| Parshah |

Braking Point

The Kohein Gadol could only achieve forgiveness for the nation if he followed the protocols


“And Hashem spoke to Moshe after the death of Aharon’s two sons, when they drew near before Hashem and died.” (Vayikra 16:1)


January 2010: Chrysler recalls 24,000 vehicles due to a defective brake part that could cause sudden unexpected failure.

February 2010: Toyota recalls nine million Prius models worldwide following reports of fatal accidents involving potentially defective Toyota brakes. 

March 2010: Honda recalls 412,000 vehicles due to soft brakes that have caused accidents.

These reports remind me of an anecdote that Rabbi Yaakov Galinsky shared. He noticed a sign posted on the bus: “Driver, check your brakes before beginning to drive.”

“Tell me,” he asked the driver, “Is this sign for people too?”

Every person travels a road in life. Our brakes are our power of restraint to avoid wrongdoing. How many “accidents” happen because people fail to test their brakes before they get onto that road in life? (Rabbi Doniel Staum, Stam Torah)

My car and I have a great relationship. We know each other’s quirks and perks and appreciate one another. Thus, it was a frustrating nuisance when said respected car gave a groan and decided it needed a week’s stay at a car spa, a.k.a. the mechanic. Still, respecting such needs and all, I dropped it off for its four-wheeled furlough and headed to the nearest Rent-a-Wreck.

Based on that story, we can understand why, before discussing the Kohein Gadol’s Yom Kippur service, the Torah invokes the tragic death of Aharon’s sons. The Torah is conveying a vital lesson we can learn from Nadav and Avihu. In their unyielding excitement and burning desire to serve Hashem, they performed an act that had not been authorized by Hashem. But it’s not within our purview to compose our own laws; we must adhere to exactly what Hashem commands. 

I tried not to grumble at the inconvenience and discomfort. Sitting behind the wheel of my own car feels like sliding into a comfortable old slipper, but this rental was just plain old, without the comfort. I adjusted the mirror, pulled into traffic, and soon we were plugging along. Until the first traffic light. Seeing the red ahead, I stepped on the brakes. Nothing happened. I pressed harder. Zero. I realized with split-second clarity that this thing was not braking, and I careened into the intersection with my hand on the horn and Shema on my lips.

Before Aharon could be instructed about the Yom Kippur service, he needed to internalize this concept. On the holiest day of the year, the holiest man in the world was to enter the holiest place on earth. At such an intense moment, he may be seized with such feelings of devotion and love to G-d that he may want to do more than what he was instructed. Thus, the Torah reminds us of Nadav and Avihu. The Kohein Gadol must remember that he’d only be able to achieve penitence and forgiveness for the nation if he followed the prescribed protocols.

One must ensure that he understands his own boundaries governing his personal actions. He must be able to “step on the brakes” when it comes to the trends of the times to be able to achieve greatness.

There were hair-raising sounds of screeches, horns, and screaming, and then there I was, stopped against the opposite curb, unscathed (except for losing a few years in shock).

A crowd quickly gathered. While I took the raging reactions of fellow drivers in stride, I was raging myself at the rental-car company. What kind of business could rent a car with no brakes?

Getting them on the phone was a hassle. Getting them to send another car was impossible. I left their brakeless wreck on the side of the road and took a taxi home. I was finished for the day.

And the next day and the next, until my own car companion was safely back home. As I slid into the seat, I gave a sigh of relief. Despite its age, its scratches, and its dyspeptic battery that needs to be coddled and cosseted, I offered a prayer of thanks Above for returning my wheels.

Sometimes you gotta be shaken out of complacency to realize Hashem’s always there giving you a break.

 (Originally featured in Family First, Issue 739)

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