Parashat Sh’mini

Friday, April 9, 2021/27 Nisan, 5781
Parashat Sh’mini Leviticus 9:1-11:47

Dear Friends,

A year ago, Abby Imley was preparing to become a Bat Mitzvah. She knew her Torah portion, her prayers, and the service’s choreography. She had studied Torah and composed a D’var Torah she was prepared to share with the community. When the pandemic struck, Abby and her family decided to postpone the big occasion, optimistic that she would be able to go ahead with the service as planned in the months ahead. Although the big ceremony and party they envisioned has not come to fruition, Abby remarked that she feels like a Bat Mitzvah. She understands that her coming of age isn’t about one day; it is about her Jewish identity, her learning and exploration of faith. This weekend, the Imley family will have an intimate celebration of her Bat Mitzvah. I am grateful that Abby decided to share her D’var Torah with the Temple Beth El community because she has so much wisdom to impart. It is an honor and a privilege to share her words with you today.

A Torah Teaching by Bat Mitzvah Abby Imley

My Torah portion is Parashat Sh’mini. Aaron the priest blessed the people, and brought forth the purgation offerings and the burnt offerings on behalf of the people. The fire of God came forth and consumed all of the offerings. All of the Israelites fell on their faces joyfully, and felt thankful to God.

The sons of Aaron, Nadav and Avihu, decide to bring forth their own offering to God. Because Nadab and Abihu are the sons of Aaron, they will one day get to make sacrifices to God. The Torah says that the brothers brought forth an “alien fire” to God. God doesn’t like this, and so God kills them. Nadab and Abihu were punished for bringing forth an alien fire to God.

The reason that God responded so severely in unknown. There are many theories on why this may have happened. Rashi teaches that Nadav and Avihu were punished because they drank too much. Right after Aaron’s sons are killed, Moses says  “Do not drink wine that will lead to intoxication” when you are in a temple or in a holy area. Rashi responds by saying, “We know from this that they died precisely on account of the wine.” They were killed because they were intoxicated. Rabbi Ibn Ezra taught that burning incense and using unconsecrated fire had been Nadav and Avihu’s own idea. The brothers were killed because they were not commanded to bring forth this alien fire.

I personally believe that they were killed  for not living up to the morals that a Jew should live up to. Or HaChayim taught that the sons of Aaron were supposed to live up to higher standards. As the sons of the high priest, they should live up to that, and act like a priest. They should be noble, responsible, smart, and be able to follow the rules. When they offer the sacrifice, the Israelites are watching. They see the brothers doing something they shouldn’t be, and the people are upset that these two young priests are getting away with it. Nadav and Avihu are being trained to be priests and then are going off and being disrespectful by putting the alien fire on the altar. God has to respond, and that is why they were killed.

There is a lot to learn from this Torah portion and Nadav and Abihu. One of the lessons this portion can teach us is to be aware of what we say and do. You want to be careful of how it may come across to others.  God and the Israelites were upset at Nadab and Abihu’s action, but the brothers didn’t consider how the others would take it. There are many examples of times were someone didn’t think about how this would affect the other person or thing. This can happen a lot in your daily life. For example, when I was at summer camp a couple of years ago, I didn’t like one of my roommate’s so I went off and told my sister and her friends about how mean she was to me. I was not trying to be rude or hurt her feelings, but I did.

That showed that I shouldn’t have went off and talked about her to others and I should have been more aware of her feelings. So, then I apologized to her and she apologized to me and we became friends. It is very important to also keep other people’s feelings in mind and to learn from Nadav and Abihu’s mistakes.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Cassi Kail