Needing to know why a catastrophe strikes can be less about confronting reality than escaping
The weekly Torah portion features the sudden, unexpected deaths of Aaron’s sons, Nadav and
Abihu. The Haftarah follows up with the death of Uzzah, who was struck down while attempting
to do the right thing – he touched the holy ark in an attempt to save it from sliding off its cart into
the mud. Over the centuries, commentators have asked why and offered explanations. None of
them are terribly convincing. It seems the explanations for ultimate loss are never as good as
the question why bad things are allowed to happen in the first place.
Nadav and Abihu entered with the intent to worship and serve and they died. A midrash protests
that the Roman general Titus entered the Holy of Holies in order to desecrate it and then he was
promoted to emperor. If death and good fortune are arbitrary, what does life mean?
Our pious ancestors were forced to accept the reality that righteousness does not protect us. In
our more secular age, we substitute minding our health and fitness. We learn with dismay that
despite our best efforts, there are no guarantees. Years ago, upon learning that someone I
know had fallen seriously ill or worse, I would ask, “What caused it?” I stopped when I realized
that what I subconsciously wanted to hear was a reason to believe the sad circumstances would
not apply to me. Reassurance is a false comfort when it is more about escaping reality than
confronting it.
B’Yedidut (in friendship)