Rabbi Yonatan Rosensweig
Former Rosh Kollel Melbourne (2006-2009)
Currently Community Rabbi in Beit Shemesh


When Good Intentions are not enough

This week, in both the parsha and the haftara, we are confronted with an uncomfortable truth: contrary to popular wisdom, it is not the thought that counts. In the parsha we read about Nadav and Avihu, who wanted to get closer to Hashem, and their desire resulted in bringing an unauthorized offering, and the disastrous consequence of their deaths. While the commentaries differ as to what exactly their sinful act was, at the end of the day it is clear that the offering itself was brought in good faith – and yet…
In the haftara we read of King David who brought the Holy Ark into Jerusalem, and at some point during the festivities it almost falls off the wagon which it was on. Uzza, who reached out to save the Holy Ark from falling off the wagon, suffered death as a result of his actions. Here, too – and in fact in a more pronounced scenario than the previous one – it is clear that his intention was nothing but noble and true, and yet once again…

In both these cases the thought was an admirable one, but it seems the action taken was unacceptable, and in fact blasphemous on some level. So much so that these individuals suffered death for their actions.
However, despite the clear divine response to these actions, the human response seems somewhat contradictory. Moshe seems to say that Hashem chose Nadav and Avihu because they were indeed closer to him and holier than others. David, too, refuses to bring the Ark to Jerusalem under the circumstances of Uzza's death. It seems that while Hashem branded these individuals as having done something negative, Moshe and David insist on seeing them in a positive light. How do we explain this discrepancy?

I believe that the Torah is telling us that we need to differentiate between a divine outlook and a human outlook on any given situation. It may be that touching the Ark or bringing an unauthorized offering was unacceptable when looking at it from God's perspective. It is possible that when dealing with delicate spiritual situations, everything has to be just so, and must be planned out to the tiniest detail. Meaning well just isn't enough, and consequences are bound to follow. The divine response is thus justified.
However, from a human perspective, we don't have to be so critical. More than that: we cannot afford to be. From our perspective it is certainly possible – and, in fact, proper – to differentiate between mistaken actions and unlawful intentions. If the intentions were good, while they may have caused disaster, they should be respected and given their due. Moshe and David understood this. It was not their job to take on the divine outlook, but rather to respond in an entirely and genuinely human way to the events.

It is not our job to be God. It is our job to be people, to care for each other and try to see the good that resides within us. Being critical is easy, going to extremes is easy. But Hashem made sure to leave us with the difficult tasks.