Parashat Shmini: “Balance in Growth” - Vital Transformation

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Parashat Shmini: “Balance in Growth”

Weekly Pearl of Wisdom for Your Shabbat Table

Parashat Shmini: “Balance in Growth”

Parashat Shmini details the dedication of the Mishkan (Tabernacle), the halachot (laws) of Kosher, and the strange death of Aaron’s two holy sons: Nadav and Avihu.

In our Parasha, the Jewish people are celebrating the completion of the Mishkan. Aaron’s two sons Nadav and Avihu slip away from the celebrations to offer a korban(sacrifice)they were never told to bring. The Torah tells us they brought a “foreign fire” and then that very fire consumed them causing their souls to leave their bodies. They were “kissed by the kiss of death”, dying painlessly. This all needs much explanation.

Why did the brothers bring the offering?

They thought they could bring an offering even though God never said to. Kabbalah teaches us that this day, which celebrated completing the Mishkan, was one of the happiest days in our history. We learn it was even happier than the day of the splitting of the sea! We had reached total peace and joy. The two brothers thought that this meant Mashiach had come. They truly felt they had reached the days of Mashiach! In their joy, though not commanded, they wanted to bring a korban to bring forth the Mashiach for all. They knew that in the days of Mashiach, the halachot of the sacrifices would be different which was why they thought they were allowed now to break the current rules and bring the korban.

What is this “foreign fire”?

We learn that the divine fire, the “foreign fire”, that consumed Nadav and Avihu is one that burns within us all. This fire is the burning passion to tear away from our physicality to elevate spiritually. To reach closer to our Creator. They reached such levels of divinity that their very souls left their bodies. The two brothers reached the highest spiritual levels but neglected their physical limits and rules. This fire, while driving us to connect to God, must also be with balance. Our Creator put a limit between Him and His creations in order for us to stay balanced in this physical world. This fire that burns is called a “foreign fire” because it is not the purest light. It can be too much and we must be cautious of it burning us. A “foreign fire” can also be understood as balancing the purity of our spirituality. A “foreign” use of spirituality is using your learning to spend your days telling everyone who crosses your path all the areas they are wrong in. Or using religious practices as an excuse to isolate yourself from others. Be balanced in your spirituality, in your passion, and in your transformations.

What did they do wrong?

Nadav and Avihu were some of the holiest men in our nation, whose souls, we learn, came from “above the mind of Adam”, meaning they were very high souls and untouched by Adam’s sin. They were not wrong in thinking it was the days of Mashiach. However, they were wrong in thinking that they were the right men for the job of bringing the offering. We are told that they were the wrong men because they were not married. Because they did not have a woman, they could not reach certain levels spiritually.

What do women represent?

Kabbalah teaches that women are connected to the sefirah of Malchut which represents manifestation. Men are like a seed and women are the ground. We need the ground, the manifestation for growth.

Women are receivers and men require a receiver in order to manifest their giving. The two holy brothers did not have a manifestor. Before creation, we learn there was the Ein Sof, the Endless. In The Endless, only Desire was created. This original desire was hidden until Mashiach times. If a man is not married, he cannot activate this desire fully. The brothers wanted to finish the job; all the light was there and the Mishkan, the vessel, was there to hold it. They can bring light down but to where? Because they had no women, they had no manifestation.

What can they teach us?

We learn from the brothers the importance of balance. They wanted to be so close to the Creator that their souls left their bodies! In this way, they were too extreme. We learn that we must recognize we are physical beings in this world for our purpose and we are to follow its system. They were so high on joy and they didn’t listen to the system. They did not wait to be told to bring a sacrifice and they did not check in with Moshe or Aaron before performing their actions. They wanted to bring the sacrifice on behalf of all of the nation to connect to and bring forth the Mashiach. They did it out of caring and sharing with the people. The brothers teach us here to be balanced in our care for others. The Baal Shem Tov tells us a story of caring for others. A man comes to the holy Baal Shem Tov to ask him to pray for his sickly son. The Baal Shem Tov goes to pray and finds that the gates of prayer are closed. In his sympathy, he returns to the father and says, “I cannot open the gates yet but I would like to sit with you in your pain”. He joins the man and cries with him in his pain over his son. In his care for his fellow, the gates open and the prayers are accepted. The Baal Shem Tov understood following the system in its time while exercising care for others.

The two brothers, Nadav and Avihu, died very young, giving us an opportunity to reflect on life. The brothers saw an opportunity for more and they went for it. Yes, they were the wrong ones, but we do recognize that they didn’t hold back. Today, we are so close to the days of Mashiach. Act now and don’t hold back! Check in with yourself that you’re being productive and are proud of the life you’re living. They beg us to reflect; “If my life were a movie, would I watch it? Am I satisfied?”.

How can I start to do more?

A meaningful way to check in is through the exercise of going to your three best friends and asking them, “Please tell me where I can be doing more. Where can I be living more? Where can I do better?”. After gaining insight from close friends, make a list of what you want to commit to. Make sure to show the list to someone you trust to have them hold you accountable and start going!

We learn there are three levels of commitment: in mind, in speech, and in action. Commit on all these levels and be held accountable to make space for the good to happen. We take the lesson from Nadav and Avihu of being responsible with the timings for change. They were not yet the right people. Rav Ashlag explains why gradual growth is the way of growth. He teaches that every creature is like the fruit of a tree. First, it’s bitter, then it starts to look nice and become sweet. It takes quite some time, but we can all get to the good. While we begin life as a helpless baby, over time we get smarter and better. Every creation grows step by step. The two brothers didn’t wait for growth and that’s why the energy couldn’t manifest. Look for growth but remain patient with change.

Shabbat Shalom

-Rabbi Eliyahu Jian

Eliyahu Jian May 22, 2024

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