Drash at Board meeting, March 20, 2011

Drash at CNS Board Meeting

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Matt West

Leviticus 9:1 - 11:47

I see this parashat as a 3-act play:

Act 1: The Koheniim's big day, Levitucus 9:1-9:24

  • The koheniim are given the power to perform rituals
  • Through fastidious execution of ritual, the Koheniim can make God appear1
  • It is bloody work
  • Aaron ritually kills a calf (sin offering) and a ram (for a burnt offering)
  • Then, for the people, he kills a goat (sin offering), a yearling calf & a lamb (burnt offering) , and a bull and a ram (peace offering)
    • 8 animals in total
    • 3 large ones, 5 medium ones
  • The rituals contain, among other things, collecting the blood and sprinkling it on the alter, on the base of the alter, burning the animal parts like the liver, kidneys, etc
    • Aaron is a physical mess
  • Think of the impact this would have on you as a witness to this. What about the impact it had on Aaron?
    • Not only is it incredibly bloody, smelly, and smokey, but if he does it wrong, God won’t appear!   It is a bit of an understatement to say there is a lot at stake.
  • So, Aaron raises his hands, blesses the people, and then goes in the tent of meeting with Moses.
    • What did they do in there? What was going through Aaron’s mind? Did he freak out? Did he cry? Did he laugh? Did he do anything?
  • He and Moses come out of the tent and they bless the people, and “God’s glory was revealed" “Fire came forth from before God"
    • Rashbam says it came from the Holy of Holies
    • Sifra says it came down from the sky
    • Josephus says it came down like a flash of light
  • The people see this, shout for joy, and fall to their faces

Act II: Mistakes are Made, Leviticus 10:1-20

  • Mistake #1: Nadav and Avinu decide to present alien/unauthorized fire to God, and God kills them dead with divine fire
  • Mistake #2: Moses has an unsympathetic response (3 versions):
    • From Aryeh Kaplan’s “Living Torah”
        “This is exactly what God meant when he said ‘I will be sanctified among those close to me, and I will thus be glorified’”
    • From Everett Fox’s “The Five Books of Moses”
        “Through those permitted near to me, I will be proven holy before all people, I will be accorded honor!”
    • From Robert Alter’s “The Five Books of Moses”
        “Through those close to me shall I be hallowed and in all the people’s presence shall I be hallowed”
    • I picked these three versions because the first version I read didn't make a lot of sense. Here's Alter’s comments on this verse:
        “The reference is to the cultic inner circle of the designated priests… the meaning of this cryptic one-line poem is not entirely transparent, but the reference to being honored in all the people's presence lends some support to the view of several medival Hebrew commentators that the spectacular punishment of Nadav and Avinu evident to all the people, is what is intented. God is “hallowed” by manifesting his power against transgressors” (commentary #3, p 580)

    Mistake #3: Moses doesn’t let Aaron Mourn

    • He’s not allowed to rip his clothes or perform other mourning rituals
  • At the end of chapter 10, Moses is pissed that Eleazar and Ithamar and Aaron haven’t eaten the sin offering
  • Aaron’s response is fitting: my son’s have just died, back off with the ritual. I’m doing the best I can here

Act III: Dietary Laws, Leviticus 11: 1 – 47

  • Chapter 11 is about which animals you can eat, which ones you can’t, and the issue of impurity associated with these uneat-able animals
  • The list of forbidden animals is long and I’m not going to go through it now so if you’re curious, look it up. I wanted to focus on Everett Fox’s commentary on the point of the system.
  • He says: “the priestly world view stressed boundaries and order. There is a complex system of “graded holiness” informing Israelite life, with 2 basic messages:
  1. God is to be approached in stages (possible mistake of Nadav and Avinu?)
  2. The world is set up in a tight, ordered structure which reflects the distinctions between God and humans, Israel and other people” (pp 554 – 555)

What to make of our 3 act play?

Our Israelites are in a place of transition. They aren’t newbies anymore and they are trying to connect, manage their size, and come up with governing rules of order. We here on this Board find ourselves in a similar situation.

For those of us who are leading like Moses, driving hard for results: we need to remember empathy and compassion

For those of us who are leading like Nadav and Avihu - impetuous and arrogant, we need to remember humility and patience

For those of us who are leading with a resistence to processes and procedure, we need to remember that chaos is a bad place to lay your foundation - that order can provide the safety we need to grow.

1From Alter’s “The Five Books of Moses: A Translation with Commentary”: “What is striking is that in Exodus God’s manifestation of His fiery presence to the people comes from a divine initiative associative with the revelation of the Decalogue, whereas in the Priestly document it is ritual- the scrupulous performance of the sacrifices by Aaron and his sons- that brings about the grand epiphany” (commentary #4, pp 576-577)