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Fire went from G-d and consumed [Nadav and Avihu]. They died before G-d. Moses said to Aaron, "That is what G-d was speaking about when He said: 'I will be sanctified by those closest to Me'". (10:2-3)
The Torah relates that 'fire went forth from G-d and consumed (the offerings) on the Altar' (9:24) - following the lengthy process of the inauguration of the Tabernacle. Then Aaron's two oldest sons, Nadav and Avihu, offered a 'strange fire' before G-d and died instantly. Rashi, quoting the Talmud (Erubin 63a), brings two reasons that Nadav and Avihu were punished in that way - based on received tradition. One is because they gave a Halachic ruling before Moses - their teacher. And the other is that they entered the holy precinct in a state of intoxication.
In addition, the following suggestion may be given, based on the text. In the previous verse, it states that when the Tabernacle was finally physically and spiritually completed, 'fire went forth from G-d and consumed (the offerings)… the people saw, and praised G-d, and fell on their faces' (9:24). It was a miracle - though the 'glory of G-d' was expected to 'appear' (9:6), its taking the spectacular form of 'fire going forth from G-d' caused the people to praise G-d and fall on their faces.
Nadav and Avihu - the immediate would-be successors to Aaron - did not expect the 'glory of G-d' to appear in that way. They wanted to know what was going on behind the scenes. What was going on in the Holy of Holies which, they expected, in due course they would enter once a year on Yom Kippur.
However, the fire went from G-d - a 'hidden source'. The Torah states: 'What is hidden is for G-d only (Deut. 29:28).' One should not delve into things beyond the human physical and spiritual capacity.
The Talmud gives examples of those who did just that.
The Rabbis taught: There was once a child who was reading at his teacher's house the (first chapter of the) Book of Ezekiel (which describes G-d's Chariot in detail as Ezekiel saw it), and he apprehended what (angel-type) Chashmal was, whereupon a fire went forth from Chashmal and consumed him (Hagiga 13a).
Our Rabbis taught: Four men entered 'Paradise' (literally the orchard containing elements of the World to Come) namely, Ben Azzai, Ben Zoma, The Other, and R. Akiva. Ben Azzai cast a look and died. Of him Scripture says: 'Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints'. Ben Zoma looked and became demented. Of him Scripture says: 'Hast thou found honey? Eat so much as is sufficient for thee, lest thou be filled therewith and vomit it.' The Other mutilated the shoots (understood to mean apostatized). Only R. Akiva entered in peace and departed in peace. (Hagiga 14b).
Nadav and Avihu did not expect that what might have been their, or their father's role would be fulfilled by supernatural means. They wanted to know more. Like the child handling the Chashmal, their entering the Sanctuary with view to entering the 'orchard' of matters spiritual was beyond their capacity to understand. Its experience was too intense for their spiritual frame to accommodate. Thus the words bikrovei ekadesh (10:3) may be translated as 'I am holy (thus unreachable) to those who come close to me'. I - G-d - may not be reached by the act of coming close to Me.
This teaches that people - however learned - should acknowledge their limitations and accept with faith that certain fundamental questions, such as the details of the Creation, the extent of the Universe and where they fit into it, why the righteous sometimes suffer and the wicked sometimes prosper, and what is the precise nature of G-d are beyond their mortal mental schema to fully comprehend.
Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.
Parashiot from the First, Second, and Third Series may be viewed on the Shema Yisrael web-site: http://www.shemayisrael.co.il/parsha/solomon/archives/archives.htm
Also by Jacob Solomon:
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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