Let him who is convinced that his views are true and right express them . . . at every opportunity . . . without considering how much support or how much opposition he will encounter. Only falsehood is in need of many supporters in order to win the day; falsehood must have the authority of numbers to make up for what it lacks in justification. Truth, by contrast, will always prevail, even if it takes time. Noble, courageous and pure, expressed with all the fiery zeal and conviction and with all clarity of sure awareness, stated again and again at every opportunity, truth will ultimately gain respect and admiration even of those who do not accept it. The only truth that can be lost beyond recall is that truth whose adherents no longer have the courage to speak up candidly on its behalf. Truth has never gone down in defeat as the result of opposition, it has done so only when its friends are too weak to defend it. - R' S.R. Hirsch

Monday, April 13, 2015

Obedience not Sacrifice

Then Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it, put incense on it, and offered profane fire before the LORD, which He had not commanded them (Leviticus 10:1)

From the very wording of the text we can infer that the sons of Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, behaved themselves arrogantly.  The text is careful to highlight and emphasize the filial relationship to Aaron, the High Priest, and although they were b'nei Aharon, sons of Aaron, they did not consult with their father before acting.  Or perhaps, because they were sons of Aaron they may have felt no obligation to solicit advice from anyone else.

They had forgotten that they were merely individual members of the nation, and yet they failed to seek advice from the leaders of the nation.  Instead they chose to rely exclusively upon their own reasoning and acted solely upon their own initiative.  It is strongly implied that they did not even consult with each other!

The entire nation was about to experience the privilege of witnessing a revelation of G-d's closeness, and Nadab and Abihu decided to make a separate offering all their own.  But our Sages are careful to point out that the priests were called to completely identify with the nation and had no standing in their own right.  The whole purpose and essence of the priest is to stand in the midst of the people which accounts for their standing before G-d.  And so, in their very drawing near, Nadab and Abihu were at fault.  Their offering was illegal in every respect.

The Torah stresses that Nadab and Abihu each used his own firepan.  In other words, our Sages understand that Nadab and Abihu did not bring their offering in vessels of the Sanctuary, but in their own vessels - without self-renunciation.  As for the ketoret, the incense itself, it is the only offering that is offered as the community's obligatory offering each day and as the High Priest's obligatory offering on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.

Our Sages understand that the ketoret represents a person who is completely absorbed in bringing satisfaction to G-d and represents the ideal of His requirements.  But if it is offered as an expression of one's own choice, it would entail great arrogance.  The Torah stresses above all that what Nadab and Abihu offered was something which G-d had not commanded them to make: asher lo tziva otam, that which He had not commanded them.  Even if the details of the offering had not been forbidden, just the mere fact that G-d had not commanded that which they brought would have sufficed to make it forbidden.

There is no place in our service to G-d for subjective arbitrariness, for doing what is right in our own eyes.  Even free-will offerings must comply with prescribed forms.  As we have learned, the main purpose of the offerings is to draw near to G-d, to seek closeness to Him, and this closeness is attained through obedience to G-d.  The pagan, through his offering, seeks to make his god subservient to his will, while we, through our offering, place ourselves in the service of G-d and accept upon ourselves His yoke which is easy, and His burden, which is light i.e. the yoke of obedience to Him and His will.

Through the offerings, we adopt the Divine imperative as a guiding light.  Do not offerings of our own design and our own devising work to undermine the very truth of what the offering is intended to represent?  Do not such offerings only glorify our own caprice rather than obedience to G-d?  The deaths of Nadab and Abihu serve as a clear warning to future generations, barring arbitrariness and all personal caprice from the confines of the Sanctuary, whose entire purpose is to be a Sanctuary for the Word of G-d to which obedience is expected.  In short, the priest's duty and function is not to introduce innovations in the Service, but to carry out G-d's commands.

We live in an age where innovation is king and is revered more than anything else.  We obsess and wring our hands about our "relevance."  And to remain relevant we are forced to innovate and reinvent ourselves every few years, because we have no idea of what to do in a world that places a higher value on style than substance and on experience than the truth.  After all, without innovation and seeker friendliness, how do we function in a world that refuses to tolerate a worldview that makes exclusive claims on personal allegiance, obedience, and faithfulness?

The answer today: innovate.  In other words, lighten the load.  But not in the way Y'shua taught.  Although He invited the weary and heavy laden to take up His yoke, His yoke involved much more than most were (and still are) willing to bear.  No, we must innovate.  Why?   Because we believe, really believe, that our weakness lies in the fact that our routines are too old, the music too dull, the programs too scant, the parking lots too empty, and that most of the problems are simply a matter of style and comfort. 

As I heard one minister put it years ago: G-d rests too inconsequentially upon us.  His Word, if taught at all, is insufficient.  The riches of the Messiah are entirely searchable.  We claim that G-d is the center of our worship and yet, if that is true, we can't help but wonder why there is so much that is unauthorized, superfluous, and counterproductive to true worship orbiting this center.

What do we need to rediscover, or rather Who?

How about G-d in His grace, truth, and awesome, holy presence?  How about the G-d who struck down and consumed those well-meaning innovators, Nadab and Abihu, on the first day of their service in the sanctuary?    How about the G-d Who can whet our lost appetites for the truth once again?  Innovative programs, no matter how radical, change overnight and will change, and change again.  How about the G-d Who can change human nature? 

How about dispensing with the cocktail party-atmosphere that serves up pleasantries while avoiding unpleasantness and starting with a humble return to the G-d Who demands that we offer ourselves as living sacrifices on His altar, Who demands that we stop conforming to the patterns of this world and start being transformed by the renewing our minds so that we can discern His perfect will for ourselves and for those who are dead while they live?

Of course, it's difficult to miss the irony of just how innovative that would be today.

10 comments:

  1. You know if you'd just incorporate your scripture references into the text I could take these posts and preach them. Well done.

    You touched on some great material. "Culturally relevant" isn't the test. Scripturally compliant is.

    The pagan, through his offering, seeks make his god subservient to his will, while we, through our offering, place ourselves in the service of G-d and accept upon our selves His yoke which is easy, and His burden, which is light i.e. the yoke of obedience to Him and His will.

    This hit me in a truly awesome way this afternoon, but I had to wait to get home tonight to let you know. It brings up a point that I would like your opinion on. I pray and fast. I'm trying to incorporate a 1 day per week fast this year. It seems to me that praying and fasting are methods of getting God to do what I want, or at least trying to draw His attention to my desires.

    I realize how utterly impossible that last sentence is but that is often my mentality. It seems silly to say "Hey God, I'm fasting, that gets me a little extra consideration for this prayer, right". Why then is fasting associated with seeking His favor? In what way is it "effective", since we cannot manipulate the response of God?

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    1. "Why then is fasting associated with seeking His favor? In what way is it "effective", since we cannot manipulate the response of God?"

      When I read your question a passage in Isaiah came immediately to mind:
      For day after day they seek me out; they seem eager to know my ways, as if they were a nation that does what is right and has not forsaken the commands of its G-d. They ask me for just decisions and seem eager for G-d to come near them.

      ‘Why have we fasted,’ they say, ‘and you have not seen it? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you have not noticed?’

      Isaiah continues:

      “Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your workers. Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife, and in striking each other with wicked fists. You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high.

      Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for people to humble themselves? Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed and for lying in sackcloth and ashes? Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the L-rd? (cf. Isaiah 58).

      First of all, I am not suggesting that your desire to draw near to Hashem is in any way insincere or hypocritical. However, the passage illustrates and addresses the point of your question very well. The context of this passage is Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.

      I believe that the focus of a fast is not to somehow "manipulate" G-d into listening to us or paying closer attention to our prayers. I think one of the main points is to open our ears to what He has to say to us. I also believe he wants us to come out on the other side of the fast different than we were before the fast. In other words, the fast transforms us, helps heighten our awareness of where we are spiritually as we focus less on our sensual needs and desires (in this case physical sustenance) and we are reminded that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from His mouth - words to which our ears sand our hearts should be attentive.

      The Isaiah passage also speaks to the transformative nature of the fast on Yom Kippur when Isaiah describes the nature of fasting from G-d's perspective:

      “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?

      Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness[a] will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I. If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.

      The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail. (cf. Isaiah 58).

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    2. This passage in Isaiah is, of course, describing the nonsense of a Yom Kippur farce with all the hypocritical gestures (smiting one's breast) and sanctimonious behavior, in contrast to the true Yom Kippur and fasting desired by G-d and outlined in great detail.

      It is to free people who are sincerely struggling upwards to G-d, struggling to draw near to Him. To free people from the bonds of passion and sin which so easily entangle and beset us. To make us think of ourselves in our poverty and wretchedness and to remind us of our abject need of a Deliverer and a Savior.

      The people being addressed here in Isaiah are clearly in dire need of His help, and they look for it daily while at the same time asking reproachfully about His ways i.e. they cannot understand why He does not help them. They act as if they are a people who have fulfilled their duty faithfully and completely and ask G-d, not for grace and mercy but for justice for their rights, and they seek to justify and support this claim to justice by basing their self-confidence on the one duty they think they are fulfilling: they fast on Yom Kippur!

      They truly believe that they have satisfied all of His demands and in all seriousness they dare to reproach G-d, saying that he pays no attention to their "fasting" and self-chastisement. It is a frivolous way of thinking, as you intuited in your original question. Privation is what the fasting on this day has been to these people, and as a result they sincerely feel themselves to be His "creditors." They really think that He is truly in their debt and therefore it is easy for them to brazenly charge Him with being unjust when He refuses to "pay" for their piety with His help.

      It is clear that their life and their deeds will be no different to what they were before their heroic fast. And there's the rub. So, Hashem puts the question to these people:

      Should this fast on this day not be a day in which a man considers himself in all his poverty? Is fasting not, strictly speaking, a confession that we have forfeited the right to continue our existence , that we stand destitute before G-d, without any pretention or claim, and that only from His Grace can we hope for forgiveness and atonement and a fresh lease on life?

      Is not the main purpose such a fast to accomplish something in us? To transform us? Do we not all in our carelessness and preoccupation with our own selves allow our faults and weaknesses to become strengthened into habits and our habits into passions, passions by which we are then governed? And so with a proper perspective does not the fast on this day remind us, that with the assistance of G-d's Grace, He will indeed free us from the bonds of the unworthy yoke into which we have allowed our passions to imprison us?

      The upshot of all this is that we are shown the futility of an existence that estranged from G-d, but lso shows us the joy and contentment that is attainable here on earth if we are truly committed to honestly and earnestly responding to and obeying the call to return to our Heavenly Father - on His terms, not ours.

      I am not sure if I answered your question, but hopefully there are some things here for your thoughtful consideration that will prove helpful to you.

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  2. The answer I take away from that is that only when we are empty can we be filled. The fast opens us up to receive something, even if we aren't sure what it is.

    I have noticed that prayer combined with fasting and then a request for the benefit of someone else is effective. Requests for my own benefit, not as effective.

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  3. I've been pondering this a bit more. I think that my attitudes on fasting are probably more influenced by the RCC's idea of acts of contrition. If I do "X" then I merit "Y". I suspect (I haven't tried to study this as the idea is a new one for me) that protestant circles merely have reacted to this by down playing the concept altogether.

    Which makes me want to know more about how Israel viewed and practiced fasting. Biblically its a concept that is mentioned but not a lot is said about the how or why of it. It's assumed that we know that part.

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  4. "Which makes me want to know more about how Israel viewed and practiced fasting. Biblically its a concept that is mentioned but not a lot is said about the how or why of it."

    There is quite a bit of material available for a Jewish perspective. The most prominent idea within the context of Judaism, is that fasting is often connected with mourning. Along those lines it is interesting to note that in Zechariah a day will come when the several fast days that we have in the Jewish calendar will no longer be necessary:

    The word of the L-rd Almighty came to me. This is what the L-rd Almighty says: “The fasts of the fourth, fifth, seventh and tenth months will become joyful and glad occasions and happy festivals for Judah. Therefore love truth and peace.” (cf. Zechariah 1)

    There is also the fast of Esther as she prepared to bring her request before the king who had decreed death for the Jews in Persia. I think the fast is a great reminder of our utter dependence on the One Who sustains all of our needs, physical and spiritual.

    If you think about it, a significant portion of our time is centered around food, and we begin to feel the effects of not eating within just a few hours. It is really quite remarkable how frail we really are when you stop and think about it.

    Our hunger was a chief complaint in the wilderness, where we were completely reliant on the Provision of the manna for forty years, which provided enough sustenance for each day only - truly our daily bread. The Torah was also clear about the lesson of the manna: a test to determine whether or not we would walk in the obedience that He requir4es of us - obedience that is an outflow of trust in him and a realization that a part from Him we, can do nothing.

    A careful study of John 6 also comes to mind.

    The 17th of Tammuz and the 9th of Av are fast days which memorialize the siege of Jerusalem and the eventual destruction of the Temple and subsequent exile into Babylon. However the emphasis of the fast should concern the reason for the destruction and exile (i.e. our sin and disobedience) rather than merely mourning the loss of the Temple and Jerusalem. Again, and inward focus of where we need to change.

    It is interesting to note Yeshua's teaching as well where he mentions those who try to make it obvious that they are fasting (Isaiah 58 comes to mind again) and instead emphasized that our fasting needn't be advertised as some expression of piety that should be rewarded or praised.

    I think a careful study of Isaiah 58 in conjunction with Esther, what Yeshua taught, and fasting in Jewish law would prove to be quite revealing and instructive. I have access to some great resources that I'll send your way.

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  5. Thank you for the help.

    I can't say I've seen much in the way of formal instruction on fasting. Any help is appreciated.

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  6. I don't know what kind of access you have to the Mishnah and Talmud, but the tractate that deals with fasting is Ta'anith. FYI.

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  7. I've been buying them for 99cents as a kindle down load as I go. Thank you for the info.

    I've got too much to study. If I live to be 100 and did nothing but study every day, I'd still not cover everything I want to learn.

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  8. "I've got too much to study. If I live to be 100 and did nothing but study every day, I'd still not cover everything I want to learn."

    Yes . . . and of the making of many books there is no end and much study wearies the body (Eccl. 12).

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