שמיני

This week’s parsha details – in narrative form, unlike previous weeks – what happens on the eighth day after the sanctification of the Mishkan (Tabernacle).  The most notable event is the Divine death of two of Aharon‘s sons due to the offering of a “strange fire” (10:1).  What struck me in this episode is how Moshe, as the leader of the Israelites, handles this tragedy, which understandably marred the grand opening of the institution devoted to welcoming Hashem’s presence into the Israelites’ midst.  First, Moshe offers his older brother a very cryptic form of consolation, when he says “This is it that the LORD spoke, saying: Through them that are nigh unto Me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified” (10:3, JPS translation).  I read this verse to mean that Moshe seeks to console Aharon by saying that his two dead sons were actually closer to Hashem than everyone else, and Hashem killed them not as a punishment, but as a way of being glorified publicly, by bringing Nadav and Avihu closer to Hashem.  Understandably, Aharon is speechless (ibid.).  In the broader context, this seems to set up what Moshe does next, as he forbids Aharon and his two remaining sons from mourning for their dead sons or brothers (10:6-7), while assuring them that the Israelites will publicly grieve.  If this wasn’t strange enough, Hashem continues where Moshe left off, speaking directly to Aharon (which does not happen often) and forbidding him – or any of his descendents – to drink wine on the job (10:8-9).  While this can be seen as a law that will govern priestly duties for all time, the juncture in Aharon’s life that Hashem gives this command is dubious, and points more to the idea that both Moshe and Hashem desperately want to stop Aharon (and his remaining sons) from grieving for their loss, to the extent that alcohol is made forbidden lest they show their grief while inebriated.  Why do Moshe and Hashem decree that no grieving shall happen?  Since the Israelites are grieving, Moshe’s initial argument that this is not a tragedy seems to be on shaky ground.  However, that is not the heart of the matter.  Rather, the most disturbing thing is that Moshe seems to believe that the best course of action to maintain national morale is to forbid his own brother from grieving for the death of two of his sons.

How can Moshe not

Let his brother show grief

As a good leader?

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