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This week’s Torah portion contains one of the most puzzling events in the Torah. In it, two of Aaron’s sons did something they weren’t supposed to do, and in response God killed them. What did they do? Brought an unsolicited sacrifice before the Lord.

Just a few verses later, God warned Aaron to not get drunk while serving in the Tabernacle, which led many of our sages to assume that the two young men were drunk, thus drawing God’s ire. Drunk or sober, it’s hard to understand why their enthusiasm to sacrifice before God was punished. It doesn’t feel fair.

Aaron didn’t complain, didn’t say a word, at least not until Moses chastised him for not eating a sacred meal that was offered to him. Suddenly, Aaron lashed out angrily. In short, he had been pushed too far.

When we are hurting, it’s hard to see clearly. Little things get blown out of proportion, amplified by pain and hurt. So too when we are overly enthusiastic. We experience a kind of tunnel vision, limiting our understanding of all the circumstances around us.

The philosopher David Hume wrote about the danger of being too enthusiastic, which he saw as a form of over-confidence. As quoted by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Hume wrote that enthusiasm “thinks itself sufficiently qualified to approach the Divinity, without any human mediator… the fanatic consecrates himself and bestows on his own person a sacred character, much superior to what forms and ceremonious institutions can confer on any other.”

Aaron’s sons seemingly thought that they could do what they wanted, regardless of what they had been told by both their father and by God. Now it is easier to see why their enthusiasm was punished. They didn’t pay attention to the rules by which their behavior was bound as spiritual leaders. Instead, they took it upon themselves to perform an unauthorized sacrifice.

Children often dream of the freedom they will experience as adults. They think that, because grown-ups make all the rules, when they reach adulthood they will have the freedom to create their own rules. The transition to the constraints of adulthood can be difficult, as children become teens and young adults and discover that their worlds are as tightly constrained as before, perhaps even more so.

In the end, we learn that the rules can shape our lives but not control them. Follow the rules of the road and you have the freedom to drive anywhere you want. Get a library card and check out the allotted number of books each time, and the world opens up before you.

If you don’t like the rules? Work to change them. Lobby your representatives, run for office yourself, join with like-minded people to change the structure of our society. A well-functioning society has within it the means to make meaningful change.

Running amok like the mob who attacked the U.S. Capitol on January 6 two years ago, isn’t the answer. Neither is taking the law into one’s own hands. This is why I am so deeply opposed to my home state of Florida’s decision to legalize owning and carrying a concealed weapon with no license or training. It is simply too much of a temptation for an angry or overly enthusiastic person to lash out.

Rabbi Sacks comments that, “Enthusiasm, harmless though it might be in some of its manifestations, can quickly become extremism, fanaticism and religiously motivated violence.”

In today’s complex and polarized political landscape where gun violence has become one of our society’s primary scourges, it is especially urgent that over-enthusiasm be tempered by judgement and thoughtfulness. Until then, gun violence, antisemitism, and hatred of the Other will continue to rule the land.

Our political leaders, elected by us, are responsible for addressing these issues. So too are our clergy. Aaron’s sons acted without respect for the rules by which spiritual leaders were bound. Rabbis, imams, priests, and ministers all operate within certain bounds, but within those limitations have the ability to use their roles for good, helping guide our society in the direction of sanity and safety.

May our religious leaders take it upon themselves – upon ourselves – to work for a more just society for all.