Parashat Shemini

Role Models For Leadership

The deaths of Aaron's sons Nadav and Avihu remind us of the need for leaders who connect with the people.

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Establishing Precedent

Looking to the context of the whole Torah portion, in Shemini God establishes precedent for the Israelites. The Tabernacle is set up, the rules for priests explained and the laws of Kashrut delineated. Priests and sacrifices served an important communal purpose for the Israelites. Through sacrifice the Israelites atoned for both individual and societal sins, assuring the smooth function of the society.

There is no room in such a system for priests consumed with a private passion for God. The priestly role cannot be separated from the people. God's ambiguous comment explains this, and makes Nadav and Avihu negative examples of priestly behavior. God says "I will be sanctified through those who are nearest me, thus I will be honored before the entire people."

Those nearest to God, the priests, must sanctify God only in the communal context. They cannot alienate themselves and offer God a passion that separates them from the community. Priests must function as spiritual intermediaries, and through this action God will have honor They must teach the Israelites to connect to their God and to their heritage, and in doing so they unite the entire community and glorify God.

Nadav and Avihu failed by removing themselves from the important community capacity as teachers and role models. The Jewish people still need leaders to connect the past with the present and to serve as positive examples of behavior.

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Michelle Wasserman

Michelle Wasserman is an associate at Cooley Godward Kronish. She received her JD from Harvard Law School in 2007. She served as President of the Harvard Jewish Law Students Association and a member of the Harvard International Law Journal.