For an explanation of the methodology of this series, see the introduction.
"And G‑d spoke to Moses after the death of Aaron's two sons, when they drew near before the L-rd, and they died." (Lev. 16:1 )
Peshat (basic meaning):
Rashi: And the Lord spoke to Moses after the death of
Aaron’s two sons
What does this teach us
[when it specifies ‘after the death of Aaron’s two sons?]’ Rabbi Eleazar ben
Azariah illustrated with a parable of a patient, whom a physician came to visit.
[The physician] said to him, ‘Do not eat cold foods, and do not lie down in a
cold, damp place.’ Then, another [physician] visited him, and advised him, ‘Do
not eat cold foods or lie down in a cold, damp place, so that you will not die
the way so-and-so died.’ This one warned that patient more effectively than the
former. Therefore, Scripture says, ‘after the death of Aaron’s two sons’ [i.e.,
God effectively said to Aaron, ‘Do not enter the Holy in a prohibited manner, so
that you will not die as your sons died’].
Remez (hinted meaning):
Baal HaTurim: The
Torah stated at the end of the previous parasha: "My Tabernacle that is
amongst them", and juxtaposed to this
"after the death." This hints to the Sages’
interpretation on Moses' words to Aaron: "G‑d said, 'I will be sanctified by
those nearest Me.'"
Also: The Torah states in the previous parasha:
"this is the law" and juxtaposed to this is "after the death" to
teach that Nadab and Abihu died as a consequence of issuing a halachic ruling in
the presence of their teacher Moses.
Derash (interpretive meaning):
Or HaChayim: "and
they died"--we focus on the nature of the sons' deaths
rather than on the fact of their deaths. The Torah writes,
"when they drew near before the
Lord" to note that due to their love for G‑d
they came too near the celestial source of the light which has a deadly effect
on man. This is the mystical aspect of "death by Divine kiss." The deaths of
Nadab and Abihu were similar to the death of all other completely righteous men.
The only difference was in the case of the deaths of Moses and Aaron, the "kiss
of death" of G‑d approaches them, whereas in this case Nadab and Abihu
approached the "kiss of death". This is the meaning of the extra letter Vav
in "Vayamutu"—"and they died": the Torah alludes to
the fact that though these righteous people felt that they were approaching an
area which would result in their "kiss of death," they did not flinch and kept
getting closer. The desire of their souls to fuse with the divine was so
overpowering that they no longer made decisions in which their powers of
conscious perception were involved.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe: How can one expect a
person at the climax of his spiritual bliss to want to return "back to earth" to
his mundane life? If his love of G‑d is genuine, how can he hold himself back at
the height of his arousal and re-immerse in the constraints of corporeal
existence? From where can a person acquire the vigilance not to go too far?
It depends on how a person starts his spiritual voyage. If
he starts from a place of self-satisfaction, he will not want to turn back from
his spiritual bliss to attend to the needs of the physical world. But if he
wants to follow G‑d's will, even at the high point of arousal, he will be
willing to come back down to carry out the mission for which he was created. For
G‑d "created the world not to be empty but rather He formed it to be
On a smaller scale, every Jew sometimes has a spiritual awakening, perhaps on
Shabbat or Yom Tov. At such a time he need to remember whatever he experiences
during this special holy moment needs to be taken back with him when he returns
to normal everyday life. This spiritual arousal must not be allowed to evaporate
without having a tangible effect; it must be harnessed as a moment of
true-lasting inspiration. (Likutei Sichot 3:987)
Sod (esoteric, mystical meaning):
Zohar Acharei 61:
Come and see: the sons of Aaron had no equal in Israel, except for Moses and
Aaron. They were called "the nobles of the children of Israel" (Ex.
24:11) and they died because they erred before the Holy King. Did G‑d wish that
they should perish? Did we not learn in the secret of the Mishna that G‑d does
kindness with everyone, and even evildoers He does not wish to cause perish. So
these most saintly ones, would it enter your mind that they should perish from
the world? Where were their merits, the merits of their ancestors and also the
merit of Moses? How could they have perished?
We have learned from the holy luminary that G‑d concerned
Himself with their honor, so inwardly their bodies were tinged with fire, but
their soul was not lost, as we have already established. Come and see: even
before the deaths of Aaron's sons, it is written, "And Elazar, Aaron's son,
took of the daughters of Putiel as a wife" (Ex. 6:25). He was called
Pinchas because he was destined to straighten that which is crooked. This is
the essence of the verse, "And that which is to be has already been ."
So why did Nadab and Abihu deserve to die?
(1) they did something they were not asked to do; therefore they were
disobedient (Ritva, Yoma 53a)
(2) They may have brought the fire in order to appear
overly righteous (Ramban)
(3) They entered the Holy Place in the Mishkan
where only the high priest may enter and even then only on Yom Kippur (Sifra)
(4) They entered the Temple while intoxicated and wearing
inappropriate clothing. (Rashi)
(5) They chose to use fire from a different source without
first getting approval from Moses. (Rashi)
(6) For reasons of sanctity, Moses wanted to kindle the
fire from a heavenly source, but Aaron's sons decided for themselves what fire
to use. (Rashbam)
(7) They arrogantly fought with and insulted their two
other brothers in front of people and thus degraded the priesthood. (Ramav)
(8) They remained unmarried because they felt no one had
the lineage to marry them. This arrogant attitude raised anger in the Almighty
which eventually led to them to pay with their lives. (Yalkut)
(9) They did not fully believe that the fire of the
incense came from Heaven and wanted to perform a "test." (Baal HaAkeida)
(10) Their death was a punishment for Aaron because of his
participation in the sin of the Golden Calf. (Ramaz, see Ex. 34:35, 34:7; Rashi
(11) Nadab and Abihu had sinned once, before the giving of
the Torah. G‑d allowed them and the 70 elders to go up to a higher place on
Mount Sinai than the rest of the children of Israel in order to see more of the
Shechina. They enjoyed the splendor so much that they looked at it for
their own pleasure and not for the sake of Heaven. At that time G‑d decreed that
they deserved to die, but He would not punish any Jew with death on the day of
the giving of the Torah. When they sinned a second time, they were punished. (Vayikra
(12) G‑d said: "If I led them go unpunished now, other
Jews might think they can go into the Holy of Holies and offer their own
sacrifices. Punishing them strictly would cause the Jews to fear and honor me."
So, how far we go to justify the abbreviated lives of some
of the righteous! These are just a sample of how we G‑d-wrestlers (one meaning
of the name ‘Israel’) keep turning over the text to figure out WHY? We will not
understand this completely on this earth plane, but our Sages of blessed memory
have opened us up to how there can be 70 different faces or interpretations of
Torah. Guess what, there are actually 600,000 for each Jewish soul. Wrestle with
this text, and figure out why they died. Use your reason to elevate you to a
better, a closer place to G‑d.
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