Last year, on the tenth anniversary of its writing, I re-shared my "Crispy Critters" musing. It is as true now as it is then what I wrote:
How many times over the years have I made reference to my two favorite crispy critters, Nadav and Avihu? I’ve grown so found of them that I try to sneak them into musings year round. So this time of year has become sort of special for me, a time when I can really talk about them in context.
Yet, in once again re-reading my words from 5758, I am struck by how little I have learned from my own admonitions:
We have to learn, and it is a hard thing to do, to shed our skins, to step outside our paradigms, to eliminate or suppress our egos that we always know the best way to do something, when we offer help to someone. We need to find the humility to do it someone else’s way, to play by their rules.
I am as people-pleasing and as co-dependent as I ever have been. Why is this tendency so hard to shake? In our relationships with others, and in our relationship with the G"d of our understandings, why do we continue to so fruitlessly struggle to try and discern, to know what it is the other person (or G"d) wants from us?
Maybe the lesson from what happened to Nadav and Avihu is less about trying to do more when it is not asked for, than about a willingness to take a risk and give someone something of your choosing, whether you are certain they will approve or not?
One wonders, did Nadav and Avihu sit around and have a conversation of this sort:
N: Hey, what’s wrong with sacrificing to G"d a little bit extra?
A: Shouldn’t we give G"d exactly what G"d wants?
N: And how do you know what that is? Do you have a direct channel to G"d?
A: No, but Uncle Moshe does.
N: Maybe. But are you absolutely certain that everything Uncle Moshe says is exactly what G"d said, and no more or no less?
A: Well, that”s the generally held belief.
N: Then it’s a naive belief at best.
A: You have a point. I mean, I like Uncle Moshe, but after all that rigmarole during our ordination…
N: You think he made some of that up, don’t you? C’mon, admit it?
A: Well, yes-some of it was definitely over the top-a show for the people, and probably a practical joke against Dad.
N: And Uncle Moshe got away with it.
N: So whaddaya say, shall we go offer an extra sacrifice?
A: I’m in. Let’s go.
Now, this is all conjecture, however, just as Nadav and Avihu might have been unwilling to completely accept that even Moshe knew exactly what G"d wanted, I am similarly skeptical and suspicious of a whole lot of people: those who first put the Torah in written form, those who redacted it, those who translated it, the rabbis who created the oral Torah from whole cloth (I’m unequivocal on that one-Torah mi Sinai I’m still open to. Mishna from Sinai, not really), the Geonim, the Masoretes, Rabbi Caro, and so on and so forth. Also, I have my own suspicions about what Moshe transmitted to us as coming from G"d. The Prophets, too, had an agenda. All social conscience and no ritual is as extreme as ritual with no social conscience.
So here we are, 11 years out from the original "Crispy Critters" musing, and I’m having a totally different understanding of what happened Nadav and Avihu.
N: You know, Avihu, there’s some risk in what we’re doing?
A: Yes. But you’ve convinced me that the risk is worth taking.
N: Are you really sure about that?
A: What’s with you? Are you now trying to talk me out of it? Getting scared yourself?
N: Well, maybe a little.
A; Courage, my brother. G"d will surely reward us for thinking of him and offering a little something extra, n’est ce pas?
N: Yes, you;re right, my brother. Courage.
A: Tell ya what? Let’s have a drink first.
N: Sounds good to me.
There are some scholars who have speculated that Nadav’s and Avihu’s fates really were a reward-that their being zotzed simply allowed them to go the heaven and be closer to G"d. (Oh, wait, that wasn’t really party of the theology back then, was it?)
All I know is, is that I spend too much of my time trying to figure out what others (G"d included) want me to say or do before I actually do or say something. What kind of life is that? Yes, there is great risk in just doing what I want to do or saying what I want to say, without regard to what I think another might want to hear me say or have me do. Yes, I might wind up a crispy critter, just like Nadav and Avihu. Yet life is full of risks, and, as they say, nothing ventured, nothing gained.
If I can’t be sure that the words of any siddur are what G"d would want to hear me say, even though I may credit the creators of that siddur with great wisdom, I should not fear using my own words. How many of us simply iterate the words of the siddur simply because we figure that is what G"d wants to hear? (I hear the cries of "but we’re still here-G"d hasn’t wiped us out—yet-so these prayers must have some efficacy" in the background. Sorry, Don’t buy it anymore.)
Judaism is not about playing it safe, about being codependent, about trying to say what you think others want you to say, or doing what you think others want you to do. Judaism is about coming to your own understandings of what to say and do. Reasonable people can disagree on those understandings, as may happen.
Instead of viewing what happened to Nadav and Avihu as a warning about what not to do, why not try viewing as a lesson on exactly what we should do. No pain, no gain.
©2009 by Adrian A. Durlester