Thought for Shabbat – April 9, 2021
Of all the questions we ask we ask in life, the most difficult one to get a good answer for is, “Why?”. Sometimes when we are questioned as to why we have done things, we cannot give an honest answer. Often, we can only guess as to why we or others have done things. We can generally discern how things happen, when they happen, where they happen and who made them happen, but the why often escapes us. We can guess. We can look at social media postings. We can theorize. But often, we will never know. Not knowing the why makes the whole process even harder.
For instance, we have a whole series of laws about kashrut/keeping kosher, many of which emanate from this week’s Torah portion. But why do we follow all these rules? Why is it that one animal is kosher and the other is not? Why can’t we eat cheeseburgers? What is the big argument about swordfish and sturgeon? We are told to do it, but we have no real answer as to why.
When the priests Nadav and Avihu, sons of the High Priest Aaron and nephews of Moses, bring what is apparently an unsanctioned sacrifice, they are struck dead. What they did to receive this punishment is unclear. Some commentators speculate that they were drunk. But the Torah makes no mention of this other than in a general reference to drunken behavior without mentioning any names or events.
Aaron wants to know why they died. He is dumbfounded. Any attempt by Moses to comfort him is weak and insufficient. Further, Aaron is in fact commanded to mourn in private which makes the situation even worse. He is not to demonstrate his grief outwardly. No one can tell him the answer to the question of why his sons had to die. He cries inside. He rages inside. But he does as he is told.
The lack of an answer to “why” in matters of grief is painful. It prevents closure. The lack of that information confuses us in making choices. It haunts us. It challenges our faith even in the most minor of matters. We want life to make sense. We want our faith to make sense. We want God to make sense to us. We want everything to be fair. But that can’t always be the case.
Our ability to move forward, to act, even when we don’t understand why things are the way they are, helps to define us as individuals. It strengthens us. It prepares us for the next time we don’t know why. It inspires us to fight for fairness in the world. It teaches us to demand fairness from ourselves in how we deal with others. And if anyone asks us why we insist on certain principles, on fairness, we can say it is because we understand what it feels like when life is not fair.
Rabbi Yaier Lehrer
Expecting the world to treat you fairly because you’re a good person is like expecting a bull not to attack you because you’re a vegetarian.” ― Dennis Wholey