Nadav and Avihi, Aaron's sons, brought a "strange fire" as an offering. Their souls were then consumed in the process. Can we argue in their favor? Does their case have any merit or justification? Can we give them any benefit of the doubt, or must we roundly condemn them for "not following the rules."
Many traditional commentaries have sought to explain the grievous sins of Nadav and Avihu in their bringing a "strange fire offering" to justify G*d's taking of their souls. Layers of midrashic emphasis serve to villify their intentions. Now while no one should advocate breaking with protocol, maybe it was deeper than all that. Maybe it was no punishment at all. Perhaps it was a heavenly embrace.
Perhaps their purpose in life had been completed:
...Lev.10:3 va-yomer moshe el aharon hu asher diber Hashem l'emor b'krovay ekadesh v'al p'nai chawl ha'am ekaved va-yidom aharon."
Moses said to Aaron: of this did Hashem speak, saying, " I will be sanctified through those who are nearest Me, thus I will be honored before the entire people;" and Aaron was silent.
Rashi hints at the meritorious status accorded Nadav and Avihu by Moses' above statement: Moses now told Aaron," I knew that the Tabernacle would be sanctified through someone in whom G*d's glory reposes, but I thought it would be one of US. Now I know that they were greater than either of us."
And in the Talmud Bavli Zevachim 115b it states that it was already hinted that G*d Himself alluded to their future deaths, as if to recognize that some necessary occurrence would need to take place.
"Dichtiv, venoadti shama livnei yisrael ve nikdash b'chvodi (Ex 29:43) Al tikri b'chvodi, ela b'mechubodai"
For it is written, ' and I shall set my meeting there with the children of Israel and it (the Tabernacle) shall be sanctified through my honor (b'chvodi)'. Do not read b'chvodi (through my honor), rather read it as b'mechubodai (through my honored ones)." Thus shall be done to whom the King of Kings wishes to honor.
But WHAT was so meritorious in their actions? Let us examine the end of the verse:
"va-yidom aharon- and Aaron was silent."
Instead of reading it as "silent," one could also see a connection to the word "dahm" in Hebrew which means "blood." They are the same exact letters, but vowelized differently. Now where is the word dahm as blood first mentioned in the Torah?
Let us go to the Cain and Abel fratricide narrative (Gen 4:1-10). In verse 10 it reads:
... kol d'mei achicha tzoakim elai min ha'adamah, " ...the voice of your brother's blood cries out to me from the ground!"
This is the very first mention of blood and it is mentioned in the context of fratricidal rivalry- the very first recorded act since the expulsion from Eden! And in what context did this act of fratricide take place? The very first korban, the very first offerings to Hashem.
As the very first korban offerings were blemished by dint of jealousy and fratricidal rage, the Tabernacle dedication ceremonies with their attendant sacrificial offerings could not proceed apace without a tikkun, or a fixing of the earlier Edenic blemish. The only fixing for brotherly jealousy is brotherly harmony. The only fixing for the root of the fratricide could be a NEW offering, one which was neither animal-based (Abel's) nor soil-based (Cain's). A fire offering was a NEUTRAL offering, neither one nor the other. It was thus symbolic of brotherly love and reconciliation.
Nadav and Avihu were thus gilgulim (reincarnated souls) of Cain and Abel. Reincarnated in the Dor HaMidbar, the generation of the wilderness, their purpose in life was to make it possible for the offerings in the Tabernacle to be acceptable. They paved the way for all of us, embracing the Torah's value of brotherly love and harmony. In their shared bringing of the strange fire they achieved a unity of love and purpose. Thus they repaired the sin-taint of the fratricidal rage which accompanied and ruined humanity's very first offering to G*d.
G*d embraced their souls for showing us the way. Their work here was done. May we all come to love one another and to serve Hashem with fire. Not with a strange fire, but with the fire of our souls. And may we not become strangers to our souls!
Shabbat Shalom! Good Shabbos!
© 2000 - 2011 by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman
Chabibi stands for CHidushei Baruch Binyamin ben Yisrael Yehoshua
(a chidush, from the word chadash, means a new, original or fresh perspective)
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