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Nadav and Avihu died, the Torah tells us, after they "offered a strange fire before the L-rd, which He had not commanded them." It is not clear, though, what these two sons of Aharon did exactly to deserve such a dramatic death.
Of the many possibilities offered, one stands out. Midrash Rabba states that the brothers never married and had no children. Why were they killed for this? Our Sages explain that they felt they were too special to marry just any women. After all, they were the sons of Aharon, the nephews of Moshe.
akesav Vehakabalah further explains that the phrase in the verse describing their death by fire "and it consumed them" does not refer to the fire itself but to their love of Hashem. They were consumed by a single-minded dedication to the performance of His mitzvos.
A danger lurks in such focused zealousness. The Lubavitcher Rebbe, zt"l, taught that even though a tzaddik is allowed to leave his physical reality and become totally absorbed in a mitzvah, he must nevertheless return to the "lower regions." A person must have his feet planted on the ground even as he ascends to the heavens. Thus, before the kohein gadol entered the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur, he brought an offering on behalf of himself and his family. At his moment of great spiritual elevation, he was still responsible to remember his human connections and familial ob-ligations. Astory is told of a young man who was the finest student in his kollel. He had a brilliant mind and hoped to one day head his own yeshiva.
He was married to a wonderful woman and had a number of children, but rarely helped with the housework. His wife was always overworked and tired. One day, she asked him to take out the garbage and he got angry with her. "You want me to take out the garbage?" he said. "Do you know who I am? I am a talmid chacham and you want me to take out the garbage? Es past nit it is beneath me!"
apartment of this kollel family. He knocked and woke up the young student who was shocked to see the rosh yeshiva at his door.
"Rebbe, what are you doing here? he asked.
"I've come to take out the garbage," the rosh yeshiva told him. "For you, Es past nit, but for me, Es past."
Nadav and Avihu be-came so close to G-d that they died. They didn't feel anyone was worthy of marrying them. They forgot that they had to behave like men not angels.
We, too, are human beings who strive to be consumed with love, Hashem and Torah. May we all become big enough to take out the garbage for our wives. For Bnai Torah, Es past!
Rabbi Joel Tessler
Rabbi Tessler is Rabbi of Congregation Beth Sholom, Potomac, Maryland
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