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Parsha Ponderings – Shemini


ויקרא משה אל מישאל ואל אליצפן בני עוזיאל דד אהרן ויאמר אליהם

קרבו שאו את אחיכם מאת פני הקדש אל מחוץ למחנה ויקרבו וישאם בכתנתם אל מחוץ למחנה וגו

And Moshe called to Mishael and to Elizafan, sons of Uziel uncle of Aharon, and he said to them, “Approach, carry your brothers from within the Sanctuary to outside the encampment.” And they approached, and carried them in their tunics to outside the encampment.

Under most unfortunate circumstances, Aharon’s two sons, Nadav and Avihu, meet their untimely death in the very midst of the Tabernacle’s inauguration, as punishment for breaching protocol while executing their priestly duties. In keeping with the requirement to retain the Tabernacle’s ritual purity, Moshe immediately summons Mishael and Elizafan to remove the bodies from within the Sanctuary. “Approach”, he commands, “and carry your brothers from within the Sanctuary”. And carry they did.

What remains unclear, however, is why the Torah deems their precise lineage, “Mishael and to Elizafan, sons of Uziel uncle of Aharon”, so important to mention. Does it really make a difference exactly who performed the seemingly custodial act of removing the bodies from the Sanctuary? What’s more, why did Moshe have to preface his command by instructing the two brothers to “approach”, and only afterwards bid them to “carry your brothers from within the Sanctuary”? Is it not self-understood that to carry out this mission they would necessarily approach the Tabernacle first?

Apparently, the very act of coming forward was no easy thing for Mishael and Elizafan to do given the circumstances. Being first cousins with Aharon, made these brothers first cousins once-removed with Nadav and Avihu; just close enough to retain some element of kinship yet just far enough to not really consider themselves related. Which is precisely what their natural instincts would tell them to do at a time when Nadav and Avihu had just been killed as “sinners”.

Make yourself scarce, said their gut, hide in the shadows, and hope that everyone forgets your relation to the condemned.

And yet, Moshe tells them to do the very opposite:

Come forth.

Identify yourself as relatives of the departed.

Carry them from within the Sanctuary as your brothers, not some stranger with whom you want nothing to do.

There is a lesson being taught here. Don’t be in it for yourselves. Don’t show up to your third-cousin’s wedding for the food and then leave your first-cousin hanging when he finds himself in a compromising situation. Now is not the time to ignore your relation. It’s time to bring it to bear. Your distant cousin needs you to protect his honor. Your brother needs you to help him regain self-respect. Your friend needs every affiliate he can muster to help him through this crisis. How dare you shake him off now? How dare you pretend he doesn’t exist at precisely the moment he needs you most?

Come forth.

It may not be glamorous.

It may even be uncomfortable.

Or embarrassing.

Yet that’s what it’s all about.

Throw yourself in with your fellow man.

Feel his pain as if it were yours.

Because it is.

Or at least it ought to be.

After all, it’s all relative, is it not?

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