In the beginning of the portion of the Torah read this week, the Torah details the geneology of Moses and Aaron:

"These are the names of the sons of Levi: Gershon, Kehat, and Merari…. And the sons of Kehat: Amram, Yitzhar, Hebron, and Uziel." (Ex. 6:16, 18)
"And Amram took his aunt Jochebed for a wife, and she bore him Aaron and Moses.…" (Ex. 6:20)

It is fitting to explain here the transmigrations of the soul of Aaron.

I have already identified his original root many times, including [in my comments] on the verse "And a new king arose over Egypt," in the exposition of [the three children of Amram,] Moses, Aaron, and Miriam. [I explained there] how both Aaron and Moses originate in the yesod of Abba as it is present in Zeir Anpin, and how both of them are aspects of Abel, the son of Adam.

It has also been explained in [my comments on] the parashat Noah, on the verse "and Lot the son of Haran his grandson," that Abel's name [Hevel, hei-beit-lamed] is alluded to in the initials of the words "Lot the son of Haran" [Lot ben Haran, lamed-beit-hei]. This implies that [the souls of] both Lot and Haran were aspects of [the soul of] Abel. As I have explained on the verse "And a new king arose over Egypt," all the [primordial] souls began to be rectified by [the souls of] Abraham's family.

Terah complained about Abram his son before Nimrod for crushing his idols

Abraham, as well, was an aspect of Abel, and Haran, Abraham's brother, possessed [in his soul] an admixture of great holiness, although he did not rectify [the aspect of Abel's soul within him] as much as his brother Abraham did. And it is known that he was burned for the sanctification of G‑d's Name, albeit not wholeheartedly, since he waited [to consign himself to the flames] until he saw that Abraham was [miraculously] saved from the furnace.

"Terah complained about Abram his son before Nimrod for crushing his idols; so he [Nimrod] cast him [Abram] into a fiery furnace, and Haran sat and thought, 'If Abram is victorious, I am on his side, and if Nimrod is victorious, I am on his side.' When Abram was saved, they said to Haran, 'Whose side are you on?' Haran said to them, 'I am on Abram's side!' They cast him into the fiery furnace and he was burned." [Gen. 11:28, Rashi from Bereishit Raba 38:13]

Thus, Haran threw himself into the flames thinking he would be saved, and therefore his act did not qualify as a public "sanctification of G‑d's Name" as did Abraham's. Nonetheless, his act was motivated out of recognition of the truth of G‑d. The fact that he recognized this truth and was willing to take something of a chance for it indicates that he did possess some level of holiness.

[Haran] subsequently was reincarnated as Aaron, whose name [in Hebrew Aharon, alef-hei-reish-nun] possesses the letters of his name [Haran, hei-reish-nun], with the addition of the letter alef. Since he did not throw himself into the furnace in Abraham's days until Abraham was saved, and did not sacrifice himself for the sanctification of G‑d's Name as he should have, this act did not help him, for he only threw himself in because he thought he would be saved as was Abraham.

Therefore, when he was reincarnated as Aaron, he was faced with the situation of the golden calf. G‑d presented him with the people's request "Get up and make us a god," which he should have refused and on account of which he should have been killed, [thus sanctifying G‑d's Name in public]. (Ex. 32:1)

This in fact is exactly what Hur, Miriam's son, did. [His soul] was a soul-spark that was intermixed with the soul of Haran, even though [the soul of Haran] was not actually its source. (It has been explained that soul-sparks can intermix with one another even though they do not derive from the same root.) [Hur] understood in his prophetic inspiration that he had to rectify this sin [i.e., that of Haran], and therefore [protested the building of the golden calf] and gave himself over to be killed [by the mob on this account].

This accords with the statement of our sages on the verse (Ex. 32:5) "And [Aaron] built an altar before him": "Aaron understood from he who was slain before him." (Sanhedrin 7)

The word for "And [Aaron] built" is va-yiven, which may also be interpreted to mean "and he understood." The word for "altar" is mizbeiach, which may also be read mi-zavuach, meaning "from the one who was slain." The sages thus indicate that Aaron understood from the fact that the mob had killed Hur for opposing the building of the golden calf that it was pointless for him to oppose it as well, since they would then simply kill him, too, and proceed to make it anyway.

Our sages derived this from the word "and he built," but in truth, [had this word been meant to merely imply that Aaron saw that it would be pointless to resist the mob,] it should have said "and he saw." Rather, the [deeper] implication [in our sages' words] is that he understood in his prophetic vision that he should have rectified the aforementioned sin of Haran by giving up his life to publicly sanctify G‑d's Name. But he thought that since Hur - who was an aspect of Haran, as we said - had already offered his life to rectify this sin, it was no longer necessary for him to do the same inasmuch as the sin had already been rectified by Hur. But he erred in this. The reason why specifically Nadab and Abihu died is that they, too, sinned with respect to foreign fire

Therefore it is written (Deut. 9:20), "And G‑d was angry at Aaron, and sought to wipe him out," and death was decreed on his sons. As it is written, "And [G‑d] intended to wipe them out [and would have done so] were it not that Moses, His chosen, [stood before Him in the breech to return His wrath from destroying]." (Psalms 106:23) Nonetheless, "returning wrath" implies that the wrath had already had some effect, and this was indeed the case here. Our sages state (Vayikra Rabba 10:5) that "'wiping out' implies destroying progeny," and Moses' prayers turned back half of the decree. Thus, of Aaron's four sons, Elazar and Ithamar remained, and only Nadab and Abihu died. Our sages point out that this is the meaning of the verse "And [Moses] became angry at Elazar and Ithamar, [Aaron's] remaining sons." (Lev. 10:17)

The reason why specifically Nadab and Abihu died is that they, too, sinned with respect to foreign fire.

The Hebrew term for "idolatry" is "foreign service," i.e., any act that expresses devotion to something or someone other than G‑d. When the Tabernacle was inaugurated, Nadab and Abihu brought an incense offering on their own, in addition to the offerings G‑d had explicitly required. This unsolicited incense thus fell into the category of "foreign fire," which is forbidden to be brought onto the altar. Even though their intentions were worthy, they brought their offering as an expression of their own ecstasy rather than as fulfillment of G‑d's will. Thus, their act was in effect more one self-service than of Divine-service, and therefore could be considered in a subtle sense an act of "foreign service" or idolatry. In this sense, they were perpetuating their father's sin of not opposing idolatry at all costs.

Still, they would not have been liable to death by burning on account of their sin alone, but [being Aaron's sons] they were liable to be burnt on account of his sin in not submitting himself to be burnt [in the incident of the golden calf]. The combination of both [their own sin and their father's] caused their death, and thus G‑d's wrath found its place to rest. In the case of Elazar and Itamar, however, who did not sin, Moses' prayer was effective.

Understand this, as well: Just as Haran was burnt and died during the lifetime of his father, Terah, so did Nadab and Abihu die during the lifetime of their father, Aaron, by fire.

After Aaron died he was reincarnated as Yaavetz, who is mentioned in the book of Chronicles (1 2:55). The reason why he was called this is because the curse of Eve was "in sadness shall you bear children," (Gen. 3:16) and that of Adam was "in sadness shall you eat it." (Gen.3:17) In the Zohar 2:219b it is said that the phrase "in sadness shall you bear children" is the mystical meaning of "sin crouches at the door," (Gen. 4:7), referring to the shells [kelipot] of the world of Asiya, which are called "sadness" and "sin that crouches at the door." And it is known that the kelipot have dominion only in the world of Asiya.

The name Yaavetz (yud-ayin-beit-tzadik) includes the letters that compose the word for "sadness" (eitzev, ayin-tzadik-beit).

The result of the primordial sin was that the world descended to the level of Asiyah, where the forces of evil (keliplot) have dominion. These are the forces of sadness and its result, sin.

As we have explained elsewhere, Nadab and Abihu were the aspect of nefesh of the soul of Adam. This sadness ruled over them, and they therefore died in the sin of their father, Aaron.

Nefesh is the lowest aspect of the soul; Nadab and Abihu were thus the embodiment of the lowest aspect of the soul of Adam, that which experienced the fall in the greatest degree. It is interesting to note that these two sons of Aaron both personified the sadness that results from the existential fact of being under the domain of the forces of evil as well as the inspiration born of Divine ecstasy as evidenced at the inauguration of the Tabernacle.

Historically, many if not most of the most poignant and moving works of inspiration and art have born out of the artist's sense of depression and melancholy. It is, of course, most noble to be touched by the exile of humanity (and the Divine presence) from its natural abode, but the proper response to this is submission to G‑d's will in order to rectify the wrong, rather than some form of heroic expression of personal angst.

Therefore Yaavetz prayed: "And Yaavetz called to the G‑d of Israel, saying, 'If You bless me and increase my border, and Your hand is with me that You save me from harm, so as not to sadden [eitzev] me…'" (1 Chronicles 4:10) In other words, he prayed that his sons should no longer die in his lifetime, as they had when he had been incarnated as Aaron [and Haran]. [The verse continues:] "…and God fulfilled that which he had requested." His children and students endured, as our sages have pointed out. For this reason he was called Yaavetz. (Mishnah Temurah 16a) Justice…is one of the three pillars on which the world stands

Now, Yaavetz made vows, as we see from the above-quoted passage. Even though he fulfilled his vows, it is written, "it is better that you not vow." (Ecclesiastes 5:4) He was therefore reincarnated as Tola ben Pua, who is mentioned in the book of Judges. He thus rectified his prior sin of vowing too much. This is why he was called Tola, for this name alludes to his previous mistakes. He was like a "worm" [in Hebrew: tola'at] whose power is vested in its mouth, as our sages have said. (Midrash Tanchuma, Beshalach) He, likewise, used his [the power of his] mouth to vow, and thus was his prayer received.

In this incarnation he damaged things in another way as well: It is fitting that the judge of the generation travel from city to city to judge the people in righteousness. For if two people have a case between them and cannot afford to travel to the city of the judge, it will result in justice - which is one of the three pillars on which the world stands - not being served. It is written about Tola that "he dwelt in Shamir, in the mountain of Ephraim." (Judges 10:1) Our sages teach that this means that he settled there and did not circulate from city to city.

He was therefore further reincarnated as the prophet Samuel, in whose lifetime he rectified this sin. As it is written, "And from year to year, he would set forth, and go around to Bethel, and Gilgal, and Mizpah, and he would judge Israel in all these places. And his return was to Ramah…." (1 Samuel 7:16-17) Moreover, even though this was for their benefit, he did not even take one donkey [to ride on] from them, as Scripture testifies, unlike any other judge. He did all this in order to rectify the sin [of Tola] with all his power.

Still, you must realize that the main [component of the soul of] the prophet Samuel was [derived from] Nadab and Abihu. This is alluded to in the verse [said by Samuel's mother, Hannah:] "and you will give your maidservant the seed of men." (1 Samuel 1:11) But an aspect of the soul of their father Aaron joined with them, that is, the aspect of Tola ben Pua, to rectify his sin, as we have explained.

Thus we see that in Samuel Aaron and his sons began to come together. This was not the case with Yaavetz and Tola, in which Aaron was reincarnated by himself. But in Samuel, although he was mainly [a reincarnation of] Nadab and Abihu, Aaron joined with them.

After this, Aaron by himself was reincarnated as Uriah the Hittite, the arms-bearer of Joab ben Tzeruiah. In his name [Uriah, alef-vav-reish-yud-hei] included the first three letters of the name of Aaron [alef-hei-reish] to indicate this. Now, it is known that the army of David, and especially the 39 greatest of them, were called "the camp of G‑d," and all of them were chiefs of the Sanhedrin. This was certainly true of Uriah, since he was the greatest of them, being the arms-bearer of Joab, the head of [King David's] army. In the Zohar it is stated that he was only called "the Hittite" because he came from that place; it is not to imply that he was a convert. (Zohar 2:107a; Kidushin 76b)

Now, at this point, there were still two sins of Aaron that had not yet been rectified: the first being that he had not thrown himself into the furnace [properly] in the time of Haran, the brother of Abraham, and the second being the sin of his sons who died in his sin, as we have said. For it is known that when a person causes another person to die, the first has to be reincarnated and die [before his time] or be killed, as it is written in The Letters of Rabbi Akiva. When a person [such as Aaron] dies he is punished, and asked: "Why did your sons die in your lifetime?" He is responsible for their death, as if he had killed them with his own hands.

[Ref. The Letters of Rabbi Akiva: s.v. letter Nun. This is a midrash, and the word "letters" in the title refers to the letters of the alphabet, not to correspondence.] ...they rectified their [sin] by atoning for their sin in offering unsolicited incense through Elijah on Mt. Carmel ...they rectified their [sin] by atoning for their sin in offering unsolicited incense through Elijah on Mt. Carmel

Therefore King David killed Uriah the Hittite. In this way Aaron achieved atonement for the death of his sons. After this had been accomplished, he and his sons could join together, and the three of them together were reincarnated as Uriah the priest in the generation of King Yehoyakim. This is why specifically three letters of the name "Aaron" are present in the name "Uriah." Also, this latter Uriah was a priest, just as was Aaron.

The reason why Aaron's sons had to be reincarnated [into Uriah the priest] was because they had first been reincarnated by themselves into the prophet Elijah, as we have explained elsewhere. In this way they rectified their "turning away from evil," [i.e., their sin,] by atoning for their sin in offering unsolicited incense through Elijah on Mt. Carmel, when he caused fire to descend from heaven in order to sanctify G‑d's Name.

Nadab and Abihu had offered a sacrifice (incense) in an "illegal" manner, as an expression of their own ecstatic feelings. In Elijah's day, he also offered an "illegal" sacrifice when he contested the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel, since it is illegal to offer a sacrifice anywhere other than in the Temple (once the Temple has been built). But since Elijah did so in order to sanctify G‑d's Name in public, his act was not only not considered an infringement of the law, but as well rectified the sin of Nadab and Abihu. Offering the "illegal" sacrifice for G‑d's sake rectified their offering of an "illegal" sacrifice for their own sakes.

Nonetheless, [they still needed to rectify] the lack of fulfillment of positive commandments that they should have fulfilled in the rest of their natural lives, and similarly the commandment of being fruitful and multiplying that they did not fulfill - as it is stated, "and they did not have children," (Num. 3:4) for they were single. They therefore were reincarnated now into Uriah the priest in order to rectify this. Still, the main aspect of Uriah the priest's soul derived from Aaron, who was reincarnated into him in order to rectify his second sin that still had not been rectified, that is, to be killed in the sanctification of G‑d's Name. Nadab and Abihu joined with him in a temporary sort of way for the said purpose. Offering the "illegal" sacrifice for G‑d's sake rectified their offering of an "illegal" sacrifice for their own sakes

Thus Uriah the priest was killed by King Joiakim, and Aaron was totally rectified of both his sins. Nadab and Abihu, who were there only incidentally, did not feel the pain of the murder at all, only Aaron. They joined up with him only because since Aaron caused their death, it follows that he was also responsible for the fact that they did not fulfill all the positive commandments they were supposed to in their lifetimes. It was therefore necessary that they be rectified by him, and for this reason they joined with him in this incarnation.

After Aaron had been completely rectified in the murder of Uriah the priest, he then had the power to rectify his sons properly. Before this, however, while he himself still needed to be rectified, he could not do this.

Thus, the three of them were then incarnated again into Zechariah ben Jeberechyahu, who was also a priest, just as the three of them were. Aaron then rectified his sons completely, when the three of them were together in this incarnation. This is the mystical meaning of the verse: "And I will call to testify for Myself trustworthy witnesses, Uriah the priest and Zechariah the son of Jeberechiah." (Isaiah 8:2)

What have these two to do with each other? They did not even know each other, inasmuch as they were in two different generations. But for the reason we have given, that they were both rooted in the same incarnation, they are called G‑d's "witnesses." Since in Uriah Aaron was not rectified completely, he prophesied about the destruction of the Temple, as it is written: "Zion will be plowed like a field." (Jeremiah 26:18; Micah 3:12) But when he had been reincarnated in Zechariah he was rectified completely. He therefore prophesied about the tranquility and rebuilding of Zion, as our sages have commented on the verse quoted. (Makot, end of chapter 3)

We will now explain the verse "And Aaron took Elisheva the daughter of AmiNadab, the sister of Nachshon, for a wife, and she bore him Nadab, Abihu, Elazar, and Ithamar." (Ex. 6:23)

By understanding the incident of Bath Sheba, King David's wife, who was married first to Uriah the Hittite, we will understand [this verse] better. For just as Aaron married Elisheva the daughter of AmiNadab, so too, when he was reincarnated at Uriah the Hittite, he married Bath Sheba. It follows that Elisheva and Bath Sheba were of the same essence. Both of them personified Rachel, the Nukva of Zeir Anpin, who is rectified by the sefira of chesed, which is personified by Aaron, who is therefore called "the escort of the bride," as mentioned in the Zohar. (Zohar Addenda, 1:266b; 3:20a)

There is, however, a difference between them. For Bath Sheba was initially unrectified. As our sages (Sanhedrin 107a) say of King David, "he partook of her before she was ripe," as we will explain later. Elisheva, in contrast, contained in her name the letters alef-lamed [pronounced Kel, a Name of G‑d], indicated that she was initially already rectified by the sefira of chesed, which is identified with the Divine Name Kel, as it is written: "the chesed of G‑d [Kel] is the whole day." (Psalms 52:3)

Translated and adapted by Moshe-Yaakov Wisnefsky from Shaar HaPesukim; subsequently published in "Apples From the Orchard."

Reprinted with permission from Chabad of California. Copyright 2004 by Chabad of California, Inc. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this work or portions thereof, in any form, without permission, in writing, from Chabad of California, Inc.