Ariel Ben Avraham
Ariel Ben Avraham

Parshat Shemini: A world of difference

After the Creator instructed Aaron through Moses in regards to the offerings in the Tabernacle, the Torah narrates the deaths of Nadab and Abihu. These two events are juxtaposed to laws of purity, fundamental to the Jewish identity. Before these laws are addressed, two essential verses precede them and have become a matter of discussion in modern times.

“And the Lord spoke unto Aaron, saying: ‘Do not drink wine or strong drink, you, or your sons with you, when you go into the tent of meeting that you don’t die. It shall be a statute forever throughout your generations.” (Leviticus 10:9-10)

This commandment is directed specifically to Aaron as the high priest, and if we understand that he represents the highest awareness of our connection with God, it is also directed to every Jew. It is indeed about our individual and collective relationship with the Creator that culminates in the tent of meeting (also as the Temple of Jerusalem) as the sacred space and time of our bonding with Him. In order words, every time we devote to elevate our heart, mind and soul to God as we do in prayer, our awareness must be free from any altering substance unnecessary for our conscious connection with Him.

We said that this is a matter of discussion that has extended to our modern times when some consider that using certain substances that clearly alter human consciousness is acceptable to “enhance”, “stimulate” or “improve” bonding with the Creator. Some even suggest that the items gathered to be used for the censer by the high priest in the Temple were altering substances that allegedly “helped” him in his priestly duties.

This suggestion actually seems to be more related to the fate of Nadib and Abihu who “laid incense thereon, and offered a strange fire before the Lord, which He had not commanded them.” (10:1); particularly when this event precedes the commandment mentioned above. Besides, why should we need alien aides or unnecessary means to elevate all aspects, levels and dimensions of our consciousness, except for the fire of our love to burn with the fire of God’s love? That suggestion is equivalent to say that our consciousness is not properly endowed to reach up to bond with its Creator.

As we said earlier, the Torah narrates these events as necessary precedents to introduce the principle behind approaching life as sacred as the One who created it. Hence we are commanded to apply our judgment in regards to differentiate between what is sacred, profane and impure.

“And that you may put difference between the holy and the profane, and between the unclean and the clean.” (10:11)

Although this task is delineated in the Torah for the Jewish people, and described in detail by our sages; it can become uneasy to assimilate for many in our current times because of the so called “political correctness”. However, this is not the case if we bring common sense and take the ethical principles inherent to being and doing goodness as the primordial reference of what is sacred, in contrast to their opposite traits and trends that empirical evidence leads us to perceive and define as unclean and impure.

“For I am the Lord your God, sanctify yourselves therefore and be you holy, for I am holy. Neither shall you defile yourselves with any manner of swarming thing that moves upon the earth.” (11:44)

When king David tells us that “God is good, for His loving kindness is eternal” (I Chronicles 16:34; II Chronicles 5:13, 7:3, 20:21; Ezra 3:11; Psalms 100:5, 106:1, 107:1, 118:1), we realize that goodness and loving kindness are also sacred, for He is sacred. With this reference of goodness we consecrate our discernment, mind, thoughts, emotions, feelings, passion and instinct to elevate them as emulators of God’s goodness. In the altitude of goodness we can see anything opposite to it as “the swarming thing that moves upon the earth” by which we defile our self in the traps of ego’s fantasies and illusions.

About the Author
Ariel Ben Avraham was born in Colombia (1958) from a family with Sephardic ancestry. He studied Cultural Anthropology in Bogota, and lived twenty years in Chicago working as a radio and television producer and writer. He emigrated to Israel in 2004, and for the last fourteen years has been studying the Chassidic mystic tradition, about which he writes and teaches. Based on his studies, he wrote his first book "God's Love" in 2009. He currently lives in Kochav Yaakov.
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