Fear, Respect, and Compassion in a Pandemic
Posted on April 6, 2016
In the past two years we have seen fears of a global pandemic explode. Last year—you may have actually forgotten this by now—the world was terrified by the explosive spread of the Ebola virus in Africa, which killed thousands of people and threatened to spread worldwide. There were cover articles on Ebola in every mainstream magazine, and the internet was filled with horror stories of the imminent danger Ebola posed to all of humanity; air travel to and from Africa was nearly interdicted. This year we have the less-terrifying but still bizarre and shocking Zika virus, which causes babies to be born with tiny heads, called microcephaly, and threatens all pregnant women. Seemingly, each year or two another severely dangerous disease appears in the world, and the world reacts with horror and fear.
Read more: Rabbi Cohon’s Weekly Torah Talk on Tazria 5776
Can Human Sacrifice Make Us Holy?
Posted on April 1, 2016
This week we read the Torah portion of Shemini, which includes the dramatic incident in which the High Priest Aaron’s two sons, kohanim, priests of God serving in the holy Tabernacle, offer strange fire and are immediately consumed by fire themselves. Aaron is distraught, and his brother Moses comforts him in God’s words, saying, “bikrovai ekadesh, v’al p’nai chol ha’am ekaveid—by those brought close to me I am sanctified, and before all the people I am honored.” In other words, those who die before their time, as martyrs, are made holy to God, and their sacrifice brings honor to the Lord and to the people.
This is troubling and confusing. Judaism, from its beginning, rejected the entire concept of human sacrifice. In the story of the Akeidat Yitzchak in Genesis, God instructs Abraham to ritually offer up his beloved son Isaac—but then reverses course, and demonstrates to him, and to all of us, that we are never again to sacrifice a human being for religious purposes.
And yet here those who have just been ordained as priests, leaders of the sacred services that bring us all closer to God, are literally turned into korbanot, burnt offerings in the very place where they lead worship. How do we reconcile this?
Read more: Rabbi Cohon’s Weekly Torah Talk on Shemini 5776