This week’s parsha contains two fascinating passages, which shed considerable light on our responsibilities as Jews today.
The first is the odd behaviour of Aaron’s older two sons Nadav and Abihu, who offer “strange fire” to God right after the Almighty has consumed Aaron’s offering.
The sons’ offering is voluntary, not commanded, and God’s response is sudden and violent.
This has given rise to two conflicting opinions of the nature of their offering, either it was arrogant and presumptuous, or it was very holy indeed.
The juxtaposition of the first passage of next week’s parsha (prohibiting service of God whilst drunk) adds another implication, that the sons of Aaron were inebriated.
Shortly after this, there is the passage which details kosher and unclean animals birds and fish.
Rabbi Shimshon Rafael Hirsch ties these two portions together, indicating that submission to the almighty despite the dictates of our personal sentiments should always take precedence, and that this is how we Jews should conduct ourselves, although it may be considered in opposition to the zeitgeist.
Rabbi Levi Yitzhak of Berdichev puts a similar point more succinctly. Just as Moses’ sister Miriam arranged for his mother to feed him and care for him, so God wishes us to follow his rules and feed ourselves accordingly.
Yocheved fed Moses food appropriate for his calling, to be the highest level of prophet.
God wishes us likewise to abstain from impure foods, so that we too can succeed in our mission to be a Nation of Priests and a Holy People.
So much for those who would rationalise our dietary laws, or try to explain how much more healthy they are.
Spiritual requirements, not health, are the primary motives, and scientific thought cannot encompass the real rationale.
Zvi Solomons is rabbi of JCoB.org, the Jewish Community of Berkshire, based in Reading.