Playing Fair: TorahCycle Shemini

ChukatEvery year when this reading rolls around, I feel like the cranky neighbor your parents warned you about when you were a kid, the one shaking my fist and muttering about how unfair life is.

Quick plot summary: Two of Aaron’s sons enter the holy of holies with what we’re told is “strange fire” and are zapped dead. Every year I look in vain for some fine print to make this story more palatable.

The majority of rabbinic commentators assert they were killed for disobeying the rules and regs of priestly behavior. They’re castigated for being young and impetuous, possibly drunk or stoned, and generally impious. A minority offer up the possibility that their eagerness to serve was rewarded by instant graduation to their next next, whether you think that’s heaven or reincarnation.

Every year I ask: Short of harming a living being, how the *&%$^&%* can there be any wrong way to pray? To honor creation? To give praise and thanks, or even to ask for help?  That covers most of our convos with the invisible divine. It would be a short life if we got zapped for them.

There’s an old Groucho Marx line about not wanting to belong to any club that would admit him. My corollary: I don’t wanna belong to any religion that believes there’s only one right way to do things. That goes for fundamentalists of every stripe, from spiritual dogmatists, to food or fashion police, or any my-way-or-the-highway true believers.

One of the questions I asked in a recent class was, What are your personal spiritual values? Some of mine: I believe in goodness, and our individual and collective right and responsibility to practice goodness often. We should be trying to find and follow paths that heal what is hurt or broken in ourselves and others, paths that help make us more whole and holy.

It’s the logical extension of Think globally, act locally. You’re as local as it gets.

In the new Cosmos, Neil deGrasse Tyson did a great job of locating earth and humanity in space/time. We have a similar responsibility–each cellular constellation of you and me–to navigate our holy spark through the same cosmos.

We may just be teeny specks in a gigantic universe, but we are conscious and holy ones. Our prayers are an instinctive desire to connect with other holy sparks. It doesn’t matter much to me if they are human or divine. We’re intrinsically good and should treat ourselves and others as though we are. We all deserve that.

Being human means we’re fallible and prone to all manner of blowing it, from putting self-interest first to inconsistency, denial, or fear. So despite our best hopes, we don’t always choose the right path. But most of us are trying to get it right, or at least better, and our enthusiasm shouldn’t be so harshly punished.

I have a friend who leaps into exercise regimens with vigor and passion, though sadly without stretching. She cycles through workout-injury-recuperation (the sound track is exultation-anger-frustration). But she’s trying. Hard.

The moral I want from this story is that every nanosecond of trying is good and worth it, no matter the short-run outcomes. Teach your soul to play the long game and believe it’s worth doing.