest Aaron’s two older sons, Nadav and Avihu, bring their own incense into the tent-sanctuary. They, too, are immolated by divine fire.

Do they want to sacrifice themselves to God? Or do they ignore the plain evidence of God’s ferocious power, and stroll into the sanctuary without even asking Moses or Aaron if they are doing the right thing? Are they so swept away by their desire for divine union that they forget how dangerous God is? Or are they in denial about reality?

For more on the possible motivations of Nadav and Avihu, see my 2018 post: Shemini: Fire Meets Fire.

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