In this week’s portion, Achrei Mot- Kedoshim, we read, “God spoke to Moses after the death of Aaron’s two sons, when they approached before God, and they died” (Leviticus 16:1). It immediately goes on to the discussion on the ritual sacrifices for the Day of Atonement. Aaron will take two he-goats that are exactly the same. There will be a lottery to determine which one will be for God as a sin offering and which one will be sent to Azazel providing atonement. Why is this ritual lottery introduced by recapping the death of Aaron’s sons?
On the surface, Aaron’s sons Nadav and Avihu were killed because they brought a strange fire (Leviticus 10). One reason might have been because they were drunk. Another alternative was that they did nothing wrong; death was just a consequence for their getting close to God. We will never know what their motives were, let alone if the two brothers shared the same motive. All we know is that they both died.
To this end, it is interesting to frame the ritual death of the two he-goats by the deaths of Aaron’s two sons. The idea of a lottery determining the ends of your life is inherently unsettling. Can there be any meaning in two identical goats having different roles? Can there be any meaning in the death of your children? We seek to find meaning in our existence, which is betrayed by the very notion of luck.
This past Friday was the anniversary of the Virginia Tech shooting. It is hard to think about that tragedy without recalling how the media kept sharing the shooter’s “manifesto”. At that time we were desperate to understand his motives. It is disgusting to realize that this sort of publicity creates a marketplace of fame that encourages deranged people to do horrible acts. We must be very mindful in our search for meaning that we do not make anyone the scapegoat. Sometimes things are better left unexplained.