In our Torah portion this week, Parashat Shemini, we read about a seven day inauguration ceremony of the Mishkan and the high priests. Amidst what was supposed to be a celebration, tragedy strikes. Two of Aaron's sons are incinerated by a divine fire. There are lots of explanations as to why they were killed, which will be discussed during my sermon tomorrow, but there is one particular reason often cited that I find extremely problematic.
When Aaron's sons bring their sacrifice, they use an "Eish Zarah," a foreign or alien fire. Some commentators suggest that doing so was irresponsible, it was a perversion of the traditional ritual, which is why they were then struck down with fire. As the leaders of the Jewish community, they had a responsibility to offer the sacrifice in the traditional manner, keeping and preserving the tradition in tact.
As a Rabbi, I often feel this tension. As leaders, we have a responsibility to take tradition and ritual seriously. They are sacred and holy. But at the same time I think we also need try new things, things that may seem foreign and unusual, things that may even make us feel a bit uncomfortable. There are so many parts of my life and my Jewish practice that at some point seemed foreign and strange, but now I couldn't imagine doing without.
We do not know what strange things may ultimately succeed and become regular, and which new foreign tactics might deserve to be incinerated. What I do know is that we have a responsibility to make sure that we keep offering, and that our fire keeps burning bright.
Rabbi Josh Dorsch