The first part of Leviticus 10 relates the incident of the sudden death of Aaron’s oldest sons, Nadab and Abihu, as well as what happened in the aftermath of that tragedy. These two men appear to offer some kind of unauthorized offering involving fire. Unexpectedly fire seems to come from God and consumes them. Moses offers an ambiguous explanation. The text then explains that ‘Aaron was silent’ (Lev. 10:3). Moses calls upon some near relatives to remove the bodies. He gives certain orders to Aaron and his remaining sons. Late in the chapter Moses loses his temper and needs to be restrained.
There are several lessons learned from this chapter in Leviticus. Accidents, traumatic events, tragedies, disasters come unexpectedly. The unthinkable happens. Even if we are well-meaning, and we want to offer comfort, it is too easy to say something which is either blatantly hurtful, or which is completely inappropriate in the circumstances. Biblical figures are often good role models, but they are also humans; they make mistakes. On one hand, Moses takes charge, but mixed in with some good decisions, he speaks unsuitably. Finally, when he himself is overwhelmed and loses his temper, Moses accepts that he has erred, that he has not practiced good self-care, and he allows himself to be reproved. Traumas/disasters can appear in many forms. While there are differing definitions of what constitute trauma/disaster/crisis/stress, they clearly are interrelated. Likewise, Compassion Fatigue and Burnout often have similar symptoms. There are many ways one can effectively practice self-care including proper nutrition, exercise, rest, and counseling. There are both do’s and don’ts when offering spiritual care to others. First and foremost, however, self-care is paramount; you have to be well to offer proper help to others.
Elul is a month given to us to reflect and prepare for the High Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. It is a month where we try to take account of our lives, so that we might make the most of this powerful time of renewal, regeneration, fresh starts and healing.
This year our daily Elul Thoughts are taken from ‘Terror, Trauma and Tragedy’, edited by Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain and Rabbi David Mitchell. Each is a short extract of a larger piece designed to help us find meaning, comfort or perhaps more questions in the aftermath of horrific events, which have seemed all too frequent this year. The horror of such atrocities can leave us in confusion, depression and fear. As we move into a new year we hope these pieces might variously offer some solace, be a tool of self-reflection, and encourage us to continue working for a better world.