In the Torah portion we read on this Sabbath, two sons of Aaron (Nadab and Abihu), take it upon themselves to present their own personal offerings to God. Each of them offers a fire pan to God as kind of sacrifice. God’s response is shocking. God rejects their sacrifices and zaps them on the spot.
The premise of this ancient story seems to suggest that innovations and new ways of doing things are not always welcome. The truth is that human beings are creatures of habit. We like what we know, and we know what we like. Therefore, changes in rituals and customs (like the strange fires of Nadab and Abihu) are often met with resistance.
This past year, as we have slowly returned to in-person worship, I have heard plenty of comments regarding some of the melodies we have been singing and rituals we have been performing. As if we are presenting a modern form of “strange fire,” some folks have asked:
When did we start doing THAT?
What happened to my favorite melody of (insert prayer here)?
Why don’t we do THIS anymore?
In truth, worship at HCRJ continues to be led in much the same way as it has been in the past. Most of our melodies are the same, and most of our practices have not changed. That said, we have consciously expanded our repertoire of song and ritual to meet the spiritual needs of a broader number of participants.
For those who may not attend services regularly, the result can be a bit jarring, especially if you come on a week that does not include your favorite melodies. When this happens, the worship experience can feel a bit like the “strange fire” of Nadab and Abihu.
HCRJ is committed to working toward a day when every melody we use stirs the soul and every ritual we offer warms the heart. This takes time, patience and an open mind. As we work together to shape our communal worship, I promise to be very conscious of the pitfalls of the “strange fire” we find in our Torah portion this week.