Over the past few weeks of Torah readings, we have been immersed in the book of Leviticus and our journey has been deeply affected by the story of the ecstatic spiritual death of Aaron’s two sons, Nadav and Avihu (Parasha Shimini –Leviticus 10:1-7) For me, this story is the fulcrum of the book of Leviticus with its, at times, painfully-exhaustive descriptions of the sacrificial system and the code of Priestly conduct. We have studied together the attraction of the Holy, and its dangers, and the traditional rabbinic concerns that we develop the spiritual capacities to both have immediate experiences of the Divine and also to be able to come back into our daily lives with the inspiration and power that such experiences give us.
In our learning, we experienced Nadav and Avihu’s youthful exuberance of running into the Holy Place with their spontaneous offering and receiving the ultimate spiritual attainment of melting fully into the Divine. In doing so, however, they died to this world.
And so the next detailed sections of Torah have to do with childbirth and menstruation, and skin ailments – all very important boundaries between inside and out, between life and death, between self and other.
In Parashah Aharei Mot, We are bought back into the connection with the Nadav and Avihu story by the line “And the Holy One spoke to Moses after the death of Aaron’s two sons who came close before the YHVH and died”. Immediately, we are told how and when we can come close as the detailed instructions for the High Priest on Yom Kippur are enumerated. And even more remarkably, we are told how to come close by living holy lives. Leviticus 19, the heart of the Vayikra, is called, the Holiness Code. “Be holy for I am Holy…Do not hate others in your hearts…Love your fellow beings as yourselves.”
Our Tradition teaches, through the holy allegorical story of Nadav and Avihu, that theirs is not to be our path. Rather, we are to be like the angels in Ezekiel’s vision, running and returning, running and returning – ratzo va-shov. We might get so close that we can feel the flame, so high we can almost fly, but not so close as to burn up and not so high as to fall and be harmed. We must learn how to bring the experiences of being close and high back into our ordinary-extraordinary lives to do the work of tikkun olam and make the world a better place, to the work of bringing kedushah, sacredness, into each day, each act, each interaction.
Aharei Mot, after the virtual experience of death, we learn how to live as embodied spiritual beings. We go closer and come back and then closer still. Higher and then come back down and then higher still. Moving in - going out. The angels ran in and returned. We go up and we come down. We go up – romemu – and we come down v’histakhavu. We go up – romemu – and we come down v’histakhavu (Psalm 99:5&9 – words that we sing during the Kabbalat Shabbat service).
So too, the lesson of the Omer period is to bring depth and meaning into our daily lives. We expand and integrate – measure for measure, step by step, day by day. As we count the Omer, each day is unique, each rung more profound. Each day is counted and is matchless. Each day we find a special way to bring holiness into our essential beings. We stay grounded in our daily practice as we bring the flow from Hesed into Malkhut, from the “higher” realms into our embodied existence.
May 4 2012 – 13 Iyar 5772