It seems as this parasha is always the highlight of my year. I just can't wait to once again tell the tale of those two crispy critters, Nadav and Avihu. Fwoosh-burnt to a crisp. Toasted.
And it's true. Today, as I told the tale to my first and then second graders, I waxed as histrionic as I could, and told the tale. Of course, as has always happened when I have told this story, someone asked why Nadav and Avihu would have been so foolish. But usually, unless the student has studied the parasha, their first guess is usually not the explanation offered in the Torah. They usually just assume people sometimes do stupid things-without trying to find a cause, without having a need to cite some extenuating circumstance.
But this year it was different. I student who I knew for certain was unfamiliar with this story in the Torah simply said "Oh, they must have been drunk." "Hoo boy," I thought to myself. I'm not sure I want to know what experiences led this youngster to immediately leap to that assumption.
But it provided a nice segue into offering the explanation that Torah offers with the prohibition then pronounced that Kohanim were not to drink id they were to serve in the Mishkan, the assumption being, of course, that Nadav and Avihu were drunk.
"So what if they were drunk" piped up another student. "Is being drunk an excuse for making a mistake?"
The first student spoke up again. "People sure do funny and dumb things when they are drunk."
Another student said: "Yeah. And sometimes they get mean, too."
Part of me really wanted to shift the discussion from where it was headed, but another part of me said to trust the students and see where they would go with this.
"Well then, maybe Hashem was drunk and that's why He zapped those two guys, because he was feeling mean."
Responses came fast and furious. "Hashem doesn't get drunk." "Why would Gd need to drink?" "Maybe Gd was drunk when He destroyed the earth in a flood!" "Yeah-maybe when he nuked Sodom and Gomer (sic) too." "I don't think Hashem drinks." "But there is Kosher beer! My dad drinks it." "Kosher's not for Hashem, it's for us, silly." "But Hashem doesn't need to get drunk..."
It was getting contentious. And then a real gem: "But people drink, and people get drunk. And people are made in Hashem's image. So Hashem probably drinks and gets drunk too, right?"
Well, that one brought the discussion to a stop for a few moments. And then a usually quiet student chimed in. "It's not just being drunk that makes people do silly and dumb things. Sometimes it's because they're mad or angry at someone else-or even at themself. And I think the Torah is wrong."
Now, that got everyone's attention, and even a few drawn in breaths. Everyone looked at me. "Wrong about what, I said."
"Wrong to make excuses for Na..Nada...ah, Aharon's two sons that were zapped..." "Nadav and Avihu," said a student know for always answering for others. "They just did something dumb, and got punished."
"Yes," I said. But it was a pretty tough punishment-death."
"But Aaron didn't complain," came from a student who knows his Torah already. "And Hashem honored him by speaking directly to him and telling him the Kohanim shouldn't drink."
"Because drunk people do dumb things and get turned into toast" said my first speaker.
The another student who hadn't said anything raised their hand and I called on her. "I don't think Gd really cares if the Kohanim drink or not. That's not why Gd spoke to Aharon. Gd was being nice to Aharon, giving a reason to not think Nadav and Avihu were fools."
"Huh?" said a few students.
My student posek said: "It doesn't really matter why Nadav & Avihu did what they did. And Hashem had to punish them. But Aharon didn't complain to Hashem to even Moshe. So Hashem decided to let Aharon think that Nadav & Avihu just got drunk and did something stupid. I think that was a nice thing to do."
I love learning from my students. It matters not whether I or anyone agree with their understanding. What matters is that they care enough to think about it and come to an understanding. And for that, I thank Gd.
My your Shabbat be filled with the joy of learning from your family, friends-and your students.
©2001 by Adrian A. Durlester
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