One of the more fruitless political debates in the United States is whether strict restriction of gun permits would add to public safety. One of the reasons it is fruitless is that both sides muster flawed analogies to other societies.
In Judaism, since sin is not a foregone conclusion, we hold ourselves fully accountable for it. Likewise do we hold others accountable – if not to us, then certainly to God. And so the daughters of Tzelophad put this out about their father – and about everyone else.
We assume we know as well as our leaders less because they have failed to prove themselves or have shown deficiencies than because of our attachment to seeing ourselves a certain way. And, as was true of Korach and his group, we do so to our detriment.
There are two more positive lessons that can be learned. The first is to always second-guess ourselves. The second lesson is that no matter how devastating events may be, we must muster the courage and strength to keep going.
The priestly blessing in this week’s parsha begins with the famous request that God bless and keep/guard (shomer) the Jews. While the meaning of blessing is reasonably straightforward, the meaning of keeping or guarding is less clear.
The ethics of each new birth represents a microcosm of that debate. We have good reason to hope that the education and upbringing we provide our children will ensure that they bring more good to the world than evil. But there is not a single one of us who can bring up even the best of our children to never do evil. And given that this is the case, giving birth is also an act of responsibility for the evil that one thereby adds to the world.
Events that took place after the sin of Nadav and Avihu elucidate the real issue behind whatever sin or sins they actually committed: They challenged the traditional hierarchy of children following their parents and juniors following their seniors. It is presumably this issue more than any individual sin that the Torah wants to bring to our attention.
Because sefer Vayikra is more difficult, we tend to look at it less. But because we look at it less, we also understand it less, which – in turn – keeps it difficult and less appealing. In a nutshell, that is what I call Vayikra Avoidance Syndrome.
For most of us, sacred spaces help us to focus, whereas we would otherwise not focus at all. Hence they are worth the opportunity cost they create. But we are well advised to keep that cost in mind. The fact that we are able to focus on God in the synagogue does not mean we should forget God outside!
It seems very likely that when the Jews put the blood on the doorposts, it was meant as a strong statement of protest against Egypt and about the holiness of life. In other words, whereas the Egyptians made even human life a commodity, the Jews were bidden to sanctify the essence of life even in animals.
We are sorely lacking signs from God today. They are lacking, since our courage and resourcefulness often end when we have no indication of what God wants from us. This is the tragic situation of God’s hiding Himself
Given Reuven's less-than-altruistic motivations, the Torah could have given us a much more negative spin on what occurred. But it doesn’t. That is because the bottom line is that Reuven did the right thing. And that is what the Torah cares about the most.
Avraham showed himself to be a mentor for all peoples that God created. If he had previously kept his distance, he would now go to the other extreme of marrying a Canaanite woman, and fathering and raising her children.
No matter how hard we work on ourselves, we can never be totally prepared for the challenges ahead. And that is actually a good thing. Not only would life be less interesting, but a great deal of its meaning would otherwise be taken away. As Rebbe Nachman said, “If you are not a better person tomorrow than you are today, what need have you for a tomorrow?”