We love to find relevance and connection between current events and life experiences and the Torah portion(s) of the week. So first, here’s something important that happened in our Jewish campus community this week and then we’ll connect it (albeit imperfectly) to the Torah portion of this week: Acharei & Kedoshim.

Those on UAlbany’s Kosher Meal Plan this 2020-2021 are familiar with the ordering system (no later than each Friday at noon!) and the pickup system at Campus Center’s 518 Store. This week, at a meeting discussing much needed improvements to the meals (which thankfully seems to be fast-tracked now, finally, thanks to new people involved, hopefully with much better results) there was another discussion at that Zoom meeting about some very significant discrepancies between the orders and pickups. 

A) Some students have a closely aligned order and pickup ration.
B) Some students have much higher orders and far less pickups.
C) Some students have very low order numbers and much higher pickups.

The campus dining people don’t like when these ratios are out of whack. In some cases there was a 60% or higher discrepancy between orders and pickups! They’d really like them to be much more closely aligned: the orders and the pickups. Obviously, improvements to the meals will help with the pickup rate, but there are other factors, too.  It is important for the success and future of the Kosher meal plan that we up both orders and pickups and make sure they are aligned. 

So in addition to this being a practical message to students: C students please sign up and order! B students please be sure to pickup those meals! And A students keep doing what you are doing… there’s also a symbolic and life-relevant message here. But first the Parsha piece, with a Chassidic take:

Why did Nadav & Avihu, the two elder sons of Aharon, die when they brought a strange fire into the Temple/Tabernacle? What strange fire did they bring? There are many explanations by biblical commentators. One Chassidic explanation is that death wasn’t a punishment for them, as much as it was a consequence. These two thirsted for G-dliness, they strived and yearned for the spiritual, the holy, they abhorred the mundane and everyday. Their strange fire was “Rotzuy Bli Shuv” a yearning with no returning, seeking spiritual highs in other-worldly ways, they were unable to find G-dliness within our world, within life, in the physical itself. So, they died and went to heaven where all things are spiritual. 

 But that’s not what Judaism is all about! G-d gave us the Torah at Sinai with a mission and purpose to this world. The Tabernacle/Temple itself was built of physical materials to create a revealed dwelling for G-dliness and holiness here on earth. Chassidus greatly emphasizes that the whole purpose of Creation is within and because of this world and its physical nature, not despite it or away from it. 

Using our Kosher Dining example from this week, you might say that Nadav and Avihu were like the students in Group B – much orders: aspirations, hopes, dreams, visions but far less pickups when the meal is actually eaten. And there are Jews who make the opposite error, like Group C – hardly any orders, no dreams, no visions, no spiritual, for them its all about picking up, just the meal itself in hand. Some Jews seek the meaningful spiritual in Judaism, others care only about the physical and practical application. 

But like campus dining, Judaism prefers the style of Group A – a healthy maintained balance between orders and pickups, between spiritual and physical, yearning and returning, a yin and yang both working in tandem, in sync, in harmony.