Tuesday, April 10, 2012
Balancing Holy Intention with Correct Action
Pesach has been such a beautiful season of power and intensity. I have literally watched how the dry sticks looking tree-branches have woken up, opening new lush green leaves in a couple of days. During Pesach our love and passion awakens together with the unfolding of nature. This is why it is a minhag (custom) to read Song of Songs on Pesach, as it describes the love between Hashem and His people. During this time of so much amazing light unfolding in nature, and in the world, we count the “Omer” -- a particular measure of barley-- because our vessels don’t quite measure up. The light of the time period between Pesach and Shavuot – the most glorious anticipation of Divine revelation – the month of Ziv – Radiance, has been darkened by the semi mourning for the students of Rabbi Akiva. They and we lack the proper vessels to contain all of the light and love. Sefirat HaOmer (counting the Omer) teaches us how to increase our love and desire within the proper outer measure. This is also the lesson to learn from the “strange fire” that Aharon’s sons, Nadav and Avihu sacrificed out of love and passion in this week’s parasha, which we read right after Pesach. Their light breaks through the boundary, missing proper vessels, in their lack of respect for their elders. I have designed this week’s meditation to help connect our holy intention – “light” with the proper outer Halachic boundary – “vessel”.
With blessings for a delightful spring!
Chana Bracha Siegelbaum
Parasha Meditation Shemini
“The sons of Aharon, Nadav and Avihu each took his fire pan, placed within it fire and placed incense upon it. And they [thus] offered a strange fire before Hashem, one that He did not command of them. And a fire came forth from before Hashem and devoured them and they died before Hashem.”
What was so terrible wrong with the act of Aaron’s sons, that they had to pay for it with their lives? After all they were holy men, and very close to Hashem. They didn’t have in mind to sin at all. On the contrary, when they saw the new fire which descended from heaven to consume the burnt offering, they desired to add their own fire out of the excitement of their love for the holy. This is learned from the word וַיִּקְחוּ –Vayikru – “They took”, which denotes happiness.
The problem was that they did something they were not commanded to do, as it states in the Torah verse quoted above. They took the initiative on their own to do what they thought was right, without first checking with the established authorities of their father Aharon and uncle Moshe. While some might interpret this as a good thing, it is evident that G-d did not! This presumption is considered making light of Divine service.
Today, in our generation of “love” rather than “fear”, we all too often experience the desire to act spontaneously expressing our personal love and excitement without first making sure that our actions are in accordance with accepted Halacha (Jewish law). Yes, it is important to not just become Halacha robots, discussing hairsplitting differences of exactly how many grams of matzah we need to eat at the Seder within a particular amount of minutes, without really feeling love and excitement for the mitzvah of eating matzah. On the other hand, we can’t just follow our heart and light the Shabbat candles overflowing with deep intention and devotion 5 minutes after sunset. While we must strive to emulate the passion of Aharon’s sons, the lives of Aharon’s sons were taken in order to teach the importance of balancing inner personal intention with correct outer action. The measurements of Halacha are the vessels to contain our light of love and excitement. Without the proper vessels, this light becomes a strange fire!
Close your eyes and breathe slowly in through your right nostril and out through your left nostril.
Breathe in all the air you can from your right nostril on a count of 12, while closing your left nostril with your middle finger. Now close your right nostril as well with your thumb placing your index finger on the ridge of your nose. Hold your breath for a count of 18, then slowly open your left nostril by removing your middle finger and breathe out very slowly to a count of 24. Repeat now by breathing into your left nostril to a count of 12, hold your breath for a count of 18 and breathe out from your right nostril to a count of 24. Repeat this cycle 5 times. Now remove your fingers from your nose and breathe naturally. Allow your mind to wander and scan your consciousness for a mitzvah you particularly connect with. It could be a special part of a Jewish holiday service, or a mitzvah between people such as guarding our tongue or visiting the sick.
Dwell in your mind’s eye on one mitzvah you personally feel a great passion for. – A mitzvah you really enjoy. Now imagine doing this mitzvah not only with your ultimate love and excitement, but also with precision and attention to detail. Note the correct timing and amounts of the action, in addition to the particular words needed to be pronounced correctly. Resolve to study up on the details of your favorite mitzvah and or consult a rabbinic authority for fine-tuning of your chosen mitzvah.
Rashi teaches us that the death of Aharon’s sons took place by two threads of fire entering into their nostrils and extracting their soul from their body. The nostrils connect our body with our soul. Actually soul in Hebrew – “Neshamah” – is the same word as breathing –
“Neshimah”. This is because when Hashem originally imbued the first human with a soul, “He breathed a living soul into his nostrils”. By slowing our breath and breathing in a measured way, we can fine-tune our connection between body and soul – Action and intention.
 Barley in Hebrew is שעורה from the Hebrew root שעור that means measure-
 I Melachim 6:1
 The main building of vessels take place by showing proper respect, which was what the students of Rabbi Akiva lacked.
 Vayikra 10:1-2.
 “I will be sanctified through those who are close to me” (Ibid.3).
 Yalkut Shimoni, Vayikra, 10, Allusion 525.
 Note, the same word is also used to mean marriage, the epitome of love and excitement.
 Rabbi Moshe David Valle, top student of the Ramchal, commentary to Vayikra (Avodat HaKodesh).
 Rashi, Vayikra 10:5.
 Bereishit 2:7.