"G‑d spoke to Moses after the death of Aaron's two sons who drew close [brought an unauthorized offering] before G‑d and died." (Lev. 16:1)

This verse is difficult to understand since it doesn't inform us what G‑d told to Moses after the death of Aaron's two sons. Rebbe Avraham Yehoshua Heshel of Apt, in the book Ohev Yisroel writes that G‑d cautioned Moses that the Jewish People shouldn't make the mistake of thinking that the death of Nadab and Abihu was a simple straightforward punishment the way it seemed to be. Quite the opposite is true; their deaths were an exceptional occurrence, and the reason is not easily comprehended.

They allowed themselves to be drawn into total unity with G‑d….

Therefore we are told that G‑d spoke to Moses after the death of the sons of Aaron. "After" means "distant" or "remote". (Bereishit Rabba 44:5) The verse now reads: "Distant from our understanding and lofty in essence were the deaths of the two sons of Aaron when they drew close to G‑d". They ventured near to the heavens and became drawn in by the incredible sweetness and pleasantness of being close to G‑d. As their rapture increased, they achieved further unity with G‑d, and had to decide whether or not to withdraw. As the verse reads, "And they died": they allowed themselves to be drawn into total unity with G‑d.

This is how Rebbe Simcha Bunem of Peshis'cha returned his soul to G‑d. Everyday, he recited the Shema prayer with such absolute devotion and ecstasy, that his soul was in danger of leaving his body. To prevent this, his disciples appointed special attendants to watch over Rebbe Bunem when he said the Shema. If they detected signs indicating that his soul was struggling to wrest itself free from his body, like the flame of a candle striving upwards, they were to shake him out of his complete attachment to G‑d and bring him back into this world. One day, a tragic mistake occurred and there were no attendants present when Rebbe Bunem began his prayers. That morning, as Rebbe Bunem recited the Shema, he returned his soul to its Creator.

[Based on Ohev Yisroel of the Apter Rebbe and other Chasidic sources
First published in B'Ohel Tzadikim, Acharei 5759.]