There are a lot of unclean animals about: camels, hyraxes, long-eared owls, hoopoes, skinks and salamanders, to mention just a few. Not eating them may or may not have been a challenge for the early Israelites, but keeping their dead carcasses away from themselves and their dwellings would surely have been so when living in an environment so much less sanitised than ours. Quite a few reasons have been given to explain why certain classes of animal are forbidden, including health and hygiene, differentiating our diet from idolatrous peoples living nearby and a concern that it was a double violation of life to eat creatures which themselves killed and ate other creatures. And then there is the explanation that, by differentiating unclean and clean animals, we are reinforcing the distinction between the holy and the unholy and binding ourselves closer to God.
Crossing boundaries can be extremely dangerous, as is illustrated by the fate of Aaron’s sons, Nadav and Avihu. What exactly did they do wrong? According to Rabbi Akiva, they offered strange fire. Rabbi Yose says they entered the Holy of Holies at a time when divine service was not commanded. Rabbi Eleazar says they offered secular, not holy, fire. There are other, similar interpretations, but it seems that, while they committed some violation, they were not regarded as evil. God Himself seem to mourn their fate when, through Moses, he says, “I will be sanctified among those close to Me.” Besides, Moses tells “the entire family of Israel to mourn for the ones whom God has burned.” They are thus tragic figures, newly initiated as God’s priests, eager to serve, but blinded by a mistaken understanding of their role.
This week we are following the Orthodox calendar in our choice of parsha in honour of one of our two service leaders, Murray Brown, who, together with Adam Feldman, will be guiding us in our prayers, songs, reading and conversation. Come along on Saturday at 10:30 to join us.