Aaron and his sons …
Eleazar and Ithamar …
Forbidden to mourn —
[After the deaths of Nadav and Abihu] Moses said to Aaron and to his sons Eleazar and Ithamar, “Do not bare your heads and do not rend your clothes, lest you die and anger strike the whole community. But your kinsmen, all the house of Israel, shall bewail the burning that God has wrought. And so do not go outside the entrance of the Tent of Meeting, lest you die, for God’s anointing oil is upon you.” And they did as Moses had bidden.
According to the JPS Commentary on Leviticus, “the particular circumstances surrounding the death of Nadav and Abihu — occurring at the time of their consecration and purification — prevented, indeed forbade, their father and brothers from mourning for them. Their sanctification took precedence. The rest of the people, however, were to mourn. ”
It’s difficult to reconcile this with the importance we place on having the opportunity to mourn. Particularly with sudden deaths – like Nadav and Abihu – time must be taken to recover from loss. Perhaps this incident illustrates the critical importance of the priests to this particular community and their relationship with God.
When we suffer a loss we mourn and the community supports us. However, after Aaron and his sons – the priests – suffer a loss, it is the people who mourn and the priests who provide support for the community by continuing the sacrificial celebrations.
This parallels how the former slaves – and how we – find ways to connect with the Divine. For our ancestors whose story is told in the Torah, the priests provide the path. Today, it is through relationships and community that we can find God.
Ed Nickow | The Torah In Haiku