Burnout and soul resuscitation


Chapter 10 of the Book of Leviticus in our Torah begins with a description of the death of Aaron’s two sons Nadav and Abihu. The text reads that a “fire came forth from the Lord and consumed them; thus they died before the Lord (10:2).” And then in verse five, the cousins of Nadav and Abihu carry their bodies out of the camp for burial. Our sages ask the question if the two were consumed by fire, how then, were their clothed bodies carried out from the camp?

One possible answer the sages argue is it that the fire entered the nostrils of the two brothers and burned out their souls leaving their bodies intact. The sages interpret this as a spiritual death.

Is it possible to be alive and spiritually dead at the same time? How many individuals do we know who could be considered “walking dead people;” people who are numb to the world around them or devoid of any sensitive spirit? Materialism and secularism encourage us to believe that “things” — buying them and owning them — will make us happy and will be our salvation. How many people do we know who seem to “have everything” and yet continue to be unhappy in life? Judaism suggests that there’s more to living that acquiring things; that there is more to living than surviving day to day. We are a part of a story, and from that story, we are given a mission. Our story tells us that our presence in the world matters; that if we cease to exist, the world will be the lesser for it. Our mission is to bring healing and repair to our broken and incomplete world. Our tradition reminds us that repairing the world oftentimes begins with bringing healing and repair to our own lives; breathing new life into souls gasping for air.

To continue our story for another generation and to make the world a better place we begin by nurturing our souls and our spirits as well as our bodies. To allow ourselves to die a spiritual death is a waste; a waste of the human gifts given to us by God. Study of Torah, ritual and prayer, and acts of righteousness and loving kindness are what we do to nurture our minds and our souls. The Temple and synagogue are the places were we learn to teach and do these things. All human beings are religious; it is simply a question of affiliation.

Approximately six months following the celebration of the Festival of Freedom, the Festival a Passover, we will spend the day of Yom Kippur in fasting and reflection. Approximately six months from now, among the other questions of the day, we will ask ourselves: have I frequented the house of study? Did I stand silent in the presence of injustice? Did I turn a deaf ear to my brother’s call for help? Did I let yet another opportunity to love and be loved needlessly slip away?

During these days of counting the Omer, let us be mindful of the fact that there is yet time to do the right thing.

Rabbi Joshua Taub of Temple Emanuel prepared this week’s Torah Portion.