The portion begins with a horrifying narrative in which Aaron’s son, Nadav and Avihu, are consumed by fire for having brought “incorrect” or “strange” fire to G-d’s altar in the Mishkan. While traditional commentaries suggest that perhaps they were invoking rituals associated with idols, or perhaps drunk during the episode, it sets the stage for a conversation about the importance of the concepts of purity vs. impurity, kosher vs. non-kosher, and holy vs. mundane. All of these are addressed in the rest of the portion.
While the ancient world was certainly familiar (even obsessed) with the division between holy and mundane, we often fail to make the distinction in our own lives. If we consider the number of Jews who perform some form of Kiddush (blessing the wine/grape juice, but literally means “sanctification”) on Friday night compared to the number who mark the Havdalah (ritual marking the end of Shabbat and the return to unsanctified time, literally means “division” or “distinction”), we find far more observance of the entry into Shabbat than the exit back to the regular week.
This is telling – I suspect that most of us find it meaningful and joyful to welcome the end of the work week, and to mark the entry into Shabbat, during which time we will attempt to follow G-d’s model and rest. Ending that time, however, may not be something we eagerly anticipate, as we know that we are leaving an island of family, community, and meaningful ritual meals behind us. Havdalah, however, is a joyful ceremony – it acknowledges that although there is a distinction between holy time and mundane time, most of our lives are spent in the latter, and that we are to find meaning and joy there as well.
This Shabbat, I encourage you to mark both your entry and your exit in ways that you and your family find meaningful. Your children may have interesting or creative ideas for how to do this, or perhaps the traditional rituals are the best fit for you. Ask your children what it feels like to enter or exit Shabbat, and share with them how it makes you feel.