Goldilocks Meets House: Acharei Mot, Shabbat HaGadol 5774 by Cantor Lipp

Thu, 04/17/2014 - 11:13am -- AJ Blog

I love the show House. It’s about a master diagnostician who has a team that is only given the hardest cases in the hospital to solve. Invariably, in every episode, it takes a few tries, efforts which often put the patient in greater pain or danger than before, in order to find the right cure. 

Part of the reason for that is that if any of the cures were immediate, it wouldn't fill an hour slot as a TV show. But the truth it reveals is that even for the best teams, when navigating uncharted waters, they will have to tac in a few different directions, learn from their mistakes, until finally finding their way to a cure or at least a diagnosis. 

Rashi’s comment on the opening verse from Acharei Mot uses a medical analogy. First, here are the first two verses: "The Lord spoke to Moses after the death of the two sons of Aaron who died when they drew too close to the presence of God. Tell your brother Aaron that he is not to come at will into the Shrine behind the curtain, in front of the cover that is upon the ark lest he die; for I appear in the cloud over the cover." 

Rashi explains why the verse is written this way: It's one thing for the doctor to say to a sick patient: 'Do not eat cold things nor sleep in a damp place'. Another physician will say 'Do not eat cold things nor eat in a damp place so that you will not die as so-and-so died.'

This is the anology to the first two verses of our parasha. God doesn’t just tell Aaron how to perform the Yom Kippur protocol but tells him what happens when he does it wrong. 

Goldilocks Meets House: Acharei Mot, Shabbat HaGadol 5774

A later commentator asks why these particular environmental symptoms as examples and not others? Why damp and cold and not fever? The idea is that Nadav and Avihu were already too hot in their approach to God, too close and unprepared to take on the divine presence.

I suppose a modern example would be using mind altering drugs at a level that was not only illegal but inadvised and without a 'designated shomer.' Instead of reading Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge as a book of anthropological interest it would be using it as a guidebook without the communal structure which makes it safe for people in that community to use such mind altering substances. 

The example from Rashi is provide us with a medical example that shows the danger of the other extreme of spiritual danger. Just as it’s perilous to get too close to spiritual power, it’s also, in a different way, dangerous to be too distant, to be too disconnected from performing a mitzvah. 

Since the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem we've been insulated from the dangers inherent in that which killed Aaron's sons and from which Moses warns his brother. The synagogue may be a holy place but getting too close to the ark is not like taking your life in your hands. On the other hand, never approaching the Torah, literally or figuratively, is a prescription for the death of the Jewish soul and spirit. 

It's up to us to find the balance for ourselves, as we continue on our own spiritual journeys: not too cold, disconnected and uncaring, and not too hot. We are encouraged to go against the boundaries to find our ‘Goldilocks’ spiritual porrige. At different times in our lives, that porrige may be hotter or colder, a larger or smaller portion. 

But like House, we need to challenge the boundaries a bit to continually find our place in the spectrum of Jewish dveikut, connection to the divine.

Shabbat Shalom. 

David Lipp