Are there some parts of Judaism you prefer over others? Do certain rituals, practices or customs excite you, while others . . . not so much?

If your answer is yes, then here’s a follow up question: What do you do about the unexciting parts? What happens when you don’t have an emotionally satisfying explanation for why you must do this or can’t do that?

There are different ways of approaching this, and if I had to guess, I would split them into two general camps: the “reject” vs. “accept” camps.

The former camp is disinterested, uninspired or just plain turned off—so they turn their backs on what they don’t like and focus on the things they like. After all, Jewish practice is quite vast, so they’ll make do with the fun stuff.

The latter camp shudders at the prospect of outright rejection, yet is still emotionally or intellectually unable to fully embrace the entire package. So it’s a begrudging acceptance, a sort of inner push to “just do it anyway,” regardless of whether or not they like it. While admirable, this approach is not ideal.

So what should you do about those parts of Judaism that you (so far) find uninteresting or uninspiring? Rejection and forced acceptance both sound fairly bleak, so what’s the solution?

A third way, of course.

An Unseemly Job

This third way is buried in an interesting detail in a story retold in our Parshah. After the Jews finally finished constructing the Tabernacle in the desert, the inauguration festival kicked off. It was a glorious day, a moment when G‑d’s holy presence rested on this edifice and the Jews returned to divine grace after the catastrophe of the Golden Calf.

Among all this tremendous joy, a tragedy occurred. Nadav and Avihu, sons of Aaron the High Priest, got carried away with the spiritual ecstasy of the moment and offered up an illegitimate incense offering to G‑d, leading to their demise. So, during one of the most joyous moments of the newly minted Jewish nation, two corpses lay at the holy site.

Moses had to act quickly—the corpses needed to be removed. So “Moses summoned Mishael and Eltzaphan, the sons of Aaron's uncle Uzziel, and said to them, ‘Draw near; carry your kinsmen from within the Sanctuary to the outside of the camp.’ ”1 Rashi explains, “As a person would say to his fellow [when someone had died at a wedding feast], ‘Remove the deceased from before the bride so as not to disturb the joyous occasion.’ ”2

Why the Relatives?

That the corpses needed to be removed seems reasonable enough. What doesn’t seem so reasonable is the people chosen to carry out the task, Mishael and Eltzaphan—for two reasons:

First, as we read in the verse, they were the deceased’s cousins, making them Levites. Why would Moses ask Levites to carry out the task of removing the bodies? Coming in contact with dead bodies would render them impure and unable to reenter the Tabernacle—effectively slamming the door of ritual service on them for the next several days. Why would Moses deny them that opportunity of being part of the inaugural team of Levites? Why couldn’t he give the job to ordinary Israelites who, regardless, don’t serve in the Temple?

What’s more, they were first cousins of the deceased! Why would he choose such close kin for such a ghastly job?

There Are Many Ways to Serve G‑d

By specifically choosing Levites, and first cousins no less, Moses was broadcasting an important message about what it means to “serve in the Tabernacle”: It’s not only the glamorous jobs of singing, praying or offering sacrifices. Rather, it’s whatever needs to get done. Period. If that means removing corpses, well, then, that’s just as much a form of “service” as swaying in a long robe and singing sublime hymns to the L‑rd.

Mishael and Eltzaphan carried out the job without a word of dissent—amplifying this very message.

Just think about the conflicting emotions that must have been raging through their minds and hearts. Today was the day. Finally, the nation had been brought back into G‑d’s grace and the Divine Presence was manifest in this new, majestic structure. They were joyfully anticipating stepping into the role of divine servant on behalf of the entire people.

How marvelous it must have felt to be gifted with such a task!

And yet, here they were. Uncle Moses had pulled them aside and rendered them undertakers, excluded from the festivities and relegated to tending to two corpses.

And the corpses of two dear first cousins, no less! While the entire nation sang and rejoiced, they were with their departed cousins.

How could anyone undergo such an experience without a wee bit of resentment and reluctance, not to mention grief?

Yet they did it nonetheless. Without any fuss.

How could they do it?

Because they understood that serving G‑d has many formats. One moment you’re singing in the Temple, the next moment you’re removing a corpse to facilitate that singing. Doesn’t matter. Whatever G‑d throws at you, you do. If you like it, amazing. If not, well, then, you relish the opportunity to do something for G‑d, not yourself.

Dancing at the Waste Bucket

There’s a well-known chassidic tale of two holy brothers, Rabbi Elimelech of Lizhensk and Rabbi Zusha of Anipoli, who were thrown in jail one night on some trumped-up charge. When they noticed an overflowing trash pail in the corner of the room, they realized they would not be able to pray, for it is forbidden to do so in the presence of such filth.

Reb Elimelech was distraught. His brother Zusha turned to him and said, “Elimelech, why are you down? The same G‑d who instructed us to pray, instructed us that we cannot do so in the presence of filth. Tonight, we are serving G‑d by not praying!”

With that, the two brothers joined hands and burst into song and dance at their newfound opportunity for divine service.

They understood the same thing Mishael and Eltzaphan understood: G‑d doesn’t need you to serve Him in one particular way. There are many ways, and if we treasure the Being whom we serve, it doesn’t matter what specific method is on the menu for today. You may very well never understand why today’s connection to G‑d is through tending to crying children and why tomorrow’s calling is helping a random friend whose car broke down—but it really doesn’t matter. The main thing is that in the larger scheme of things, you’re doing your part in fulfilling G‑d’s master plan.

So if you’re struggling to come to terms with various parts of Judaism, if you’re trying to appreciate why it’s so important to do certain things or why it’s so wrong to do others, remember the noble acts of Mishael and Eltzaphan along with those two dancing rabbis at the waste bucket: everything is just another way to connect with G‑d and do your part of the master plan.

And what can be more divine than carrying out G‑d’s master plan?