Fire from Heaven – Twice!By Rabbi Jack Abramowitz
Fire came down from Heaven and consumed what was on the altar. You can imagine how impressive that was. The people cheered and bowed down in awe.
Two of Aharon’s sons, Nadav and Avihu, offered an unauthorized incense that G-d had not instructed. A Divine fire went forth and consumed them spiritually, leaving their bodies unscathed. Moshe told Aharon, “This is what G-d meant when He said that He would be sanctified via those closest to Him,” but Aharon didn’t respond. (Moshe was referring to Exodus 29:43; see Rashi there, Rashi here on 10:3, or Talmud Zevachim 115b – take your pick!)
Moshe summoned some non-kohein relatives to remove the deceased from the Tabernacle. They removed Nadav and Avihu from the camp, still in their priestly robes. Moshe instructed Aharon and his surviving sons, Elazar and Itamar, not to tear their clothes or refrain from getting haircuts (as are the practices of mourners), since these things were prohibited to serving kohanim. (A kohein had to have a haircut at least once every 30 days – see Talmud Sanhedrin 22b). If the kohanim didn’t listen, Moshe warned them, it would result in their deaths as well, something that would be bad for everyone. He advised them to let the community do the mourning for them, since they were still covered with the anointing oil from their inauguration. The kohanim listened to Moshe.
G-d spoke to Aharon (who was also a prophet), telling him that kohanim may not drink alcohol prior to performing the service. Similarly, rabbis and judges may not render decisions while under the influence. (Some infer from the juxtaposition that Nadav and Avihu must have been drinking. See Rashi on 10:2.)