I always get nostalgic when we arrive at this week’s Torah portion, Sh’mini. You see, it was my Bar Mitzvah portion some 45 years ago. What I remember most vividly is that I could not stop my knees from shaking and how grateful I was that no one could see them. Somehow, I made it through the service at Beth Emet without collapsing in a heap.
This year I read the portion with new eyes. I am particularly struck by the story of the deaths of Nadav and Abihu, two of Aaron’s sons. We are told by the text that they died because they made an offering that was not commanded by God. They went rogue. This year I paid special attention to what happened to their families in the aftermath. God essentially tells them they cannot mourn their loss.
I find this incredible. Aaron, his wife, the remaining brothers, and Moses (their uncle), were forbidden to take the steps that could provide both comfort and a true healing. For me, this is untenable, yet also understandable. God wanted to emphasize the terrible nature of the two boys’ transgression. Yet, to make the family pay for this just feels cruel.
So, perhaps we can look at this another way. Perhaps we can see this part of the story as a metaphor meant to teach us a lesson about hurt…and about pain and healing. Aaron and his family were so bereft that they could not even find the strength to cry to allow themselves to feel the pain of loss and move through. For me, this teaches that there are times when the pain is so deep, healing seems an unattainable dream.
Perhaps Aaron and Moses misunderstood God’s meaning. It is possible that they were unable to hear and understand so swift and terrible were the deaths of Nadav and Abihu, Aaron’s sons. This is true with our lives. Each of us has encountered a hurt or a pain that seems insurmountable, yet the only way to move forward is to find a way to heal.
On April 15th at 7:00 p.m. we will create a space for healing in the Golder Chapel. We have gathered prayers, readings, and music and brought them together for a service of healing. We all seek comfort, strength and healing. Some of us struggle with physical illness. Some of us struggle with mental illness. Some of us are in remission from addiction. Some of us are in need of spiritual healing. Many will come to such a service to seek healing for friends and loved ones. And, many will come to just lend support to those who are seeking healing of the body or the spirit. I hope you will join us, however you are so moved to do so. Together we can provide what Aaron, Moses, and their family felt was beyond their reach.
The Torah portion is called Sh’mini which means “eighth.” It was on the eighth day that the priests, including Aaron and his sons, were to be ordained. The eighth day is the first day of the new week, bringing with it new possibilities and new hope. This Healing Service is a new worship opportunity for our community. May all in need of healing and all who stand with them as a community of love, joy and connection, find hope, strength and comfort that will lead to healing and renewed life.
Rabbi Paul F. Cohen, D.Min., D.D