Almost a year has passed since Israel left Egypt. The Sanctuary has just been completed. Aaron and his sons bring the offerings that formally dedicate the Sanctuary. "And a fire came forth from before G‑d... on the altar." But the festivities are suddenly and tragically interrupted -- two of Aaron's sons die.
Precisely what they had done to deserve their fate is not too clear. There are a number of Rabbinic explanations, and the Scripture itself seems to permit several interpretations. Withal, the implications in the original verse seem clear enough in their application to contemporary Jewry. "They brought before G‑d a strange fire which He had not commanded them."
The implications in the original verse seem clear enough in their application to contemporary JewryAssimilation is not necessarily official conversion to another faith. That threat, real enough in Jewish history, is not imminent today. American assimilation is a blending, acquiring the characteristics of the majority. Jewry and Judaism lose their uniqueness in two ways. First, specifically Jewish modes and qualities (in religion, language culture, etc.) are abandoned. Secondly, the Jew adopts the manner of the Gentile.
It is difficult enough to maintain the purity of Judaism in our individual lives. The pressures of society and the exigencies of earning a livelihood place formidable obstacles in the path of observance of Torah. However, Jewish institutions, because of their influence on the course of Judaism in the community, must rigorously maintain the highest standards of Judaism. If assimilation is permitted to adulterate the integrity, Jewishly speaking, of the house of worship, then what future can we expect?
The "strange fires which G‑d has not commanded" that invade the Sanctuary, negate the light and warmth of Torah. Practices that violate the Torah can lead but to the extinction of the Jewish spirit.