Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Healthy Dose of Torah – Acharae Mot II

Acharae mot –After the death. The “name” of this week’s Torah portion – Acharae Mot. “After the Death of Aaron’s sons.” What follows has to be one of those places where Torah screams off its pages, “Debate me!” Rashi (medieval scholar) argued that places in Torah exist for the sole purpose of prompting a debate, and that to take them literally or even as appropriate behavioral responses is anathema to faith. Faith is a wrestling match, and Torah often primes the pump for a grappling and struggling conversation that helps all of us see and be more in each other’s eyes and the greater world. Often, the most important pieces of scripture are the ones that beg us to debate and even disagree with the premise proposed by the text. Sometimes we can work around it, skirting the main issue with commentary or story. Today, though, I have to walk smack dab into the midst of the fire.

“After the death.” Aaron is admonished to go on with his life, not take time to grieve his sons and never approach God how they did, lest he dies, too. As a father, he must ignore his loss and get over it.

1.      A Loving God could never have responded this way. God of the Bible is not God. This character of the scripture is relatable only in human terms with human frailties. God cannot tell us that the gates of return are always open and then immediately kill someone who disagrees with divinity. God invites our engagement and our open hearts. The God of scripture punishes people who get “too open” with God. Most people who dabble in religion don’t understand that those who canonized the text simultaneously argued that it can never be taken literally. We see from the too many who have taken it literally; it fuels the fires of destruction. It is a teaching tool, not a behavioral mandate.

2.      Even if what Aaron’s sons did was wrong, and I argue elsewhere that it was not, families of executed felons still get to grieve the loss of their loved ones. Denying this man the right to grieve for his sons is nothing short of inhumane. The text says that Aaron was silent. Moses did not allow Aaron or his children to bury the young men; cousins did that. Moses did not allow Aaron or his children to cry and mourn; they had to continue in altar service. We know, as human beings that this is not how God holds us, and the debate from the text should help us realize how cold and callous we are when we expect people to return to their normal activities and just “get over” their pain. I maintain that Nadab and Abihu did what they could to try to get closer to God (the text this week says so). The system did not want what they, as priests, wanted to offer.

After the death. Our children bring their best to the altar every day. They are just trying to grow. The simple act of trying to learn and grow puts them at mortal risk every day. How many of our children and grandchildren go to school expecting school shootings and violence? Ask them. It is daily news. They pray “not in my school,” and yet, they know that it is someone’s school, house of worship, grocery store, theater, park, or home. Our response is to hold a vigil cry tears and go about our business. Why not hold the gun lobby accountable? After the death. Why not mandate that we insist on better controls on firearms – we do on everything else less dangerous? After the death. Why not insist that if the industry refuses to do anything then they have to pay the cost of protection and let the NRA pay for guards in schools and prayer houses, and parks, stores, theaters … and protecting our homes? After the death. Is it really political to hold people accountable when they want to be above the law? After the death. How many more until there is no one left to speak?

We have an obligation to do better. The text tells us that Aaron protested Moses’ command in silence. He could not move forward and could argue that he thought their death was unjust. We can and must do more to protect each other. I am tired over aching each day, after the death. I wish you a Sabbath of peace.