Reality Check: Shmini 5775 by Cantor Lipp

Mon, 04/20/2015 - 3:56pm -- lcanfield

The initiation of the tabernacle/Mishkan in the desert concludes with a flash of fire from God consuming the sacrifice. The people cry out and fall on their faces. The word vayaronu usually means sing, Rinah is a popular Israeli name for girls as is Ron for boys. 

Ibn Ezra notes the root is used also at the end of a story in the book of Kings. Those reading his commentary in the middle ages would have immediately remembered the entire episode, just like saying ‘never mind’ with a slightly nasal inflection brings back the entire life’s work of Gilda Radner on Saturday Night Live. 

Being that we’re likely more up on Gilda Radner than the book of Kings...

King Ahav of Israel wants to reconquer land from Aram so he invites his colleague King Yehoshafat of Judah as an ally. Ahav’s prophets tell him to go ahead and fight; victory is his. But Yehoshafat seems skeptical that all 400 prophets speak with one voice so Ahav reluctantly invites the one prophet he hates because he doesn’t want to hear a dissenting voice. Michaya also tells him to go ahead and fight the Arameans. Pressed further, because he ‘cannot tell a lie’, Michaya warns Ahav that God planted the idea of victory in the heads of all the prophets in order to set a trap for Ahav. He, Ahav, is to die in battle.

Ahav tries to outsmart his fate and switches royal garb with King Yehoshafat but the Arameans end up killing him anyway. At the end of the battle, the same term is used -- vayaavor harinah. There is a cry from the people. It’s unclear whether it’s a cry of joy or of awe and fear.

To the best of our knowledge, God no longer expresses the divine will through bolts of lightning or verbally prompted prophets. 

The divine fire that ate the sacrifice and moments later took the lives of Nadav and Avihu in Torah times has morphed into the religious fervor that inspires both Mother Theresas and Osama bin Ladens. 

Even in later Biblical times God might use prophets to play head games with those who deserved punishment, like Ahav. That voice which tells us what’s right should always be given a reality check, sharpened by the awareness of the confirmation bias that plagues us all, that notion that whatever we want to be true might be confirmed by that still small voice. 

Shabbat is a moment each week when we are given the opportunity to immerse ourselves in God’s wisdom with music, study, and good food and to allow that fire to be lit and that voice to be heard in a community that provides an almost inevitable reality check.

Shabbat Shalom.

David Lipp

Hazzan