Posted on April 14, 2023 by Rabbi Arnie Gluck
This week’s Torah portion, Sh’mini, relates the deaths of the two sons of Aaron, Nadav and Avihu. The boys entered the newly dedicated sanctuary unauthorized, offered “strange fire” upon the altar, and were consumed by the flames.
Much is unclear, leaving some to speculate that the boys may have been drinking. What is clear is that youthful indiscretion resulted in tragedy.
Had Nadav and Avihu lived in our day there would have been little doubt about the cause of their deaths. They would most likely have been just the latest in an endless string of losses to drugs or gun violence – the “strange fire” of our day.
According to the CDC over 100,000 Americans a year are dying from drug overdoses, mostly opioids, mostly fentanyl, often in the form of counterfeit pills. Our nation is awash in them, and they are all too readily available.
Gun violence is now the leading cause of death in children under the age of 18. Most are homicides, but 1/3 of them are suicides, and the numbers are increasing each year. The reason is clear. America is awash in guns – more than 450 million. There are more guns than people in this country, and they are easy to obtain – way too easy.
In our parashah, Moses reacts to the death of his nephews by instructing Aaron to refrain from mourning his sons. He is concerned with appearances and the continuity of the ritual. The show must go on. Aaron is dumbstruck.
This is all too familiar to us. One after another, our children’s schools have become killing fields and within a few days, life goes back to normal. The media buzz, there is talk of legislation to limit access to weapons of war, but nothing changes, except that sales of AR15s increase as the NRA warns that “they” are coming for our guns.
No argument about citizens’ rights and the 2nd Amendment can justify the carnage we are enduring in this country. In the first 102 days of this year, there have already been 146 mass shootings, and there is no end in sight.
Whether it be by guns or drugs, Nadav and Avihu are dying every day in this country, and we must be silent no more. I urge us all to raise our voices and support the organizations working for drug education and common-sense gun legislation. Thanks to such persistent efforts NJ now has some of the strictest gun laws in the US, and that has saved countless lives. So let there be no doubt that our efforts do make a difference.
In his iconic song, “Blowin’ in the Wind,” Bob Dylan asked: “How many deaths will it take ‘till he knows that too many people have died?” The answer, my friends, is not blowin’ in the wind. The answer is as clear as the light of day. Too many of our children have died. Far too many. And we must put a stop to it.
At the end of his days, Moses left our people with these words that must be our rallying cry: “I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day: I have put before you life and death, blessing and curse. Choose life that you and your descendants may live.”
Spring is here, and all around us nature is dancing with new life. This is a time of renewal – a time of hope. We have celebrated the liberation of our people from Egypt, and we will soon rejoice in the rebirth of our nation in our ancestral homeland. Let us then take heart and have faith that America, too, can be renewed in our day. To this vision and to this possibility let us pledge our hearts and souls.
Rabbi Arnie Gluck