By Maayan Arzi Mlinarsky, Director of Marketing, BINA.
Parashat Shemini opens at the climactic moment of the dedication of the Mishkan (tabernacle), which comes at the end of a lengthy period of preparation. The ceremony is described down to the tiniest detail, and not without reason. Ceremonies serve a social function – to formalize content and values, to create a framework of time, place and participants, and to distinguish between the ordinary and the special, between that moment and any other.
The purpose of the ceremony in Parashat Shemini is to distinguish between the sacred and the profane – between man and God – and to allow all participants in the ceremony to understand their place in the social structure.
The Parasha spends much time describing the atmosphere at the ceremony. There are intricate preparations, messages passed from Moses to Aaron and his sons and at the climax of the ceremony, there is a fleeting moment of festive and wondrous divine revelation,leaving no room for doubt about the precision of the ceremony and its effect on the people:
“Fire came forth from before the LORD and consumed the burnt offering and the fat parts on the altar. And all the people saw, and shouted, and fell on their faces.” Leviticus 9:24
This festive moment quickly changes into a terrible one, when Aharon’s sons, Nadav and Avihu, spontaneously and excitedly bring ‘alien fire’ into the tabernacle, in clear contradiction of the law: “and they offered before the LORD alien fire, which He had not enjoined upon them.” Leviticus 10:1
Nadav and Avihu are instantly consumed by fire, just as the animal sacrifices were consumed earlier in the ceremony. The alien fire becomes, quite literally, all-consuming fire, passing seamlessly from the divine dimension into the physical world.
Nadav and Avihu deviated from the clearly-defined laws. Their duty in matters of the “rules of ceremony” is greater than most, since public servants must act with restraint, responsibility and discretion in their public actions. In scripture, there is no place for exercising judgment about punishment – this is a moment of leadership and we see the demarcation of very clear red lines, alongside a very basic demand for internal boundaries and restraint in the face of external laws that bind those who are responsible.
Fortunately for us, in modern and democratic times, alien fire is only a metaphorical matter. Even the physical fire that kills Aaron’s sons remains only as a symbol. However, the discussion here is intended to teach us about restraint and self-control, and, to my mind, about the two sides involved.
Credit: Amos Ben Gershom, Government Press Office
The sacred and the profane that are at the heart of the Parasha invite us to think carefully about what kind of responsibility is demanded of our public servants and leaders, and if this dichotomous, uncompromising approach is one that will allow us to continue to develop and grow as a democratic society. The alien fire is like those that claim more than they are due. It is the fire that we are forbidden to desire, and it is the fire that ultimately harms all of us, unlike in the Parasha, where the punishment is focused on the transgressors, if perhaps disproportionate.
It is hard to ignore the intense and aggressive verbal battles on the eve of the elections. The noise is great, the tension is building to the brink of explosion, Hamas is making its own background noise and the pressure continues to build. One could argue that there are no written rules regarding the struggle for votes, but the day after the elections we will all awaken in a new era, whatever that may be, new or less new, in which we will have to judge our actions and begin to dress the wounds left behind after the election. It would be better for us all to adhere to the norm and respect the rules, so that there no fire shall come between us.