Shabbat Shemini and Hachodesh - 5760
Death of Nadav and Avihu - "Yirat Shamayim" -
of the great mysteries in the Torah is the death of Nadav and Avihu, who
perished on the Eighth Day of the Inauguration of the Mishkan
and of the Kohanim, the Priests, who were to serve within it.
Torah describes the scene: It
is the day that Hashem is expected to "take up residence," so to
speak, in the Mishkan, indicating by that act that He has forgiven the
People of Israel for the sin of the Golden Calf.
Moshe instructs Aharon to offer the Sacrifice that would represent
the final atonement of the People for that grievous sin.
He performs the sacrificial procedures, blesses the People by
himself, then with Moshe, and the Glory of Hashem appears to the People.
fire went forth from before Hashem and consumed upon the Altar the
Elevation Offering and the fats; And the People saw and shouted for joy,
and fell upon their faces. The
sons of Aharon, Nadav and Avihu, took each his fire pan, and placed fire
in them, and placed incense upon it; and they brought before G-d an alien
fire, that He had not commanded
them. And a fire came out
from before Hashem and consumed them; and they perished before Hashem."
(Vayikra 9:24 - 10:2). Agony within ecstasy!
is reminiscent of the event described in Shmuel Bet, at the beginning of
Chapter 6, where David and the People of Israel are returning the Ark of
Hashem that they have recaptured from the Pelishtim.
The two sons of Avinadav, Uzzah and Achio are leading the cart,
upon which the Ark rests. David
and the People are before the Aron, playing all types of musical
instruments. "And when
they came to the threshing floor of Nacon, Uzzah put forth his hand to the
Ark of Hashem, because the oxen stumbled.
And the anger of Hashem flared against Uzzah; and G-d smote him
there for his error; and there he died by the Ark of Hashem.
And David was afraid of the
Ark of Hashem and said, 'How shall the Ark of the L-rd come to me?'
" (Shmuel 2, 6:6-9)
careful must one be in the presence of holiness!
At the end of Parshat Mishpatim, we find in Shemot 24:1 an invitation issued by Hashem to Moshe and Aharon, Nadav and Avihu and seventy of the Elders of Israel to ascend to a specific level of Mt. Sinai, and bow before Hashem from afar. Then Moshe should ascend alone to Hashem.
the time of meeting, we find Moshe and Aharon, Nadav and Avihu and seventy
of the Elders of Israel ascending the mountain.
Then we find two enigmatic verses: "And they saw the G-d of Israel, and under His feet was, as it were,
a sapphire brickwork, and it was like the essence of the heaven in purity.
And against the great men of Israel He did not stretch out His
Hand; and they experienced a vision
of G-d, and they ate and they drank. (Shemot, 24:10-11)"
are we to make of their eating and drinking while they were experiencing a
vision of Hashem? The
commentators are radically divided on this issue.
According to RASHI,
citing Midrash Tanchuma 16, they sinned grievously.
According to Onkelos and the RAMBAN,
the verse speaks here in their praise.
citing Tanchuma on the words, "They
saw the G-d of Israel," says, "They looked, and
they peered, and they incurred the death penalty, except that Hashem did not want to
impose it here, because He did not want to disturb the joy of the
Receiving of the Torah, and He held back
the penalty - for Nadav and Avihu, till the Day of the Inauguration of the
Mishkan, and for the Elders, till 'The People were as if complainers,
etc.' " And on "They
experienced a vision,
" he again cites Tanchuma, "They
were looking at Him in an excessively familiar way, in the midst of eating and drinking."
on the Eighth Day, the Day of the Inauguration of the Mishkan, and the Day
of their own Inauguration,
also a day of great joy for the People, Hashem saw that this behavior of
Nadav and Avihu was deeply
rooted in their personalities, perhaps inevitably, as the children of the
Man of Peace. In the words of the Siphra, "They too, in their great
joy, when they saw the new fire from Hashem, wanted
to add love upon love!"
we wake up each morning, we say, as part of the "Modeh Ani"
Prayer, "Reshit Chochmah Yirat
Hashem," "The Beginning of Wisdom is the Fear
of Hashem." As part
of the "Kiddush Hachodesh," the Sanctification of the New Month,
which we recite today at the beginning of Nisan, we ask Hashem to grant us
"chayim sheyesh bahem Yirat
Shamayim v'Yirat Chet," "life which includes in its core the
Fear of Heaven and the Fear of
is this lesson, perhaps, that we must learn from the fate of the Righteous
Men of Israel, Nadav and Avihu, who loved Hashem without bounds, but also
without sufficient restraint.
is also a lesson in the meaning of "holiness" that we need as we
commemorate the first Command of Hashem to the People of Israel upon their
emergence into history as a "Kingdom
of Priests and a Holy Nation."
Rabbi Pinchas Frankel
Rabbi Frankel is an Educational Coordinator at the OU