Shmin - Shemini
In the Torah, God commands the Israelites to make offerings to God in the form of sacrifices. The Israelites would bring forth offerings of goats, lambs, oxen, and other kosher animals. The Kohanim - the priests, would take these offerings and lay them on the altar. The Hebrew word for sacrifice is korban. Korban means to draw close or draw near, and the purpose of sacrifices in the Torah is to bring us closer to the Divine.
This week we are in the Torah portion Shmini (Leviticus 9:1–11:47). We are introduced to Aaron’s sons Nadav and Avihu. Aaron and his sons were the first Kohanim in the priestly system established by God in the Torah. In this Torah portion, we learn that Nadav and Abihu die after bringing forth an aish zara - a strange fire before God.
The fire that was brought forth by Aaron’s sons was part of this ritual of sacrificing during these times. We don’t know the meaning of strange fire. We don’t know if Nadav and Avihu were being punished or blessed by God. What we do know is that Nadav and Avihu died and were taken from this earth, and Aaron, their father, is told to be silent, cannot grieve after watching his sons die.
In this era of COVID-19, we cannot grieve our losses in ways that provide us the most meaning. We can’t go over to a friend’s house to talk or offer a hug to someone. We have seen family members go into the hospital and transition from this earth, and we were heartbroken that we were unable to be with them during their final moments. We cannot bury our dead the way we want or the way our religious traditions dictate. In many ways, we may feel like Aaron, and we are forced into silence.
What do we do when faced with such loss? There is no easy answer. What we can do in this moment is draw close. Draw close to our families, our friends, students, and co-workers. Reach out to each other, connect, bring them close. Even though we can’t physically touch each other, we can, however, connect with each other emotionally and draw near to each other spiritually.
Rabbi Sandra Lawson received ordination from the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in June 2018. She has served in the United States Army as a Military Police person with a specialty in Military Police Investigations, specializing in cases involving child abuse and domestic violence. Rabbi Sandra uses her rabbinic training to bring Judaism to where people already are in their lives. As a rabbinical student Rabbi Sandra received a prestigious grant to lead Shabbat services for unaffiliated Jews in a vegan cafe. She also received a grant to launch her podcast Minutes of Torah. Her vision as a Rabbi is to help build a more inclusive Jewish community where all who want to come are welcomed, diversity is embraced and we can come together to learn and to pray.