Parshas Shemini
Leviticus 9:1 - 11:47

The Mistake Of A Lifetime ©
Thoughtlessly Unprepared

By Dr. Akiva G. Belk

This study of the weekly parsha is dedicated in the loving memory of Ms. Fredriqua Ann Brown, may she rest in peace.

Judaism is a very old religion. Our traditions have deep, deep roots, thank G-d! Our heritage of decades, centuries and millennia are wells filled with delightful blessings. Those that choose to visit these wells often, drinking in their many lessons of Talmud, Gematria, Torah, Midrash, etc. will avoid many problems in life. The seforim of Chach Maw, wisdom, are road maps to guide and protect each of us in our daily existence.

Some of us ignore the Creator's "How To" books of instruction and direction. They have little meaning to us directly. They meant something to our father and even much more to our grandfather. We do not benefit from their cool, tasty waters. We don't engage in the learning they have to offer us. We don't use the maps they offer us.

We travel the roads of life drawing our own maps. Our growth is stunted! We prefer to learn by our own errors as opposed to learning for several hours each week in a Gemara or Torah study. We suffer unnecessarily for this! We miss important road signs. We get lost! Normally our mistakes are not fatal but sometimes they are, G-d forbid!

We have the advantage of thousands of years of combined learning and analyzing that two very good young men did not have. We have the opportunity to benefit from others' mistakes that Nadab and Avihu did not have. Our lives do not need to be a maiden cruise as theirs was. There is no need for us to travel unprepared!

We suffer when we travel unprepared. Often Hashem is not honored / glorified by our actions because they are not based upon the Torah. They are misguided! They are undirected! They are flawed with errors. They are doomed!

As a child growing up, my father would say to me, "Son, don't try to tell someone who's done it how to do it."

The Story Of Two Very Successful Realtors
Within the Colorado area there is a realtor who is successful because the economy is flaming and unemployment is very low. Homes are in great demand! He works very hard. He works long hours with limited days off. His office is a mess. His appointment calendar is often lost. He is often looking for something that is misplaced. He dresses casual like it's his day off. He knows that something is amiss; he holds staff meetings, discusses problems, but he cannot figure out just what his problems actually are. He has no business plan. He has no day-to-day road map.

There is another realtor who is considerably more successful because he is extremely organized and proficient. His achievements are not determined by a booming economy. He dresses like a million dollars. His office is tidy. His staff follows his well organized directives. In the real estate industry he is a leader. He is viewed by other realtors as being extremely successful. He has a prestigious track record of accomplishment that few approach. His formula for accomplishment is well known. He doesn't hide it. Other realtors check his web site, literature, office, etc., yet very few pattern their business after him. One can only wonder why... Realtors often are quick to acknowledge little segments of their business they have copied from him. They comment I'm doing this like him... or I want my web site patterned after his...

This realtor prospered in Colorado's bust economy during the 80's when over 15,000 repos were on the market. The other realtor was looking for additional employment then, just to make ends meet.

In a similar way we can accomplish or fail. Today we may be flying high on a wave of prosperity not resulting from our dedicated study of Torah and tomorrow it could be all gone, G-d forbid.

Nadav and Avihu were instructed properly in their responsibilities. They understood! This was not just a "slip up," a simple "accident" or "mishap." Unfortunately their failure was deliberate. It could have been avoided! It might never have happened but it did happen.

In the same way, but on a much lower level, we understand the driving laws in our country, but does that prevent us from speeding, running red lights and weaving in and out of traffic like we are crazy? Each of these are potential dangers and could result in serious injury or death, G-d forbid. Yet for some reason many of us take these types of chances, G-d forbid! Why? What is wrong with us?

The Story Of A Mountain Hiker
In Colorado with our climate, the temperature could drop 40 degrees in an hour. A sharp wind could kick up along with rain or snow with little notice. Residents of Colorado know this. Tourists usually don't! Every year both Colorado residents and tourists die from hypothermia, from exposure resulting from improper clothing and preparation for mountain traveling. These are common sense issues that we just slide by sometimes without a thought. One mistake can lead to another and death can result.

With Nadav and Avihu they began by just drinking a little wine which affected their normally good judgment. With us it's leaving our coat in the car or at the campsite during a mountain hike. Two hours out of camp the wind picks up. Within fifteen minutes the temperature has dropped 15 to 20 degrees. What was 75 degrees is now 55 degrees with a strong wind. We head back to camp. It begins to rain. We pick up the pace. The rain turns to sleet. The temperature is now 35 degrees minus the windchill factor. We are still 30 to 45 minutes from camp even at our rapid pace. The snow increases. In fifteen minutes there are two inches of snow on the ground. The temperature continues to drop. With the heavy snow and the blizzard conditions, our trail has taken on a new image. We have become disoriented, cold, wet to the bone, shivering and lost, G-d forbid. We may be only a hundred yards from our camp, from safety and... perish, G-d forbid! Dear reader, one thoughtless poor choice can have very tragic results! That is what happened to Nadav and Avihu. They knew drinking the wine was a mistake just like speeding, running a red light, weaving in and out of traffic and leaving on a mountain hike without proper clothing.

Yet every year numerous people go to the mountains without proper clothing or even a car blanket. Most of them survive with only the loss of toes, fingers and ears. Yet some like Nadav and Avihu die for their mistakes. They knew better. We know better. What is it within us that allows us to so easily disobey G-d's law, nature's law and our country's laws? Dear reader, this unfortunately happens every year...

The Story Of A Broken Truck
As a young man it was necessary for me to work, driving several local truck routes at night while earning my master's and doctor's degree. Most of the trucks were old bobtails with a 20' to 24' bed operating on propane, gas and diesel fuel. The company constantly struggled to keep these trucks on the road. One afternoon on a steep hill, I pulled up to a stop sign in front of a high school in San Pedro, California. While shifting into first gear, the brakes went Sizzzzz as the pedal went clear to the floor. The truck began to roll backwards towards the car sitting practically on my bumper. I let the clutch out to move forward but the transmission dropped. The bobtail was out of control. There were three choices: Jump out! Ditch the truck over a 15' to 20' foot embankment and risk an explosion of the propane tanks...or ride it backwards out of control five blocks into the ocean.

As this problem was developing a man in a car going the other way pulled up to the stop sign. Later I learned he was a trucker who once years earlier experienced this same type of problem. Immediately he knew what was going on. He jumped from his car ran towards the back of the truck, screaming and motioning at the cars behind me to pull around. They did! I was rolling backwards as each came around me. When the last car cleared I was going 20 miles an hour backwards out of control. The trucker who had been so helpful shouted to me, "Cut 'er right! Take 'er over the embankment!" I did as he said. The truck went down the embankment and crashed into the fence as the rear dualies on my side slid off and the truck came to rest partially on its side. Thank G-d, everyone around was spared. No one was injured. The propane didn't blow.

Yet this could have been a most serious tragedy with cars behind me and high school students all around. Thank G-d it wasn't.

The police were called. A tow truck was called. My company was called for a relief truck. When the police arrived it was obvious to them that a tragedy had been averted by the trucker who came to my aide. He was a real hero. Thank G-d for him. The police did not issue any tickets to me. They determined the accident to be a mechanical failure of the brakes, transmission, etc.

This problem happened because the owners of the company squeezed every cent of profit possible out of their business. They did not reinvest in good equipment. They hired poor mechanics who were constantly forced to jerry rig and patch problems just to keep trucks on the street. People's lives were placed in danger because of this accident. They knew it was wrong yet they did it time and time again. As a result they began purchasing new trucks.

Now the point to this is there is a right way and a wrong way to do things. For the areas that seem gray we have rabbium to assist us in determining what to do.

We should not think that on the maiden voyage, the first service, in the Mishkon that Aharon's son were ill prepared for their responsibilities as this company's truck mechanics were. We should not think that what they did was a series of thoughtless errors as in the case of the first real estate broker. They knew better than to wander from camp without their coats, yet they did it so to speak.

No! What unfortunately happened was they made deliberate choices that were wrong. It was wrong to drink wine while serving in the Mishkon. It is evident that their intoxication resulted in two additional wrong decisions, bringing strange fire and attempting to usurp Moshe Rabbeinu's authority.

They paid with their lives.

Have you ever run out of gas? Has your vehicle ever broken down because you put off necessary maintenance? Have you ever said to your children, "Don't go outside without your shoes" but done it yourself?

The point is many of us daily ignore things that we really believe are important for us, for our spouse and for our children. This is what Nadav and Avihu did.

We can learn from their tragedy. Studying the logic of Talmud and pathways of Torah can help us be thoughtful, careful and diligent in our actions. Following thousands of years of accumulated wisdom from our sages offers a net of safety and protection from many mistakes. Dear reader, it is so worthwhile.

Wishing you the best as we travel towards Pesach,

Dr. Akiva G. Belk

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