The musings of a previously unemployed Jewish Freemason. I write about the job search, about Judaism, and about Freemasonry.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Tsav: what isn't being said

In Jewish hermeneutics, remez is studying what isn't being said, rather than what is being said. It is the textual equivalent of looking at negative space in art. So, when Moses is up on Mount Sinai, receiving the Law, Aaron is down at base camp making a Golden Calf for the people to idolate. But the Torah doesn't mention the Golden Calf until much later. There's really no hint in the passage where Moses receives the Torah that the people are otherwise than fully supportive of Moses.

Similarly, in this week's Torah portion, Aaron and his sons are ordained before the finished Tabernacle without giving any hint what is going to happen next week. God tells Moses to gather all the Children of Israel around the entrance of the Tent of Meeting. Recall that there are 600,000 men over 20 years of age, and many more women and children gathering. Moses brings Aaron and his sons in front of the whole group, and ritually washes them, dressing Aaron in the vestments of the High Priest, and his sons in the vestments of the priests. Then he anoints the Tent of Meeting, and Aaron and his sons with anointing oil.

Moses brings forth a bull for a sin offering. Aaron and his sons lay their hands on its head, and then it is ritually slaughtered. The blood is sprinkled on the altar, and its intestinal fat, the protuberance of its liver, and its kidneys are ritually burned, and then its body is burned outside the camp Then Moses brings forth a ram for a burnt offering. Aaron and his sons lay their hands on its head, it is ritually slaughtered, and its blood is sprinkled on the altar and then it is burned whole on the altar. A second ram is slaughtered, and Moses daubs its blood on the ridge of the right ear, the thumb and big toe of Aaron and his sons. The ram's intestinal fat, protuberance of the liver and its kidneys are burned on the altar, and its blood, mixed with oil, is sprinkled on Aaron and his sons and their vestments. The meat was boiled, and Aaron and his sons were to eat the meat inside the Tent of Meeting, from which they were forbidden to leave for seven days.

Spoiler Alert:

What happens next week? On the eighth day, God consecrated the Tabernacle. More animals were brought to be sacrificed, and the Presence of God (כְבוֹד-יְהוָה in Hebrew) came down as a fire and consumed the sacrifices. Then something bad happened. On their own initiative, Aaron's two oldest sons, Nadab and Abihu, each grabbed a fire pan, lit incense, and to offered it to God. The fire they offered was described as "strange [or alien] fire", or אֵשׁ זָרָה. The result? "And there went out fire from the LORD, and devoured them, and they died before the LORD." [Leviticus 10: 2].

I'm going to talk about this a lot more next week, but for now, there's no hint during the description of the ordination in this week's Torah portion that these sudden and shocking deaths are about to happen. None. What does the silence mean?

After all, the Torah narrative is full of foreshadowing. Throughout the description of Eden is a foreboding that it cannot last, and will end in grief. Joseph's triumph in Egypt sows the seeds of the enslavement of the Israelites in Egypt. Pharaoh's stubbornness is his downfall. Why no hint that Aaron's firstborn and second-born son are doomed to die for misplaced zeal? What is the Torah saying this week by describing their ordinations as if no tragedy is about to occur?

It suggests that their deaths never should have happened, just as the Golden Calf never should have happened. God was seeking perfection on Earth, and man is imperfect. That is why Moses, enraged, smashed the first set of Tablets of the Law inscribed by the hand of God, and made new Tablets with his own hands. Nadab and Abihu were cut down by the intersection of their own imperfections with the perfection of God. Why? That will have to wait until next week.

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