Yehuda Jacobs
Former Shaliach in Greater Washington


We know that when we get to the sedra of vayikrah, we meet the unique case of the death of nadav and avihu. I would like to share with you some opinions that were told about this complicated story, a story which has so many and complex ways to understand it. The way I will tell it to you through the style of an argument. The reason for this is, in my opinion the best way to understand the story; we must see all the sides of the argument.

It is written in this weeks’ parsha (perek 10 pasuk 1):

“And Nadav and Avihu, the sons of Aaron, took each of them his censer, and put fire therein, and laid incense thereon, and offered strange fire before the LORD, which He had not commanded them. 2 And there came forth fire from before the LORD, and devoured them, and they died before the LORD”

Rashi opens this argument about what happened there, by quoting the Gemara in Sanhedrin (daf 52) that states: Rabbi Eliezer says that they died because they overruled a ruling that their rabbi’s decreed. Even more that it was right in front of the rabbi. Rabbi Yishmoel says that they were intoxicated from wine when they committed this sin.

This is only the tip of iceberg of what the commentaries and Midrashim explain about the death of nadav and avihu.

After we have seen some opinions from chazal about the death of nadav and avihu, I would like to enter the depth of the matter. Rabbi Samson Hirsch writes that this wasn’t an act of arrogance, but was their true intention. Their true intention was to sacrifice a fire to Hashem. We can learn this from the word “Kerovai” also after the sin. We can see this also in the book Torat Cohanim that quotes: “They saw a new fire, and they wished to add love above love”. The problem wasn’t in the action that they wanted to sacrifice, but how they sacrificed. This is because at the time, the nation was in merit of revealing god; they felt that had to do more. Their own sacrifice. From this source we can understand that there wasn’t any more than an intention of a Cohen to serve a sacrifice to god. That what they did wasn’t a bad thing. Though, the way that they sacrificed was through sin, because the details of the deed were not forbidden but they weren’t in the field of a mitzvah. Maybe, there was a little bit of arrogance from their part.

So, what can we do, as loving and serving followers of Hashem, can learn from the case of Nadav and avihu? Besides all of all of the Halachot that followed from this story?

The Slonim rabbi in his book “Netivot Shalom” explains and verifies a few facts:

“the story of Nadav and Avihu is from the most wonderful issues in the torah, and we can’t understand exactly what was their faults because it is higher than our reach because they were greater than most of Hashem disciples. Like when chazal explain the pasuk: “is it that the LORD spoke, saying: Through them that are nigh (close) unto Me I will be sanctified,”. Rabbi Shimon bar Nachman says that this is a commandment that Hashem told Moshe at Har Sinai and wasn’t explained until the deed took place. Moshe told Aharon at Har Sinai he was commanded by god to sanctify his house and a great man I am sanctifying, and now your two sons are greater than me and you (Vayikra Rabba 12, 2). The meaning of this is that nadav and Avihu have become greater than Moshe and Aharon and they were on the level of “By those close to me I will be sanctified”. We must learn from this parsha what we can, and we really shouldn’t follow this story in depth.

The Rabbi continues: “Nadav and Avihu were greater than Moshe and Aharon, and this was their fault. On this point even though they were greater than them they still should have lessened themselves in front of Moshe and Aharon and accepted their way because this is the only way that a soul can reach a higher level. “By those close to me I will be sanctified” is said here because they didn’t feel that they had what to except from Moshe and Aharon. And that is how they didn’t follow their rabbi’s. They claimed that they were greater than Moshe and Aharon. About what it said about that when the two elders were going to die it was because that they would have lead the nation better then Moshe and Aharon, and because the miscommunication between them and Moshe and Aharon they weren’t affected by the greater affection.”

May we as a nation accept and understand what greater people then us say, even if we are greater then them, we have to listen and accept what they say.