Sex, Gender, and God at Zeek
Holiness, wildlife, keeping awake (Radical Torah repost)

This week's portion: clear


When you enter
be clear as a glassy lake

senses alert
to every scent and sound

no wine shall cross your lips
no intoxicants, nothing

to loosen your limbs
or slur your speech

God demands presence
not distraction, not the

continuous partial attention
you give everyone else

if you can't promise that
don't come

In this week's portion, Sh'mini, we read about Aaron's sons Nadav and Avihu who brought "strange fire" before God and died as a result. This challenging parable has been interpreted in different ways. Some read it as an indication that our mode of worship should be unchanging. Others note that God's next instruction to Aaron is not to enter the tent of meeting under the influence of intoxicants; were his sons drunk when they came before God? Some read Nadav and Avihu's death as punishment, others as reward; Aaron must have grieved their loss fiercely, but the text only tells us that he was silent.

(As contemporary commentaries go, I'm especially fond of this week's d'var Torah from Temple Emanuel in New York, written by Sherry Nehmer, which presents the curious case of Nadav and Avihu as a Sherlock Holmes story. Those among y'all who read my twitter feed saw this link yesterday; sorry for the repeat, but it's just too good not to share in both places!)

For me this year, this is a story about how a genuine encounter with God is dangerous. In today's world we may not fear the bolt of divine lightning, but it might behoove us to take seriously this idea that truly coming before God can be spiritually risky. Really opening ourselves up to an encounter with the holy is a scary endeavor. We may come to understand things about ourselves which are difficult to face.

This week's Torah poem arose from Leviticus 10:8-9, "And the Lord spoke to Aaron, saying: Drink no wine or other intoxicant, you or your sons, when you enter the Tent of Meeting, that you may not die." God, it seems to me, wants us to be wholly present, our minds least sometimes. I'm curious to know how the poem, and how this verse, reads to you. What do you take away from this strange and painful story this year?


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