Congregation Etz Hayim at Hollis Hills Bayside

The consolidated communities of Hollis Hills Bayside Jewish Center and Marathon Jewish Community Center

Shabbat Shemini 5775

Last Shabbat, on the last day of Pesah, we spoke about our people’s history of persecution, as expressed in the seder toastV’hee She’amdah. Today, as I write this message, we are observing Yom HaShoah veHaGevurah, the day we commemorate the victims of the Holocaust and those who resisted. And we know that the world has not always responded to our grief with sensitivity.

In this week’s Torah portion, Shemini, we read of the sudden and tragic deaths of Nadav and Avihu, Aharon’s two eldest sons. We are struck by Moshe’s strange reaction: “Then Moses said to Aaron, ‘This is what the LORD meant when He said: Through those near to Me I show Myself holy, and gain glory before all the people'” (Leviticus 10:3). Are these meant to be comforting words? Then, not long after the tragedy, Moshe is perturbed that the priestly ritual hasn’t carried on as expected, and he unloads on Elazar and Ittamar, the remaining sons (10:16-18). Where’s Moshe’s sensitivity? Can’t he find something more appropriate to say in this moment of fraternal trouble?

The simple and painful truth is that we’re not always able to respect the pain of the other because we’re too wrapped up in our own concerns. And when it’s pointed out to us that we’ve been insufficiently sensitive, we become hypersensitive–and defensive. 

This week, we look forward to one of the most festive days of the Jewish year: Yom Ha’atzmaut, the 67th anniversary of the birth of the State of Israel. But sometimes we forget that there are people who live in Israel–legal citizens of the state–for whom our holiday is a source of great pain. Earlier this week, I studied this tension with Rabbi Donniel Hartman in a webinar, and I’d like to process this conversation with you on Shabbat morning. There has to be a way to validate the pain of the other without invalidating our own reason to celebrate.

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi David Wise