It was meant to be a day of great celebration.
The nation awaited the inauguration of a new era.
Then tragedy struck.
What is remarkable, is that these three lines can refer to Parshat Shemini or to today – 29th March 2019. Of course one is dealing with the inauguration of the Mishkan and the Shechina dwelling amongst the Jewish nation and the other is dealing with the exit from the European Union.
However, even though these events are thousands of years apart and not linked really in any way, the question to both situations are the same.
What went wrong?
In terms of Shemini the commentators are hard pressed to agree on what actually was the aveirah of Nadav and Avihu.
The Midrash in Vayikrah Rabba says they were drunk (10: 8- 9). The Midrash also holds that they were unmarried and that many women remained unmarried for them. However, they said ‘our uncle is a King, our mother’s brother is a Prince, our father is the Kohen Gadol – what woman is worthy for us!’
The Seforno holds that it was deciding the law without asking the opinion of a teacher, ‘which he has not commanded’(10:2). The Gemara in Sanhedrin says that Nadav and Avihu were walking behind Moshe and Aaron and said ‘When these two elders die, you and I will lead the generation’. Hashem said – ‘Let’s see who buries who’.
Bottom line there is no consensus – similar to Parliament’s woes!
However, I wish to look at the p’shat – at the pesukim which gives a further reason why they were punished ‘Vayikrivu lifnai Hashem, EIsh Zara asher lo Zivah Otam’, ‘And they brought before Hashem an alien fire that He had not commanded’ (10:2).
There is not enough space to explain all the ideas based on this pasuk, suffice to say that the issue was that on their very high level they didn’t follow the script and even though their intentions may have been pure, they erred in their Divine Service as this was not what Hashem had ‘commanded’.
This idea is magnified and it is found in the additional reading this Shabbat for Parshat Parah when we read the opening of the Parsha of Chukat. “Zot chukat haTorah asher tzivah Hashem” (this is the ‘chok’ of the Torah that Hashem has commanded) [Bamidbar 19:2].
The Torah is filled with many different types of commandments. Those that make sense to us and those which do not. We are taught that the understanding of the ‘chukim’ is beyond us.
The Parah Adumah was the red heifer that purified those who had become ritually impure by coming in contact with a corpse. What is beyond us is that the same ashes make those who were pure – impure.
The Ohr HaChaim asked a pertinent question on this. Why didn’t the Parsha begin by stating that this is the ‘chok’ of the Parah Adumah or that this is the ‘chok’ of taharah (ritual purity) or tum’ah (ritual impurity)? Why was this ‘chok’ labeled as the ‘chok’ of the entire Torah?
The answer he gives links back to Nadav and Avihu. If a person adheres to this mitzvah the Torah equates that to adherence to all of the mitzvot. Keeping the ‘chok’ reveals a trusting decision to keep the laws of Hashem taught throughout the entire Torah. Not only the ones that make sense to us, not only the ones that we feel emotional about, the ones that are culturally satisfying – no, all of them, the ones that God commanded.
The Torah is our anchor, is our guide. That is what we have to observe.
‘Bayom Hashemini’ began with such jubilation and expectation yet ended in tragedy with the nation mourning two of its greatest leaders.
There is another Bayom Hashmini in the Torah which brings all the ideas together.
In Bamidbar 29:35 – ‘Bayom Hashmini atzeret tihyeh lachem’, On the Eighth day shall be an Assembly for you. The chag of Shemini Atzeret.
And what were the Korbanot for Shemini Atzeret?
‘Bayom hashemini… par echad, ayil echad’ (29:36-37) – one bull, one ram.
The Midrash tells us that Succot is for the nations, thus 70 bulls over the 7 days of Succot, yet Shemini Atzeret is for us, and us alone, thus the singular bull and ram.
‘Remain with me for one more day’ says Hashem to us – all the guests have left but you can remain. Shemini Atzeret is our private party, it is an ‘Atzeret’, a store house where we gather all the spiritual energy we have garnered over the festive season, and we store it for the long winter until the next chag – Pesach, comes around – which is a few weeks away!
And of course in Israel the eighth day is also Simchat Torah where we celebrate the private party with the completion and restart of the core of our lives – the Torah – the eternal, unchanging word of God.
I have no idea what will happen with Brexit – we may also have the demise of a leader tonight. But the message of Parshat Shemini, Parshat Parah and Shemini Atzeret all coalesce around the centrality of Torah as our life blood.
So Brexit did not happen on Parshat Shemini, the new era did not begin. The next date we are told that this can happen is Apr 12th.
That is Shabbat Ha Gadol!
Who knows what the future holds!