Achrei Mos, Kedoshim 2020
Ratzon HaTorah, Yitzi Horowitz, LCSW
Last week I wrote about the problems of Dualistic Thinking, about how we run the risk of relating to constructs like the “material” and the “spiritual” as two very separate and distinct dimensions of life. The consequences of this are that we don’t strive for balance and harmony within ourselves, we reject differences between people and see Godly things as separate from the mundane. Today I want to continue this theme with the recognition that while Dualistic Thinking is dangerous and creates many false narratives about ourselves and life in general, we still need to recognize the very real differences between the frequencies that life happens on. And we begin this discussion with an approach to understanding the “sin” of Nadav and Avihu, the flow of our two parshios and the significance it has for our lives today.
What was the fatal crime that Nadav and Avihu committed? In a drunken state of spiritual ecstasy, they entered the Kodesh Hakadoshim with incense and offered a sacrifice to God. They, who were not the High Priest, on a day that was not Yom Kippur, entered the restricted space called the “Holy of Holies”. The Holy of Holies is a place on earth that no human being is supposed to enter. A physical place on earth that is off limits to humans because of it’s purely spiritual nature. Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year, the Kohen Gadol, who after following a strict regiment of self discipline and prayer enter the Holy of Holies. The purest human being would carry all of our Souls with him, to be with God for a few seconds a year in this physical/spiritual place called the Holy of Holies. Nadav and Avihu, as the Seforim explain, drank wine to enhance their spiritual experience and yearning for God. And decided they would enter the Holy of Holies, deciding that their state of sublime intimacy with God would transcend the restrictions of entering that place. And of course, they were wrong. The Torah teaches us that when they died, Aharon, their father, the High Priest, remained silent. Or more accurately, Aharon silenced himself. Silence. The most powerful word in the dictionary. Aharon recognized something about his children’s death that rendered him silent. I’m thinking that his was not a silence of grief or shock or the acceptance of Hashem’s will that usually comes with months of grief. Aharon silenced himself as a result of learning that his children made the mistake of confusing Experience and Expression. Aharon’s silence was a recognition of Hashem’s message. You must learn to know when to experience and when to express. When to be inside and when to be outside.
I struggled with deciding whether to write this thought up or leave it cooking inside me more. Usually my writings are self-reflections. But this week my self-reflection is about experience and expression. And the implications of both. And my reflections about this are for me to work out a lot more than the urge to express them into writing. So, I resisted writing all week, but I simply couldn’t resist the urge to write. Our world has elevated busy-ness to God-like proportions. We are so busy acting on things, asserting ourselves, taking pride in how busy we are and what we have accomplished. Even as therapists, many of us try to help our clients focus on their accomplishments. And often I wonder that it’s too much. We are so obsessed with busy-ness that we denigrate human experience and have forgotten about it. So let me try to explain this to some degree.
Nadav and Avihu acted when they were supposed to experience. And in doing so, they entered a dimension of life they were not supposed to. Anyone who would say that Nadav and Avihu were simple drunkards who entered the Holy of Holies without in a stupor of gluttonous pleasure is making a serious mistake. The two of them made a miscalculation about whether to experience God or express themselves to Him. They acted when and where they should not have. They were assertive when they should have been surrendered. They were moved to assert themselves when they should have remained in a stare of suspended wonderment. I remember buying a disposable camera (remember those?) when I was in Yeshiva and pulling it out on Purim and snapping pictures of my Rebbi while we were all singing on top of our lungs. And as I turned the little wheel to take the next picture, my Rebbi leaned over and yelled into my ear, “Stop taking pictures and be HERE.” There was something so profound about the moment and I lost the camera.
Lest you think I am talking about the simplicity of being present in the moment, I am talking about the depth of being present in the moment. You see, the difference between silence and talking, between experiences and expression, between surrender and action is of course the difference between Emuna and Hishtadlus. Between Faith and effort. All our masters have taught us that We must try our hardest and leave the results to Hashem. Anyone who has really tried this knows that this is one of the tallest orders, and perhaps the greatest thing we are challenged with. The moment I start to express, to act, to speak a word, to step out of a state of experience and into the world my ego joins me. He always seems to knows the exact moment. Intentions could be pure, but actions are riddled with imperfections and real human frailty. My ego carries with him stories of perfectionism, guilt, lust, pride, resentment, pressure, tension, gluttony, pride, attention seeking and pride and pride and pri-- and so much more. It is our job to live with the ego. It is not pathological, it is the human condition. Our ego is the Yetzer Horah. He creates such utter confusion that We must try our hardest and leave the results to Hashem is probably the most human and humbling order we have been given.
Where do I end and where does God begin in my personal life? Is it really possible to act in the grace of God or the remain silent in the face of pain? We are talking about the serenity prayer, God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I can not change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference. There is no gap between me and God, only in Dualistic Thinking is there a gap. In reality, the opposite is true. The question is where do I get confused with letting go into God’s hands and asserting myself? What in my life is God’s domain and what is my domain? And this, each of us needs to work out for our ourselves. The interdependence between me and God is the hardest thing. God doesn’t speak with us. We must figure it out on our own, but with Him. It requires meticulous self-awareness and seeing what is needed for us to live and build harmony and balance for ourselves.
Nadav and Avihu acted when they should have remained surrendered. They made the mistake of expressing when they should have remained in a state of experience. In other words, they entered God’s domain and left their own domain. Because in those spaces in my life that I am supposed to “Let Go and Let God”, I am supposed to let God do His work. And where God does His work is called the Holy of Holies. And I do not belong in the Holy of Holies. I am meant to be outside when God does His work inside. Because if I intrude on God’s domain when He is working, He turns to me and says to me (Sotah 5) You and I can not be in the same place at the same time. If you try to work on these things, in this place you will fail. Guaranteed. When You are ready, let go and let Me. Let Me do what I have to do. Stay out of the Holy of Holies, don’t desecrate this Holy place where I am working in your life.
Don’t desecrate the spaces in your life that are Holy. Say for example, I get really anxious about my lack of organization and I plan my day tomorrow as accurately as I can. Tomorrow comes and my kids throw a wrench into the plan or a phone call takes longer than expected. Through no fault of my own my schedule gets thrown out of whack. And I start to stress, getting frustrated and ultimately fearful about the rest of my day. And I start overcompensating or becoming short-fused. Internally I am afraid of failure, my plans will not be met, and I will feel, yet again, sheepishly guilty. Which means I have not surrendered. I have not accepted that outcomes are Hashem’s domains. It means that I have left my space and entered God’s. Knowing when to surrender means learning, mostly through trial and error and also with good guides and mentors, to identify what areas of life Hashem is showing me are for me to act and what areas I am meant to surrender. And Hashem tells me, where you belong, I will help you and where I belong is the Holy of Holies, off-limits to you.
Every occasion for me to surrender is an occasion for me to remain out of the Holy of Holies. So that Hashem can do His work. I don’t belong there. Think about this, every single aspect of my life that I am meant to surrender, that I am meant to be in Faith instead of action, is a moment of encountering the Kodesh Hakadoshim, the Holy of Holies. To allow God to work His action on the other side of the curtain. And we, as fallible human beings, struggle with our egos. And we forget that every wrench thrown into my plans is the Holy of Holies. Our egos convince us, like the Nachash did so many thousands of years ago, that we must be godlike. We must enter the Holy of Holies and do something there. Every time we are meant to accept life on God’s terms we are being asked to allow the Holy of Holies to enter our lives, to allow God to do His work in our lives right on the other side of the Paroches, the veils that cover what we can’t see. This is why we call it faith, we don’t and can’t see what’s in there and we have no control of what goes on inside there. AND, every moment I am supposed to take action and not remain in Faith is a moment to realize that Hashem wants to be inside me and that the realm of action, the realm of expression is meant for me now. Inaction in the face of responsibility, passivity, means that I am choosing to neglect my role of action and remain inside me. Where God is, because during the times when I am supposed to act, the Holy of Holies shifts places and now resides inside me. Hashem has work to do inside me as well. And when I am supposed to act, He is cleaning house and I am supposed to be at work. If I stay home, I am entering the Holy of Holies.
We must take this one more step. Nadav and Avihu’s actions were ones of holiness. Compare their passionate spiritually-infused impulsivity with Nachshon at the Yam Suf or Dovid dancing shirtless. What separates Nadav and Avihu, according to what we are saying, is that they entered the Holy of Holies, they entered God’s domain. Even in our spiritual lives we can make this mistake. We can take action and try to use God or spirituality when we are supposed to be remaining silent. We can make the mistake of learning when we should be davening, davening when we should be taking action, doing chessed when we should be taking care of ourselves. Most importantly, we could be talking to Hashem and trying to force His hand when we should be listening to Him. We could be trying to work harder on our Middos when we should be reflecting on ourselves. We could be working harder and taking ourselves too seriously when we should be enjoying a bike ride. We could be talking with Hashem when we should be talking with ourselves or talking with ourselves when we should be talking with our spouses. People use spirituality. And often we use spirituality in the wrong way. We connect deeply to the transcendent beauty of our Souls and avoid the mundanity of action and expression. Sometimes the Holy of Holies are in the soil, when we should be working in heaven and other times the Holy of Holies are in our Soul, when we should be working on earth.
Achrei Mos Kedoshim. In their death, Nadav and Avihu taught us the secret of what true holiness looks like. We can spend the totality of our lives learning when to experience and when to express. When to act responsibly and when to surrender in Faith. Given all that we are going through, it is easier for us to recognize the demarcation between what we are in control over and what we aren’t. May Hashem remove this unbelievable Corona-travesty and give us the possibility of returning the real Kodesh Hakadoshim in our Beis Hamikdash to us, and with it the clarity and purity of our relationships with Hashem, ourselves and others with the coming of Moshiach B’Mheira B’Yameniu. Amen.
Gut Shabbos, Shabbat Shalom!