Telephone Torah Study: Is There a Right Way to Grieve?


The heart of this week’s Torah portion, Shemini (Lev. 9:1-11:47), is the sudden and tragic deaths of Aaron’s two sons Nadab and Abihu.  Newly anointed as priests, the two sons offer an “alien fire.”  God swiftly responds to their act by killing them with a consuming fire.  What was the alien fire?  Why did Nadab and Abihu offer it?  And, was their act so grave to justify their deaths?  Also, why did Moses quickly justify God’s actions; and, why did Aaron remain silent to Moses’ and God’s actions?  These questions have vexed Jewish commentators since Talmudic times.  This week we’ll examine these commentaries along with our own feelings towards loss and grief.

Jump to: Suggested Reading | Selected Verses of the Week

Join us for Telephone Torah Study this Thursday, 4-5pm. To join in on the conference call, please dial 702-851-4044, when prompted punch in 2, then our pass code 22252#. commentator Beth Freishtat explores these themes in her short article ‘Death, Grief, And Consolation: Reacting to Moses and Aaron’s responses to the deaths of Nadav and Avihu provides us with an opportunity to examine our own responses to tragedy’:

I received a strange birthday gift a few years back–a book on mourning that was full of guidance for coping with the loss of a loved one.

A kind gesture, to be sure; however, since no one I knew had died, the book was shelved. And until reading this week’s parashah, that is where it remained.

Parashat Shemini recounts a story of tragic loss, the punishment by death of Aaron‘s son’s, Nadav and Avihu, who “…offered before the Lord an alien fire, which He had not enjoined upon them,” and who were then consumed by fire that “came forth from God” (Leviticus 10:1-2). Though Moses makes an attempt to explain God’s actions, Aaron’s response is one of silence.

Reading of this encounter with tragedy, I had a multitude of questions regarding the experience of loss and the attempts by loved ones to provide comfort. Through exploring these questions, I began to understand my strange birthday gift. For, though a mourner feels sadness, fear, anger, guilt, and pain, so does one trying to live life fully.

I came to realize that the book on mourning was in part an instruction manual not on confronting death, but on experiencing life deeply. And the story of Nadav and Avihu, through what is not explained, invites the reader to examine the timeless issues of both life and death.

Continue reading on My Jewish Learning


Selected Verses of the Week

1.  Moses and Aaron then went inside the Tent of Meeting.  When they came out, they blessed the people; and the Presence of Adonai appeared to all the people.  (Lev. 9:23)

2. Now Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu each took his fire pan, put fire in it, and laid incense on it; and laid incense on it; and they offered before Adonai alien fire, which had not been enjoined upon them. (Lev.10:1)

3.  Then Moses said to Aaron, “This is what Adonai meant by saying: Through those near to Me I show Myself holy, and gain glory before all the people.”  And Aaron was silent.  (Lev. 10:3)

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