By Rabbi Ari Enkin, rabbinic director, United with Israel

By Rabbi Ari Enkin, rabbinic director, United with Israel

In the coming four weeks or so, the Jews of Israel (where I live!) and those of the Diaspora will be reading different portions! This week, outside of Israel, Jews will be reminded of the secret to Jewish survival.

While this week’s Torah portion in Israel is Tazria/Metzorah, not so in the Diaspora. You may wonder: Why so?

It is because the eighth day of Passover in the Diaspora was this past Shabbat. On Torah holidays, the weekly Torah portion cycle is suspended while the holiday portion is read instead. As such, this coming Shabbat is the first Shabbat following Passover when Jews in the Diaspora resume the order of Torah portions.

In Israel, however, there is no eighth day of Passover! Passover includes only seven days in Israel. As such, this past Shabbat was an “ordinary” Shabbat in Israel and, therefore, the regular order of Torah portions resumed.

We see from here that Jews in Israel will be at least one Torah portion ‘ahead’ of Jews in the Diaspora! This discrepancy will continue for about four weeks when the Torah portions of “Behar” and “Bechukotai” will be combined in the Diaspora in order to allow for the Diaspora to “catch up” with the Torah readings in Israel.

Here at United with Israel, we will follow and share commentary on the Torah reading cycle of the Diaspora, since most of our readers are located outside of Israel.

This week’s Torah portion (in the Diaspora!) is Shemini (Leviticus 9:1-11:47). Among the many important topics that it touches upon is the tragic death of Aaron’s two oldest sons, Nadav and Avihu. The Torah tells us that they were killed by a “foreign fire” due to a certain sin that they committed. It is not completely clear, however, what was this sin. There are a number of interpretations and opinions.

Key to Jewish Survival: Showing Proper Respect

According to the Talmud, Nadav and Avihu were killed because they “one-upped” Moses by inappropriately issuing a ruling on Torah law and Jewish tradition in his presence. Yes, a student who issues a ruling in the presence of his rabbi is technically subject to the death penalty. Although no one would even think about applying such a punishment today, times were different back then, and Moses was no ordinary rabbi!

Respecting elders

Respect for the elderly is a cornerstone of Jewish tradition. (shutterstock)

Wow! Just what is so terrible about issuing a ruling in the presence of one’s rabbi? Disrespectful, yes. But subject to the death penalty? What’s going on here?

It is explained that issuing a ruling on Jewish law in the presence of one’s rabbi is a much more serious sin than merely not showing proper respect. The Talmud teaches that the prophet Isaiah came to the Jewish people and warned them of 18 curses that would befall them. One of these was that “there would be no one learned in Scripture or Talmud…there would be no judges or prophets…they will behave haughtily, the youth will rise up against the elder, and the simple will rise up against the honorable.” (Based on Isaiah 3:5)

What the prophet is telling us is that when we sink to the level where “the youth will rise up against the elder and the simple will rise up against the honorable,” we are truly cursed! There is a saying, “Just as a bird cannot fly without wings, the Jewish people cannot exist without their elders.” We need our elders. We need our rabbis. We need the wise. They are what ensures Jewish continuity. Traditions are passed down, they are not passed up.

Now we can understand how serious the crime of Nadav and Avihu really was. They did not sin against Moses, or against any other individual for that matter. They sinned against the entire Jewish people! This is because Jewish tradition is passed from the rabbis and elders to the youth…not the other way around!

One of the trademarks of the Jewish people is respecting the wise, learned and aged. Doing so has always been the secret to our survival!

To read more of Rabbi Ari Enkin’s insights into this week’s Torah portion, click on the links below: