Sometimes I babble. Sometimes I say too little. How this ties in to Parashat Shemini, you’ll read below.
First, a delayed shout-out to Yehuda W., who correctly identified Rosh Chodesh Tevet, the 6th day of Chanukah, as the Sabbath besides Shabbat HaChodesh on which there may be readings from three scrolls.
The big topics this week are the finale of the priests’ ordination and ensuing disaster, and kosher and unkosher animals. I’m more interested in the first item this year, so let’s dispose quickly of the text on kashrut, Chapter 11. Some proposals regarding the impetus for these laws are: physical health; spiritual health; separation from idolaters and idolatry; local non-Hebrew influences; and the general promotion of holiness in Leviticus, holiness being equated with being whole, complete, and clearly assigned to a particular realm (air, land, water) (see Purity and Danger by Mary T. Douglas , Chapter 3). You can find a more extensive discussion here and at the references therein.
Shemini starts on the 8th and final day of the priests’ ordination ritual. Aaron plays his part perfectly, and the people are appropriately awed. Disaster strikes when his oldest sons, Nadav and Avihu, go off script and offer incense with “alien fire.” Like the sacrifices just offered by Aaron, they are instantly consumed by fire.
Why did they ad lib? The two most common opinions are: 1) They were so overcome by ecstasy, they made their offering to get closer to the Lord and were taken up to heaven. 2) They were overly disrespectful, maybe drunk (see also 10:9-11), maybe annoyed that their roles weren’t bigger, maybe overly familiar in their attitude and not taking the instructions seriously enough. The haftarah assigned to Shemini, includes a similar incident, concerning the triumphal transport of the Ark, in a cart, to Jerusalem (II Samuel 6:1 – 7:17). The oxen pulling the cart stumble, a man named Uzzah touches the Ark to prevent it from falling, and he instantly dies. [This year, since Rosh Chodesh Iyar is Sunday and Monday, the haftarah is instead I Samuel 20:18 – 42.] Moses tells Aaron and the remaining sons not to mourn visibly and has some cousins deal with the remains. And Aaron is silent.
Most likely, he is stunned and struggling to maintain control, for if he doesn’t, the people may go berserk. Rashi states that Aaron was rewarded for his silence in that the Lord started giving him instructions directly (10:9-11). Nachmanides writes that Aaron had actually been wailing and was then quieted by Moses’ words. Along similar lines, Sforno writes that Aaron was able to “console himself after having been told that the death of his sons represented a sanctification of the name of the Lord” and Chizkuni equates silence with acceptance.
I wrote above that sometimes I babble and sometimes I say too little. I generally babble when I am nervous; wanting too badly to make a good impression (and thus utterly failing to – ah, the irony!); a little tipsy; in a really, really, really good mood because something wonderful has happened; or some combination of these. Certainly, speaking coherently and thoughtfully is better. But that’s not always possible. And sometimes, depending on the circumstances, babbling is OK, or at least entertaining to the listener. Saying too little indicates I am being too cautious and trying not to rock the boat, perhaps to avoid hurt feelings, or to protect myself, or perhaps I’m over-analyzing the topic and the conversation moves elsewhere.
There are times to be silent, e.g., to signal acceptance, to listen, and when you have nothing to say. There are times to speak out, especially to spotlight or protest injustice, and your effectiveness requires speaking in a way that connects with your audience so they will listen. Online, it’s particularly easy to hit that “send” button without proofreading or editing. We are also increasingly pelted with content that can only be described as vile. It reminds me of a line from I, Claudius by Robert Graves, “Let all the poison that lurks in the mud, hatch out.” Some of that poison reminds us of 1930’s Germany, but just as those posters find it more acceptable to spew it than a few years ago, so we can more easily speak out and fight against it.
I’ve written about this before, but it’s cute.
My daughter was about three years old and starting to recognize that some foods were kosher and some weren’t and she couldn’t have the latter. We were in the check-out line at the supermarket when she asked if she could have a particular candy bar. I said, “No.” She responded disappointedly, “Oh, it’s not kosher?” For a moment, I was so tempted. Battles over candy could be averted for at least a few years, just by saying it was all unkosher. But I gave in to my impulse for truth-telling and said that it was just too close to dinner.
Silence a Necessity
On Aug 5, 2015 published in Jokes
A Sunday school teacher asked the children just before she dismissed them to go to church, “And why is it necessary to be quiet in church?” Annie replied, “Because people are sleeping.”
(Hey, when I was a child, I thought the purpose of the rabbi’s Friday night sermon was to provide a break for a nap. IGP)
After my husband and I had a huge argument, we ended up not talking to each other for days.
Finally, on the third day, he asked where one of his shirts was.
“Oh,” I said, “So now you’re speaking to me.”
He looked confused,
“What are you talking about?”
“Haven’t you noticed I haven’t spoken to you for three days?” I challenged.
“No,” he said, “I just thought we were getting along.”
At a wedding I attended, the priest called for a moment of silence to remember the faithful dead.
As the church grew quiet, a little boy sitting in front of me turned to his father and said excitedly, “Dad, you have some of their albums!”
From 2015, abridged.
Kosher Isn’t Just for Real Animals Anymore
By Dan Friedman Published December 23, 2009, issue of January 01, 2010.
For dungeon masters who have conquered real-world kashrut “The Kosher Guide to Imaginary Animals: The Evil Monkey Dialogues,” coming in early 2010 from Tachyon Publications, explores the possibilities of koshering fictional and fantastical creatures. Examining animals from a variety of world mythologies, married co-authors Ann and Jeff VanderMeer consider the unnatural history and edible properties of 34 potentially edible beasts…
Each entry describes the animal’s appearance: “According to Enoch, the Phoenix has the head of a crocodile and the feet of a lion.” Or, its origins and characteristics… The two writers — respected editors and authors of science fiction and fantasy books — adopt their characters: Evil Monkey, Jeff, wishes to eat everything; Ann represents the dietary superego.
Ann: No! And don’t even start. Because the mule itself, even if it weren’t fire-breathing, isn’t kosher. The fire doesn’t cleanse it.
Evil Monkey: But it’s self-cooking!
Of course, once we colonize distant planets, these sorts of conversations will no longer be flights of fancy, but instead will be undertaken in earnest. Will Alpha Centauri Cucumber Fish be kosher? Will Betelgeuse Chicken Beetles be fleyshik (meat)? Until then, the VanderMeers’ discussions will remain dragon’s tongue in jackalope cheek.
(4 of) 15 QUOTES ON TRUTH-TELLING AND BREAKING SILENCE
In a room where people unanimously maintain a conspiracy of silence, one word of truth sounds like a pistol shot.
Never be afraid to raise your voice for honesty and truth and compassion against injustice and lying and greed. If people all over the world…would do this, it would change the earth.
What is the source of our first suffering? It lies in the fact that we hesitated to speak. It was born in the moment when we accumulated silent things within us.
Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.