The Only Way
A Life-Lessons Story by Chana Klein
Was it a Punishment?
Arnie Greenstein a”h passed to the next world during the week that we read Parshat Shemini.
In Parshat Shemini the sons of Aaron, Nadav and Avihu, bring a strange fire that they are not commanded to bring
They get consumed (or eaten) by it.
Was this a punishment? They did what they were not commanded and died as they were doing it.
But God, here, is called by the name that means mercy rather than judgement.
Is being consumed a punishment? The passage does not say.
Rather is says that they were eaten or consumed. It does not say they were killed.
Eating is consuming what you eat and making it a part of you. Is that what God was doing?
To explain, Moshe repeats, to Aaron, God’s words “I will be sanctified through those who are nearest Me.”
Those words also do not communicate judgement, rather the express closeness.
Arnie was a member of the Carlebach Shul in Teaneck.
He was a homeless man who had suffered from failing health. Yet, he biked to a Torah class every day struggling to travel miles to get there. Arnie was loved by the people in the Carlebach minyan.
But the way he dressed, or didn’t, often having an odor, his appearance, and what goes with that might lead to others feeling like they are better than, holier than, more righteous. Despite the way he was treated by the loving people of the Carlebach shul, people still judged him, avoided him, and felt superior.
It was no accident, but rather a life lesson for each of us, in awareness of how we judge another person that Arnie went to the next world in this week.
What about us?
Are we punished the way we believe we are?
How does what Nadav and Avihu did, and what happened as a result of that, apply to us?
Does it help to answer whether God judges us the way others do?
How are we judged?
Eight years ago, I had been very ill. I lost my vital signs and spent a short time in the next world.
Understandings that became ingrained in my soul, rendered me unable to forget what I learned at that time.
Nothing has looked the same as it did before that experience.
I saw there that reward and punishment are not what I had thought they would be.
While I saw on the one hand that every little thing we do counts more than we could ever realize,
I also discovered that God is much more understanding of our misgivings than I could have ever imagined.
I saw my brother, Michael, there. He was the one to greet me. He and I had had it very tough when we were children. He ended up doing what I saw as terrible things, I figured, to cope with the harsh treatment we received.
Yet, he ended up looking so well up there. He seemed in such a high place. He was clearly good.
He earned it, perhaps with the Teshuva (repentance) he did before he passed to the next world, and perhaps even more, with all of the suffering that he had endured.
What was very clear to me was that God understood the why of what Michael had done, the what, and “the who” of who my brother really was.
The Only Way We Could Be
God saw Michael do what he did and he did not afflict him because of it.
I realized that the things Michael did, the choices he made, may have been the only thing the that he could do, the only way that he could be.
God sees us and understands our actions more than we understand ourselves.
God sees our mistakes.
At the same time, He sees our greatness and what we could be.
He also sees what we cannot be.
How many of us are the only way that we could be?
Perhaps that is the way we are supposed to be.
“Everything thing I thought was a mistake,
Every street I thought was the wrong street
Turned out to have been the only way to get there.”
Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach
For me also, there is so much in my background that could make me feel shame.
There are people I know who have what we call Yichus (heritage, lineage, relatives) of great people who did great things. I have none. While Michael and I were growing up, I searched for one relative to look up to. The search was in vain. In the communities in which I am involved, I could easily feel shame of where I came from and how I grew up.
Yet, I wonder if that was really the only way to get to where I am now.
If I had not seen what I saw, if I had not been where I had been, would I have been able to know the guidance of my Creator as I did and still do?
Would I have been able to even recognize it as such?
What is really good and what is really bad?
How can we know for sure?
How can I look at the actions of another and appoint myself as judge?
How could I have looked at the actions of my own brother and thought I knew better, or that I had done better?
How do I know that it was not the only way for him to get to where he was going?
How do I know that where I have been was not the only way for me to get to where I am supposed to be going?
When we Menachem avel (visit a mourner,) we are comforting him.
But the real meaning of “Menachem” we learn in Parshat Noach when God regrets (Nachum.)
Nachum means to change one’s perspective.
When we Menachem avel someone, our visit is changing their perspective.
The passukim on the death of Nadav and Avuhu and the pasukim following that, with my own experience have changed my perspective removing any judgment I may have of how any one chooses to live.
Perhaps as Rabbi Carlebach stated, that is the only way that person can go.
‘Nachamu, Nachamu,‘ the prophet Isaiah tells us.
Perhaps the comfort for me, today, is to know that my road was right for me, to know that Arnie’s road was right for him, to know that some of those “streets” that seemed to be so wrong and even cruel, were really the way that the Almighty wanted each of us to go.
Nachamu Nachamu, to know that it was okay.
To know that I chose the way that I was supposed to.
Nachamu Nachamu, God is my comfort.
Copyright© 2015 Chana Klein