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Strange Fires

Strange Fires


Almost a year has passed since Israel left Egypt. The Sanctuary has just been completed. Aaron and his sons bring the offerings that formally dedicate the Sanctuary. "And a fire came forth from before G‑d... on the altar."1 But the festivities are suddenly and tragically interrupted — two of Aaron's sons die.

Precisely what they had done to deserve their fate is not too clear. There are a number of Rabbinic explanations, and the Scripture itself seems to permit several interpretations. Withal, the implications in the original verse seem clear enough in their application to contemporary Jewry. "They brought before G‑d a strange fire which He had not commanded them."

The implications in the original verse seem clear enough in their application to contemporary JewryAssimilation is not necessarily official conversion to another faith. That threat, real enough in Jewish history, is not imminent today. American assimilation is a blending, acquiring the characteristics of the majority. Jewry and Judaism lose their uniqueness in two ways. First, specifically Jewish modes and qualities (in religion, language culture, etc.) are abandoned. Secondly, the Jew adopts the manner of the Gentile.

It is difficult enough to maintain the purity of Judaism in our individual lives. The pressures of society and the exigencies of earning a livelihood place formidable obstacles in the path of observance of Torah. However, Jewish institutions, because of their influence on the course of Judaism in the community, must rigorously maintain the highest standards of Judaism. If assimilation is permitted to adulterate the integrity, Jewishly speaking, of the house of worship, then what future can we expect?

The "strange fires which G‑d has not commanded" that invade the Sanctuary, negate the light and warmth of Torah. Practices that violate the Torah can lead but to the extinction of the Jewish spirit.

Rabbi Zalman I. Posner (1927-2014) was a noted author and lecturer. He was rabbi of Congregation Sherith Israel of Nashville, Tennessee, for 53 years and co-director of Chabad-Lubavitch of Nashville.
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Anonymous el toro, ca April 21, 2012

nice commentary, if we're in europe But, this Jew lives in America, the first country to adopt Judaic principles. I'm not sure why miracles are seemingly confined to Israel or some backwater of a place in eastern Europe. The founders of this country inspired a singular cultural and political experience that is thoroughly imbued with our Jewish principles. The liberty bell quotes Leviticus, the founders draw comparisons from the exodus with their own revolution, and our intimate relationship with Israel indicates our shared values. Jews have happily practiced their faith in this country for close to 300 years. You could do a lot worse before Hashem than "assimilate" in the U.S. Reply

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