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Permissionless

The Mishkan was the focal point of spirituality and connection, and its inauguration was a cause for celebration marked by a seven-day ceremony, but the celebration was marred by tragedy. Ahron’s eldest sons, Nadav and Avihu, broke protocol and presented sacrificial offerings of their own; they died instantly.

Their loss was devastating far beyond their immediate family; they were more than the beloved children of Ahron, who was the heart and soul of the Jewish People. Our sages suggest that they were perhaps even greater than Moshe and Aaron in some regards; they were primed to lead the next generation but never got their chance.

The Torah doesn’t shy away from criticism; its silence about why they deserved to die is deafening, and our sages suggest possible explanations to fill the gap.

In one such teaching, Nadav and Avihu were liable because they would wonder when the old men would die; then, they could finally take Moshe and Ahron’s place and lead the Jewish People.

R’ Noach Weinberg teaches that their fatal flaw was not in speculating about the great men’s deaths but in their waiting and not acting sooner.

They saw opportunities to make a difference, and rather than act, they waited, squandering all the time and opportunities they had along the way. In touch with the young people in a way the older generation could never be, they perceived a sense of deficiency or lack that they never took ownership of or stepped in to solve; they just sat back and waited for their turn. Their fundamental error was the mistaken belief that you are only responsible for fixing a problem once you have permission or authority.

The correct approach is to understand that responsibility begins the moment you become aware of the problem’s existence. In other words, there is no hierarchy to responsibility; you don’t need anyone’s permission. Take ownership of the issues you perceive around you and confront them regardless of your position, resources, or abilities.

R’ Noach Weinberg encourages us to live with and take to heart our sages’ teaching that the world was created for us. Each of us is obligated to view the world as our personal responsibility, which requires no permission to step in and save; when something is your responsibility, the notion of waiting for permission is absurd.

As R’ Shlomo Farhi teaches, the questioning self-doubt of who you are to step up is mistaken; instead, ask who you are not to share whatever gifts you have been entrusted with because your resources and abilities aren’t yours to withhold from the world.

Our sages implore us not to wait for the perfect moment that might never come – שֶׁמָּא לֹא תִפָּנֶה.

Take responsibility for the world you see.

If you have something to share with the world, share it. If you can build, build. If you can lead, lead.

Everyone has something to share with others, and the bar for making a positive difference in people’s lives is not high.

What’s doubly sad about the incident with Nadav and Avihu is that the Torah’s narratives don’t even support their error. We know that Yisro initiated a judicial overhaul that Moshe adopted without debate because it was a good idea on its merits. In a later incident, Yehoshua was alarmed when Eldad and Medad prophesied in the camp, but Moshe was secure with their greatness and wished for more like them. He regularly complained about being exhausted and overwhelmed with his leadership position and needed more help. He was the most humble of all men; we have every indication that, in all likelihood, Nadav and Avihu’s initiatives would have been welcomed and celebrated, but they kept to themselves and didn’t share.

Knowledge must be shared. If we waited until we knew everything, no one teach. As our morning prayers affirm, part of learning is teaching – לִלְמֹד וּלְלַמֵּד.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe famously built a distributed worldwide network of teachers empowered by the lesson that if all you knew was the letter Aleph, find all the people who don’t yet know it and teach them.

If the universe has made you aware of something others have missed, that is permission enough to at least attempt to make a difference. People out there need your help; the clock is ticking.

Nadav and Avihu waited their turn; their turn never came.

Don’t wait.