Shemini: Nadav, Avihu and the Banana Peel
It was the indignity of the whole thing that really got to him.
It was not the first bone in his body that David had broken. When he was ten years old he fell from his bicycle and fractured his left radius bone. When he was fifteen he broke the third metatarsal of his right foot during a fall in a soccer game and needed a cast for six weeks. But this was different. This was embarrassing.
He had been delivering food for Tomchei Shabbos for years, and other than straining his back once before Pesach, when the boxes were particularly heavy, David had never sustained an injury while performing this particular mitzvah. That was, until this past Wednesday. He didn’t pull a muscle in his back this time. Nor did he slip on ice while carrying a box of groceries to his car. No, that would have been merciful.
Did it have to be a banana peel?
According to the orthopedist, it was a Salter Three fracture of his left tibia, midshaft. The bone displacement had been significant. David didn’t understand the medical jargon, but he knew that the x-ray looked horrible, that it required placement of a pin to repair it, and that he would be flat on his back for one to two weeks.
Any other fruit or vegetable would have been preferable. He could have tripped on an apple perhaps, or stumbled over a red pepper. Maybe someone could have left a tomato in his path. But a banana it was.
Even the orthopedist had chuckled when he first heard the story.
“What’s wrong, Mr. Schwartz, not peeling well?”
And Doctor Kaplan was supposed to be professional about these things!
The first day of his confinement, David had amused himself with computer games and television. But by day two he was becoming antsy. He laid in his room and stared at the ceiling. He was tired of reading and couldn’t stare at his computer anymore. At first he didn’t want to see anyone, but by day three he agreed to visits by friends. The one condition was that they couldn’t mention that yellow fruit. You know, the one that starts with “b” and ends with “a.” If they did, he would immediately eject them from his apartment.
His friends Yossi and Chaim tried not to mention the dreaded yellow fruit when they stopped by. They did, however, come to his apartment dressed in full gorilla suits (they used them for shtick at weddings). David had turned a bright shade of red, but he allowed them to stay. He was really bored.
They spoke for a while about sports. The Knicks. The Nets. Spring training for the Yankees. They even talked politics. If Yossi wasn’t mistaken, there was a presidential election going on. Then they started to run out of things to discuss. That’s when Chaim did it. He couldn’t help himself.
“Who’s there?” Yossi asked.
“Chaim, I’m warning you,” David admonished.
“Orange,” Chaim said.
“Orange you glad I didn’t say banana?”
They burst into laughter. David remained silent.
“Oh come on!” Chaim said. “Admit it! It’s funny. You can’t not talk about slipping on a banana peel. It’s like the thousand pound gorilla in the room.”
“Fine,” David said. “Do your worst.”
“Hey Chaim, why do bananas wear sunblock?”
“I don’t know, Yossi, why?
“Because they peel!”
“Good one, Chaim. So what is Beethoven’s favorite fruit? Ba-na-na-na!”*
“So why did the banana go out with the prune? Because he couldn’t find a date!”
“O.K., that’s just not funny,” David pointed out.
“You’re right,” Chaim agreed. “I guess I went one joke too far.”
“Serious slip up,” Yossi agreed.
They continued to joke, but David was not cheering up. Something was obviously bothering him.
Yossi tried to get to the bottom of his glumness.
“So David, a horse walks into a bar, and the bartender says to him-“
“-why the long face. That’s not a banana joke, Yossi.”
“I know, but it brings me to what I wanted to ask you. I know it’s a serious bummer that you’re stuck in bed, but hey, things could definitely be worse. So what’s really bothering you?”
“Well, to be honest, I’m very frustrated. Aside from the banana aspect of this whole thing, I was on my way to do a big mitzvah--bringing food to people who need it--and this happens. It just seems unfair. Shouldn’t I be rewarded for doing good? This is one serious injustice.”
“Hmm, interesting,” Chaim agreed. “It doesn’t seem fair, does it?”
“Who knows why things happen?” Yossi suggested. “I think G-d’s plan is beyond our understanding.”
“Still, it is an interesting week to ask this question,” Chaim said. “Parshat Shemini tells the story of Nadav and Avihu, Aharon’s two sons who were killed on the dedication day of the Mishkan. The Torah states that they sacrificed a foreign fire, but many of the commentators offer differing explanations as to what really happened. Maybe this will offer you some comfort.”
“I sincerely doubt it,” David said.
“I know there’s a midrash that states that Nadav and Avihu had been drunk at the time they offered their incense on the altar,” Yossi said. “So, David, I’m assuming you were sober when you encountered your banana?”
“O.K. scratch that one. Unlike some of the commentaries’ points of view, you clearly were not guilty of doing anything wrong when you slipped. Yours was an act of unadulterated, true kindness.”
“Some of the commentaries suggest that the two brothers were guilty of not following G-d’s instructions, and that’s why they were punished,” Chaim said. “But clearly that does not apply to you. After all, someone else misplaced that banana.”
“True,” David agreed.
“I think that the explanation that fits our story best is that of the Yalkut Shimoni,” Yossi said. “That midrash suggests that Nadav and Avihu were so excited that they added a foreign flame to the dedication ceremony out of love. They added their fire as an act of religious passion, but it was not what G-d had commanded, so they were punished. Sometimes it’s the people who are closest to G-d who suffer the consequences of their actions the most.”
“So how does this apply to me?” David asked.
“I think that you were so excited about performing a mitzvah that you carried the box to the car with such a singular purpose and such zeal that you couldn’t see the banana peel. And the strength of your stride is what led to the severity of your injury. You were wrapped up in the moment, just like Nadav and Avihu.”
“Wow. Good one,” David said. “I like that.”
“Thanks,” Yossi said. “And on that banana note, I really need to split.”
“Sorry, couldn’t help it.”
*To the tune of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony