The book of Leviticus is the Torah of touch. It is the Torah of intimacy and connection, sacrifice and ritual readiness. It is all about how to best prepare ourselves to be in connection - with ourselves, community, and Divinity. What new insights arise as we dwell in these words that focus on spiritual practices of closeness in this time of physical distance?
This week we read the pregnant parshiyot of Acharei Mot-Kedoshim. We return to the world of Aaron after a period of grieving the death of two of his sons (narratively interrupted by the timeless teachings of Tazria-Metzora). But as I opened my Tanakh to study, my heart kept being pulled back to the moment in parashat Shemini when Aaron learns about the death of Nadav and Avihu. Leviticus 10:1-3 reads:
וַיִּקְח֣וּ בְנֵֽי־אַ֠הֲרֹן נָדָ֨ב וַאֲבִיה֜וּא אִ֣ישׁ מַחְתָּת֗וֹ וַיִּתְּנ֤וּ בָהֵן֙ אֵ֔שׁ וַיָּשִׂ֥ימוּ עָלֶ֖יהָ קְטֹ֑רֶת וַיַּקְרִ֜בוּ לִפְנֵ֤י יְהוָה֙ אֵ֣שׁ זָרָ֔ה אֲשֶׁ֧ר לֹ֦א צִוָּ֖ה אֹתָֽם׃
Now Aaron's sons Nadav and Avihu each took his fire pan, put fire in it, and laid incense on it; and they offered before the LORD alien fire, which He had not enjoined upon them.
וַתֵּ֥צֵא אֵ֛שׁ מִלִּפְנֵ֥י יְהוָ֖ה וַתֹּ֣אכַל אוֹתָ֑ם וַיָּמֻ֖תוּ לִפְנֵ֥י יְהוָֽה׃
And fire came forth from the LORD and consumed them; thus they died at the instance of the LORD.
וַיֹּ֨אמֶר מֹשֶׁ֜ה אֶֽל־אַהֲרֹ֗ן הוּא֩ אֲשֶׁר־דִּבֶּ֨ר יְהוָ֤ה ׀ לֵאמֹר֙ בִּקְרֹבַ֣י אֶקָּדֵ֔שׁ וְעַל־פְּנֵ֥י כָל־הָעָ֖ם אֶכָּבֵ֑ד וַיִּדֹּ֖ם אַהֲרֹֽן׃
Then Moses said to Aaron, "This is what the LORD meant when He said: Through those near to Me I show Myself holy, and gain glory before all the people." And Aaron was silent.
Ain Mukdam u'Meuchar baTorah - Torah is not linear. And certainly grief is not linear. And these days, time doesn't even feel linear, if it ever did. Here Aaron, the high priest, the great teacher of sacred intimacy, teaches us the importance of stillness, which may just be the korban/the offering/the pathway to connection in these times.
With gratitude to Koach Frazier, who pointed me to the wise words of Dr. Valerie Bridgeman:
"All these 'extra' things people and organizations are doing to be in touch tells me that we (writ large) are afraid. We are doing way too much because we are afraid we may never get to see/touch one another again. People's hearts are failing them because of fear.
"We actually need to sit still to stop us from all this 'busy,' designed to keep us from feeling the fear, the dread, the anxiety, the angst, the uncertainty...We have to sit still so that it won't rule over us. So we can slow our heartbeat. So we can hear our breath. So we can find our connections - to ourselves, our people, to our God.
"We are doing too much because we are afraid.
And Aaron was still.
This is what we sing about on Shabbat morning Kiddush in V'shamru. "שָׁבַ֖ת וַיִּנָּפַֽשׁ / shavat vayinafash - The Holy One ceased and was resouled" (Ex 31:17).
May we all have the courage to seek out more moments of stillness and to trust that it will lead us back to ourselves, to each other, and to a sense of holiness that connects us all.
Rabbi Ari Lev
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Rabbi Ari Lev Fornari brings Torat Hayyim, a living tradition, to Kol Tzedek Synagogue through thoughts about prayer, justice, and community.