Random Musings Before Shabbat–Sh’mini/Shabbat Parah 5774-Indubitably Delicious

It occurs to me that as often as I refer to Nadav and Avihu as those two “crispy critters” that there may be large portions of my readership that no longer get the reference. In the 1960s, Post cereals introduced a new sugar-coated cereal in the shape of animals called “Crispy Critters.”

CrispyCritters

It has a checkered history, and was never very successful. Introduced in 1963, the cereal featured the character Linus the Lionhearted, a cartoon lion who was featured in one of the first cartoon shows that was intended as primarily a half-hour long commercial for the cereal.(Sheldon Leonard voiced Linus.)  Post kept trying different ways to enhance the cereal – they added several different kinds of “colored marshmallow” animals (think “Lucky Charms.”) They tried all kinds of tie-ins. In 1967, they added pink “pushmi-pullyus” to tie in with the Anthony Newley/Leslie Bricusse musical film starring Rex Harrison.

crispypullyu

That made it one of my favorite childhood cereals because I absolutely adored that movie. Eventually, Post gave up and discontinued the cereal. They tried to revive it again in 1987 with a new mascot, a puppet named Crispy, a bizarre creature with fuzzy pom-pom topped horns (or antennae?) and tail, who sounded a bit like Jimmy Durante.

crispy

The cereal failed again the second time and has not been seen since. As Wikipedia notes: The phrase “crispy critter” entered American military, police and fire fighter slang as a name for a burnt corpse. Thus my reference to Nadav and Avihu as “crispy critters.

All of this is, of course, irrelevant, except as introduction to the following presentation of two of my prrevious musings based on the Nadav and Avihu/Crispy Critters theme.” First, the original, though in it’s 10th anniversary edition:

Random Musings Before Shabbat-Shemini 5762/5758

 

Crispy Critters

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.

Boundaries matter, no matter how artificial they may seem to us. Crossing them has consequences.

“But I didn’t ask you to do that.”

How many times have we heard that? In our lives, we have usually received a simple verbal admonition. But think of poor Nadav and Avihu – turned into crispy critters just for doing something they hadn’t been told or asked to do. Pretty harsh punishment.

While I may think the punishment harsh, the lesson remains important. I think many of us have an innate desire to do things to please others. Sometimes, we overdo it, and begin to place more emphasis on doing things to please others rather than doing things to please ourselves.

Let’s put aside the argument that it may have been in drunken enthusiasm that Nadav and Avihu crossed a boundary, and did more than they had been told to do. Let’s assume that they might have been just as enthusiastic and eager even with that little extra Egyptian beer.

This episode in our holy Torah once again proves that behaviors like people-pleasing and co-dependency that are now in the province of pop psychologists were already recognized in ancient times. We don’t need to read the latest best-seller on Co-dependency or Toxic Parents. The lessons we need to learn are right here in our own legacy of teachings.

We’ve all done it – stepped over the bounds of someone else’s territory in an effort to please – to do as Nadav and Avihu had done. Our intentions were good, but our efforts were usurping the responsibility of another. Fortunately, we usually aren’t consumed in fire as a result, but sometimes a metaphorical sort of flaming swoosh from G”d or the offended party can result! If we had remembered that we each have our assigned tasks and responsibilities, and must assume responsibility for them ourselves, we could have spared myself learning the lesson yet again. Too bad we don’t remember the simple lesson of Nadav and Avihu first.

It’s all about balance. It’s good to be helpful, It’s what we are taught to do, and what G”d wants us to do. But everything has limits, even helpfulness.

An argument one hears all the time is “if someone asks me to help them, they have no right to tell me how to help.” But stop and think for a minute-if the help you are offering doesn’t coordinate with the work that is being done, is what you are doing really helping the other person?

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. They may not have the power to zotz us with a flash of lightning and burn us to a crisp, but they can certainly metaphorically do the same.

And when it comes to what we offer before G”d, let us be sure that what we offer is what G”d has asked us for (if we can indeed know for certain what that is.)

This Shabbat, remember to do what is required of you. And know what that is. It’s sweet to want to do for others-but be sure they want it done for them before you do it. Be careful before you offer your alien fire before Gd. You might not end up a crispy critter, but then again. . .

This Shabbat, stay toasty and warm, but don’t get burnt!

© 2002 by Adrian A. Durlester

Next, the follow-up:

Random Musings Before Shabbat
Sh’mini 5769

srettirC ypsirC

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.
A: True.
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.

Shabbat Shalom,

-Adrian

©2009 by Adrian A. Durlester

Other musings on this parasha:

Sh’mini 5772 – Collect Call
Sh’mini/Shabbat Parah 5771-So Say We All
Sh’mini 5770 – Don’t Eat That, It’s Not Kosher
Sh’mini 5767-Don’t Be a Stork
Sh’mini 5766-Palmwalkers
Shemini 5765-It All Matters
Shemini 5764-Playing Before Gd
Shemini 5763 – Belly of the Beast
Shemini 5761-Lessons From Our Students
Shemini 5760-Calm in a Crisis
Shemini 5759-Porking Out

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About migdalorguy

Jewish Educator & Musician, Technology Nerd and all around nice Renaissance guy
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