D’var Torah: Parshat Shemini

By Jayme Podgorowiez

In this week’s Torah portion, Parshat Shemini, we learn about the two sons of Aaron the High Priest, Nadav and Avihu. Aaron’s sons choose to act in a very strange way; they enter the Holy of Holies and offer what is described as a “strange fire” to God.

As soon as this fire is presented, they were consumed by it. But what was so bad about having a strange fire? Scholars have debated what this could mean.

Could it mean they were impure? Were they performing the ritual incorrectly (other than being where they weren’t supposed to be)? Could it have been that they were being disrespectful to God? Or was this fire something else?

Some offer the opinion that the two’s fire was actually their burning passion for God. This fire was the incarnation of their desire to be close to The Divine, that burned inside them so much, it consumed them alive.

Fire can be destructive or it could be a source of light. Nadav and Avihu were punished because they were leaders of the community and were not in control of their fire. In life, we use our own fires to drive us to achieve feats that surprise us every day.

Our fire always burns, but we must be able to control it, so we can achieve our fullest potential. Don’t let the fire consume you, but don’t let it go out either.

This week we commemorated Yom Hashoah Ve-Hagevurah, the remembrance of the Holocaust and of those who were heroes throughout its course.

Observing this holiday makes sure that the essential light of those who perished, their memories, and the immeasurable deeds of those who saved lives, never go out.

Our job as the next generation and as USYers is to light the path for our Jewish future, both for and with our friends. We can do this by performing acts of kindness, no matter the size, as well as never letting our traditions fade away.

While sometimes it is easier for us to relax our control over the flame, we must be steadfast in our faith–not just God, but also ourselves and the power that our flame can bring to this world.