Midrash In Process: Nadav & Abihu
We just finished the week of reading the parsha Shemini, which includes the amazing, puzzling story of Aaron's sons Nadav and Abihu, who died when they offered "strange fire." What follows is a midrash I wrote about them at the end of a week of study with Melila Hellner (http://www.hartman.org.il/Faculty_View.asp?faculty_id=35&Cat_Id=333&Cat_Type=About). I think it is clear, but you may need to know that some commentaries say that what was "strange" about the fire the two offered was that it came from the kitchen, was fire, in other words, from a different and mundane realm that should not be mixed with the fire of the sacred realm. Some might see this as meaning that women's realm was the kitchen, men's realm the sacrificial altar. You be the judge:
Midrash in Process: Nadav and Abihu
Written at IJS Hevraya, January 2012
I always loved fire. From the time I was very small, I would sit in the kitchen with my mother as she cooked and watch the fire sizzle and spit as the pots overflowed. She would say, “You can’t cook anything without a good fire.” It was that fire in my mind as we started to learn with father. But there were so many rules: what was the right time for this sacrifice and this offering and when to change clothes and when to change again. All I wanted was to see the fire, to stand naked even and feel the heat on my skin, in my bones, on my face.
I’d like to tell you my brother made me do it. But it was me, the leader always, the “one who volunteered” they called me. He was more like our father — they used to say “He’s his father, exactly.” Like father, he was cautious. “Is it the right time?” he asked me. “Are the proportions right?” I should have heeded his words, I guess. But I only listened to my own desire: That marvelous kitchen fire. Why couldn’t we have that sizzle and spit in the mishkan? Wouldn’t that make the holy place even more holy? So I went for it. And he followed me, to my sorrow. He should not have suffered for my desire.
Later, they would say we were young, we were impulsive, we acted in error.
He did, maybe. But it was no mistake for me.
Later they would say I had no woman-ness in me. But the fire I yearned for I learned from my mother. It was the memory of her fire that I wanted to bring to the holy place. A woman’s fire. A kitchen fire. Why was that so wrong?
And I almost had it! That fire that ate up the dedication sacrifices? It burned hot and bright — but not quite enough for me, no sizzle. So I got my brother and we took our pans and added that special k’toret that father held in reserve.
I wish I could tell you how awesome it was. But an experience like that — it has no words.
All I can tell you is: We took off our clothes so they wouldn’t catch fire. We took a bit of mother’s kitchen fire to add to father’s k’toret. And whhhhhoooooooooooooooooooo.
For one sizzling moment, I had the fire of my dreams. Light, heat, flash, sssszzzzzzsszszszszszszzzzzssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss.
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