Nadab and Abihu (Lev 9-11)
© Arthur Strimling
Hur here. You’ve heard of me. I’m Miriam’s best ‘girlfriend’ since forever, since we were Pharaoh’s favorite dance team back in the good old flesh pots of Egypt. Aaron even married us, to cover up both of our shall I say unorthodox sexual proclivities, omnivorous really, because much to my surprise we were hot together not just on the dance floor and look, we have this glorious grandson, Bezalel. We’re so proud. And, look, who else can get away with wearing his Tallis like a boa. (throws it over his shoulder grandly).
It’s really early and I’m not even awake, but I have to tell you about what happened to those boys, Nadab and Abihu, because already they’re spreading rumors, and that stuff gets into print and pretty soon its scripture, you know what I mean?
So here’s what really happened. You know it was the eighth day of the consecration of Aaron and the priests, and Aaron was all decked out in his high priestly drag, which is a little formal for my taste, but whatever, and he’s sweating under it, and Moses instructs him about these sacrifices: a young calf for sin, a ram for burnt offering; a kid goat for sin, another calf and lamb for another burnt; and then a bullock and ram for peace. Kill for peace, it’s an old story. And my favorite the wave offering, you, know, Hi there, God (waves like the Queen).
So all these braying, lowing, baaaing, terrified creatures get dragged up to the altar and Aaron has to slaughter them one by one, and do it just right – pre-slicely, you might say. Sorry. And then dip the blood on the horns of the altar and pour out the blood and burn the fat and the kidneys and piece of the liver, and then the head, and more burning of livers and fat, and then the wave offering – (waves) Hi - and more and more and by the time he was done, Aaron’s gorgeous raiment looked like Carrie’s dress after the prom – I know I’m not supposed to know about that but Torah time is all time, so don’t ask, OK?
And after all this sacrificing, Aaron is so exhausted and just weighed down by all … this … death that Moses almost carries him into the tent of meeting. And then whoa, the fire of God comes down like a tongue, and just cleans the altar, perfect, spotless. And I'm like come to my tent right now, and do my closets just like that, please.
And then, you know, Nadab and Abihu, those beautiful boys, those angels, they dance up to the altar. Their faces are shining and they’re weaving and waving their fire pans and singing the Ritzay, “May our prayers be desirable and acceptable to you,” and incense and smoke, and everything glowing after God’s cleansing fire and the air sparkling, and they raise their arms and look at the place in space God’s fire came from and then it comes again, just the same, except this time it purifies them … to death!
And then, you know, everyone was screaming and falling on their faces, and Aaron comes out of the tent like a dead man walking, and Moses puts a hand on his shoulder and says that thing about what God meant, saying that “I will be sanctified by those that come near me.” And I'm wondering if he means just himself and Aaron or Nadab and Abihu too. I hope so.
And then Moses told their cousins to take the bodies away. I was right there, and I can tell you they weren’t burned up at all. They looked perfect, like babies asleep, and even their tunics were perfect, like freshly cleaned and ironed, which they weren’t when they came up to the altar, believe me.
Now I know the story going around is that Nadab and Abihu sinned, that God was punishing them. People are saying they died because they brought ‘strange fire,’ this unorthodox offering that wasn’t prescribed by God. And it’s the priests who are spreading this, because the point, in case you don’t get it, is that we should always and only do exactly what the priests tell us to do. They want us to believe they’re the only ones who know how to worship God, and interpret what Moses gets from God. Like we’re their puppets, right? Right!
And they’re saying that the boys were drunken scoffers, who wanted Moses and Aaron to die so they could take over, and stuff about them and women, and … well, forget about it.
Because it’s not true. The real truth is they were God drunk, those angels. They were consumed by their own fire. All they wanted was to see God’s face, right there at the altar. They were praying and fasting all the time. They said if they could be holy enough, pure enough in body and intention, they would actually see God’s face. You know, Moses only saw God’s back, so they thought if the next generation was purer, maybe God’s face would appear to them.
I told them I used to do all that when I was a dancer in Pharoah’s court; I starved, I abstained, I lived on pure spirit. And you know what? God never showed his face to me! I warned them, I warned them: God is not like a dog; you can’t just whistle and God will come. No no no. God is a cat. God comes when and how she wants to.
But they got their wish. They brought their strange fire to the holy of holies, no, not in their fire pans, in their eyes, in their burning desire to see God. And they did, I guess. And now they can see God forever. I saw their dead faces. They were ecstatic.
But Miriam says God drunk is not our way. We can’t contain strange fire, she says. It always consumes us, she says. Our way, she says, is to pray, yes, and yearn for God. But work, too, and family and food and wine and sex and gardens and lovely clothes, even boas. And love not just God, love each other, she says. But she’s mostly trying to comfort their poor mother, poor Elisheva … So who knows what she really thinks.
Me, I don’t know what to think. Actually, I’m a little jealous. They died young, and who really wants to die young, but they made a beautiful corpse. Look at me; it’s been a long time since I could make a beautiful corpse. I'm old, fat, my knees are shot, and I'm stuck out here in the dessert sun eating manna, neither of which is good for the complexion. But that’s not why I'm jealous; I'm jealous because they danced for God. I only danced for Pharaoh, for art. They danced for God and God saw them. I don’t even know if god ever noticed me.
Well … enough … Shalom; shalom to those angels, shalom to Miriam. Especially Shalom to Elisheva, poor thing, and even Aaron, shalom. Shalom to us all. Shalom [Waves].