Haftarah: Shemini: Courage
Samuel II 6:1 – 7:17: Aaron’s sons, Nadav and Avihu, died when, in their passion, they offered the incense on the altar. The day of great celebration was shattered, but God insisted that the service continue. Moshe was even more careful that all be done exactly as commanded. He realized that the Rosh Chodesh – New Moon – offering had been burned but not eaten. “And he was wrathful with Elazar and Itamar, Aaron’s remaining sons. Why did you not eat the sin offering? Aaron spoke to Moses: ‘Were I to eat this day’s sin-offering, would God approve?’” (Leviticus 10:16-19)
Aaron knew that Nadav and Avihu had exercised their judgment and offered the incense, only to die. Yet, he did not hesitate to exercise his judgment.
“Moses heard and he approved.” (10:20) The Midrash teaches that Moses actually ran through the camp singing, “Aaron was right and I was wrong!”
Aaron called on boundless courage to understand that there was room for judgment in God’s home, despite what happened that very day to his sons. How would we have felt about using our minds in the service of God had Aaron not insisted on that right on that day? Aaron’s courage empowered all of us to carefully exercise our judgment in the service of God.
In this Haftarah, King David too, calls on Aaron’s courage after suffering a terrible blow at the hands of God. Uzzah died when in a moment of natural response, he reached out to support the ark. He forgot for a moment that God’s ark did not need him or anyone to hold it up. God struck Uzzah down. “David was upset because of the breach with which God had broken forth against Uzzah.” (6:8) David’s celebratory return of the ark to its proper place in the Mishkan was ruined. People appreciated the awesome power and sanctity of the God’s Holy Ark. They were terrified. The procession ended and everyone went home broken and fearful.
Three months later, when David and the people realized that the Ark brought great blessings to the house of Obed-Edom, where it remained after the suspended procession, they determined to try again. “David danced with all his strength before God.” (6:14) David did not move the procession in fear, but in great joy and celebration. The fear dissipated and the people rejoiced with their king. The king called on Aaron’s courage, and in a moment when all were terrified and intimidated, understood that this moment was his opportunity to reintroduce joy and celebration into our service of God.