Parashat Tzav

Challenging Isolation

Too much isolation set Nadav and Avihu over the edge.

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Nahmanides points out astutely that Aaron's sons did not merely follow God's word--they added something of their own. Perhaps it is in their very addition to the command for isolation that Nadav and Avihu get carried away and offer this strange fire. God commands them to separate for seven days to prepare for the consecration of the Tabernacle. In their detachment they lose sight of their role to lead the community and instead offer up their own fire.

This fire is brought on the eighth day. Was it this extra day of isolation that pushes Nadav and Avihu over the edge? The Sages support this idea, suggesting that Nadav and Avihu never married and did not have children. In the Sages' world, marriage and child-rearing were moorings to anchor one to the community. We now see the irony in sharp relief: the isolation that was meant to be their very protection from death becomes, so painfully, their downfall.

The story of Nadav and Avihu teaches us that isolation should be treated as a means to accomplishing a goal, not an end unto itself, and that isolation is never meant to be a permanent state.

Global Responsibility

In a global era we must recognize how our concept of society and our detachment from it has been radically redefined. We have access to tremendous information, resources and people the world over. Yet we often choose not to make those connections, thinking of ourselves as separate from those suffering and struggling across the globe.

We must remember to balance our sometimes necessary isolation in our own tabernacle of family and Jewish community with the dangers of forgetting about the lives of people in the Global South. For them, every day is a struggle for economic sustenance. Survival often stands in the way of their ability to articulate the hopes and dreams we take for granted.

Lest we, too, come to offer a strange fire, a product of a too-extensive isolation, let us commit to following the stories of our broader international community as part of our weekly schedule. Let us choose a region to which we feel connected and promise to act for its development. Nadav and Avihu's eighth day of isolation was their demise. May our atonement for their death come through never letting a whole week go by without acting on our global awareness.

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Steven Exler

Steven Exler is a third-year rabbinical student at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah and a Wexner Fellow.