Pesikta de Rav Kahana taught me how to be a rabbi. It could help you too – in your sacred calling as teacher, parent or leader in any setting.
Pesikta de Rav Kahana, one of our oldest midrashic texts, contains homilies (sermons/teachings) which interpret the Torah and Haftarah readings for all major festivals. This week’s (4/24/10) Torah portion, Acharei Mot (After the Death . . . of Aaron’s sons Nadav and Avihu), forms part of the Yom Kippur liturgy.
In Pesikta de Rav Kahana’s discussion about Acharei Mot, we learn of the twelve sins committed by Nadav and Avihu that caused their death upon their bringing “alien fire” – an uncommanded offering – into God’s presence.
It is by taking these sins and turning them into positives that provided me insight on how to be a rabbi. Here are the second three sins and my insights – more are included in other postings. See what you think. Maybe you’ll agree – maybe not – but think about it and then talk about it. We Jews study together.
Sin #4 – They brought alien fire. Alien fire could be considered to be words and deeds that distress God or others. I am to be careful in admitting people to places of work, power, or authority when they are not prepared or where they cannot or will not serve adequately. Alien fire could also be mixing the sacred with the profane. Alien fire will also mean leaving my own difficulties out of my “gift” to the community I serve. Even better, it means recognizing and acknowledging my own difficulties, healing them, and keeping them from being an alien fire among those whom I am charged to serve.
Sin #5 – They were not united in their tasks as two brothers should be. There is always someone with whom I will partner – lay or clergy – and our partnership needs creating, monitoring, and accomplishing well so that the needs of the community and our sacred task are well-served. Before even that, I should be sure I have a partner and that I don’t presume to always go it alone, unless absolutely required. There are partnerships inherent in being a rabbi that need my continual attention: God and me, the congregation and me, the board and me, my colleagues and me, my community and me, my friends and me, my family and me. If I ignore any of these partnerships, my rabbinate and others will suffer. I should also recognize that these people with whom I am partnering should be considered as “brothers”.
Sin #6 – They were drunk in the sacred precinct. I must always have a sense of appropriateness, being ready physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually for the task at hand. I should monitor situations where inappropriate behavior might appear. I should be sure I have regard for the place “where I am.” It can be easy to become “inebriated” and caught up with oneself and one’s role as a rabbi and forget to be sober, with the ability to use judgment for proper discernment.
Sins #7, #8, and #9 in the next posting.
Shalom, Rabbi/Cantor Anne Heath
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