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 Gd 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 Gd 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 Gd, let us be sure that what we offer is what Gd 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
Some Other Musings on the same parasha
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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