by Rabbi Matt Cutler,
Congregation Gates of Heaven
, Schenectady, NY
A magician stands before a crowd. He warns the audience that he is going to suspend the laws of nature and rational logic. “Watch me pull a rabbit out of this hat!” he says and then waves a magic wand over the hat and says:
! And poof, he performs the trick. Most of us are skeptics when it comes to this type of entertainment. Yet the magician’s artistry makes this illusion seem real.
is not gibberish; it is an Aramaic phrase, which is the language of the Talmud. It literally means: “I will create as I have spoken.” Used by a magician, it is a continuation of his appeal to suspend logic as if to say “watch me do something unbelievable because I said I would.”
What many of us do not realize is that a similar phrasing appears on the back of a mezuzah parchment. Some scribes like to pen the phrase
, which means “I have created as You have spoken.” It is the scribes’ way of saying that their work has fulfilled the mitzvah of putting the words on the doorposts of our homes as prescribed in the Torah.
is based on man’s arrogance that he is in charge and can suspend the laws of nature, while
is rooted in humility and in the notion that we are duty bound to God through words of Torah.
This week, we read the story of Nadav and Abihu in Leviticus. Starting with Leviticus 10, we read that these two heirs of Aaron enter the Mishkan, offering up a sacrifice of their own volition. This
(translated as a “strange/foreign fire”) is somewhat troubling. What did they do wrong that brought down the wrath of the Holy One upon them? Could it be their arrogance? Could it be that they lost sight of the difference between
There are numerous explanations that our Sages have offered on this throughout the ages. But Rashbam (the 12th century sage who was the grandson of the renowned Rashi) implied that these individuals did not follow the rules. They did not do what was commanded of them and in doing so – the act was performed in an incorrect manner and not as a Mitzvah. Often when I study this section of Torah with someone, they wonder why this is not a “free will offering” that was described in the Torah. An explanation is that even free will offerings were defined by God. During the description in the book of Exodus, the free will offerings for building of the Mishkan were called for. In Leviticus, the free will offerings were regulated to keep them accurate and acceptable. But what Nadav and Abihu did was rooted in hubris, not fulfillment of a mitzvah.
It is as if God worked for them. It could be seen as if they were bringing an offering to God, not in humility but as a bribe. The logic being something akin to “I did this for You, now You owe me one!” For me, this story illustrates human arrogance. I encounter actions and expectations of people like Nadav and Abihu all too often. What was forgotten is that we are created
, in the image of God. We are not God, but one empowered to be God’s messenger or servant, doing the Divine will. Then there are times that we call on God to do for us and if things we prayed for do not come to fruition, then we doubt God or we get angry at God.
All too often, we want a simple solution to tough problems. We want a quick fix. Wouldn’t it be great if we had had that magic wand and
, our problem would be eradicated or the task completed? But we know that life doesn’t work that way. Humility, persistence, and commitment are tools needed to get tasks done. A magic wand doesn’t get things done. But fulfilling mitzvoth can help us achieve goals or at least come to grips with the reality of the task. There is a lot to be said for
In the Reform prayer book, it is written: “Pray as if everything depends on God, but act as if everything depends on you.” Nadav and Abihu should have heeded those words. Such is an expression for our tradition that implies our desire to put
May it be God’s will.