Avidan Freedman

100/929 Playing Polemicist

“The sin of Nadav and Avihu is alive and well today. It is the sin of those who wish to remake the religious experience in their own image, who think they can dictate norms based on their own personal preferences, whose “inner voice” tells them what they “connect with” and what they ignore. If the Torah’s condemnation of this attitude is not sufficiently clear from Nadav and Avihu’s punishment, it is further driven home by the seemingly harsh instructions to Aharon and his remaining sons to quash their natural feelings, refrain from any expression of mourning, and continue on with their job. Religious responsibility trumps human emotion and intuition. We’re asked to do right, even if, in our own subjective experience, it doesn’t ‘feel’ right.”

It’s fun to play polemicist, and there is even some truth to the claims made above. But a full reading of chapter 10 does not sustain the simplistic, absolutist caricature that the polemicist tries to paint. In fact, the end of the chapter seems to make exactly the opposite point.

Moshe finds out that a sin offering has been burnt, and he’s furious at Aharon’s sons that they failed to fulfill their religious obligation, perhaps suspecting that they let their emotions get the best of them, causing them to shirk their national responsibilities. Aharon steps in to defend them. “After this has happened to me, would God be happy with me eating the sin offering?” As much as there may be a demand for ‘business as usual’, Moshe, I can’t accept that God would demand that there be no echo of our personal tragedy in our actions today. How did Aharon know this with such certainty? God didn’t explicitly tell him, and, at least according to Moshe’s logic, Aharon was incorrect. But Aharon’s religious intuitions were different.

One interpretation of this intuition offers the final blow to our opening polemic. Aharon could accept that, as an exception, for the once-in-history sacrifices of this unique day of dedication, his own personal feelings needed to be set aside for the greater good. But as a rule, in a conflict between a routine religious obligation and powerful human emotions, God is not interested in our religious service coming at the cost of our humanity.

“And Moshe heard, and it was good in his eyes.”


This is my own little insight about the 929 chapter of the day, in 300 words or so. I’d love to hear your comments and start a conversation

What’s 929? A near-impossible challenge of consistency. A song of Jewish unity. A beautiful project worth checking out. Learn more at

About the Author
Avidan Freedman is the co-founder and director of Yanshoof (, an organization dedicated to stopping Israeli arms sales to human rights violators, and an educator at the Shalom Hartman Institute's high school and post-high school programs. He lives in Efrat with his wife Devorah and their 5 children.
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