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Vayikra/Leviticus 10:6 You shall not bare your heads, nor shall you tear your garments - then you shall not die
The choice of two similar sounding verbs in Moshe's instruction to Aharon and his two sons is no accident; the Hebrew text delights in using sound as an active component of its delivery. While the second verb - , the Qal 2mp form of the root , to rend or tear - is straightforward to parse and translate, the first verb , also in Qal 2mp form, offers opportunity for debate. It comes from the root and Davidson lists a number of possible meanings and specimen verses: to free or exempt from punishment; to free or deliver; to let go loose, in a state of disorder; to neglect or reject; to make bare. The New JPS Tanakh agrees with the translation above: "Do not bare your heads";Targum Onkelos, the ESV and NIV chose, "Do not let your hair become unkempt"; Ibn Ezra, supported by the NASB and favour "Do not uncover your heads". Baruch Levine combines them by commenting, "The sense of the Hebrew verb is 'to dishevel' the hair. Such an act of mourning obviously involved baring the head." Gersonides adds, "They are not to let their hair grow out nor rend their clothes, because the priests may not enter to serve G-d looking disheveled" (cited by Michael Carasik. From this text, the ancient Rabbis deduced that non-priestly mourners should not cut their hair: "A mourner is forbidden to cut his hair, because since the Divine Law ordained the sons of Aaron: Let not the hair of your heads go loose, we infer that for everybody else [cutting the hair] is forbidden" (b. Mo'ed Katan 14b). More, "Rabbi Tahlifa ben Abimi said, as reporting Samuel, A mourner who did not let his hair grow long and did not rend his clothes is guilty of a mortal offence" (b. Mo'ed Katan 24a).
Are Aharon and his two surviving sons are not to show any signs of mourning over Nadab and Abihu who have just been consumed by the fire of HaShem for bringing "strange fire" before Him? Some chapters later, the Torah declares that "The priest who is exalted above his fellows, on whose head the anointing oil has been poured and who has been ordained to wear the vestments, shall not bare his head or rend his vestments. He shall not go in where there is any dead body; he shall not defile himself even for his father or mother. He shall not go outside the sanctuary and profane the sanctuary of his G-d, for upon him is the distinction of the anointing oil of his G-d" (Vayikra 21:10-12, JPS). TheRamban explains that our text above "is a command to Aharon and his sons not to leave the sanctuary or interrupt the days of their consecration lest they die - 'do not go outside the entrance of the Tent of Meeting, lest you die, for the L-RD's anointing oil is upon you' (10:7, JPS) for that would profane the sanctuary". The Rashbam and the Sforno agree that although the very tightest restrictions normally apply only to the High Priest, in this situation, since they were anointed together, on the same day, they do apply to Elazar and Ithamar. The Rashbam visualises Moshe saying, "Even though you are ordinary priests and not commanded to avoid mourning as is the High Priest, on this day your status is the same as that of the High Priest in future years. And why? Because the L-rd's anointing oil is upon you. You are being anointed anew, along with your father the High Priest 'on whose head the anointing oil has been poured' (21:10) and at this moment all the same rules [of 21:10-12] apply to you as well as to him".
This seems almost inhuman, not to grieve when two of your sons (or two of your brothers) die together in front of your very own eyes. Doesn't this hurt? Friedman explains, "Their pain is a reminder that the standard for leaders is tougher than for others. According to the Torah, leaders do not get away with more because of their positions. Priests, prophets, kings, rabbis, presidents: they suffer harder consequences."Rashi offers what appears on the surface to be a somewhat callous comment: "But you, do not disturb the rejoicing of the Omnipresent", with the Artscroll super-commentators suggesting that an outward sign of mourning would disturb HaShem's rejoicing over the inauguration of the Mishkan. Keep a stiff upper lip chaps - the show must go on!
Samson RaphaelHirsch offers a more reasonable explanation: "Just as Vayikra 21:10 forbids the Cohen HaGadol, even at the death of his nearest relations, so here Aharon and his sons are forbidden to display grief at this case of death. While cutting and tearing to show the loss of the deceased in a very physical way are commanded for all others by Jewish law, the Cohen HaGadol is not to display this because he is G-d's representative ... G-d knows no death; in Him past generations live on and all the coming ones blossom. Immortality in this world and the next, on this and the other side of the grave, is what the Cohen HaGadol, whose forehead proclaims, 'Holy to the L-rd', has to preach, since no absolute loss has occurred." The High Priest cannot grieve as G-d does not grieve; he must reflect what G-d sees.
We have to consider what the people would have seen if Aharon had shown public signs of mourning. Would they have seen simply grief over death, or would they have seen sorrow at G-d's actions in taking the lives of the deceased? Could that in turn be seen as disapproval G-d and supporting or excusing the sin of Nadab and Abihu? Might simple mourning turn to anger and open criticism of G-d by those who had just been anointed to be closest to Him? Aharon is both G-d's representative among the Israelites and the Israelites' representative before G-d, carrying their names on his shoulders. How can he give even the slightest sign of regret or dissent about what G-d has done? When Job was afflicted in his body by Satan, his wife rebuked him: "His wife said to him, 'You still keep your integrity! Blaspheme G-d and die!'" (Job 2:9, JPS). "What's the point in saying nothing?", she asks, "You need to let your emotions out and say things as they are!" But Job knows that blaming or criticising G-d will accomplish nothing and would, on the contrary, be sin in G-d's eyes: "He said to her, 'You talk as any shameless woman might talk! Should we accept only good from God and not accept evil?' For all that, Job said nothing sinful" (v. 10, JPS).
We must be careful that we are not seen as judging G-d's word and instructions. James tells us that "The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is only one lawgiver and judge, He who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbour?" (James 4:11-12, ESV). Our attitudes, particularly in our interactions with other people, show whether we are are serious about submitting to G-d's law, humbling ourselves before Him, or whether we think that we know better and are in a position to judge others. If we judge others, we are saying that we know better than G-d and we put ourselves above His word.
If Aharon and his sons are warned not to disobey G-d, not to even suggest in their words and conduct that they disagree with or disapprove of G-d's commands and actions, lest they die because they have been anointed to serve Him with oil, what does that say to us - we who as believers in Messiah Yeshua have been anointed with the Holy Spirit - about our actions, attitudes and words? Yeshua told the disciples, "Do not fear those who kill the body but are powerless to kill the soul. Rather, fear Him who can destroy both soul and body in Gei-Hinnom" (Matthew 10:28, CJB). We have to rise above political correctness and be bold to proclaim the truth of the gospel and the reason for the currently rising tide of world darkness. We have to guard our body language and facial expressions so that we are consistent in what we say and show to others, so that we don't bring G-d and His word into disrepute. Yeshua said, "I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned" (12:36-37, ESV).
God brings discipline and challenge into our lives so that we may grow. James exhorts us to "Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing" (James 1:2-4, NASB). This is a sign of our sonship (Hebrew 12:7) and we are to learn obedience under His hand that cannot be learnt in any other way. By submitting joyfully and always giving honour and praise to G-d, we bring glory to His name and act as a beacon for Him, drawing others to participate in life and discipleship within the kingdom of G-d.
Further Study: Joshua 22:17-19; Hebrews 12:7-11; 1 Peter 1:7
Application: How do you cope with disappointments and challenges in your life? Do you thank G-d for providing a way for you to grow, or do you sulk and look down in the mouth because you don't have what you want? Perhaps an attitude adjustment is called for as we realise what is happening to us and the effect it has on others!
© Jonathan Allen, 2013
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