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All in that generation were aspects of Abel. The only ones related to Cain were Nadab and Abihu….

Now, [in Moses' generation,] when [Cain] came [to be rectified], all in that generation were aspects of [the soul of] Abel. The only ones related to [the soul of] Cain were Nadab and Abihu.

The soul of Cain looked for a kindred soul to latch onto. But since the leader of the generation was Moses, who was a reincarnation of Abel, all his followers, i.e. the entire Jewish people, were Abel-souls. The only exceptions were the two elder sons of Aaron, Nadab and Abihu.

This is also the meaning of the verse, "The priests, also, who approach G‑d, must stay pure."

When G‑d was about to give the Torah, He instructed Moses: "Warn the people not to break through [the barrier] to G‑d to gaze, lest many of them perish. The priests also, who approach G‑d, must stay pure, lest G‑d break out against them…. You will ascend, and Aaron with you, but the priests and the people should not break through to ascend the mountain, lest G‑d break out against them." (Ex. 19:21ff) In Rashi's commentary, these verses are understood to mean that during the giving of the Torah, Moses had his own station on the mountain, Aaron had his own further down the mountain, the priests had their own even closer to the foot of the mountain, and the rest of the people did not ascend the mountain at all.

Who exactly are these priests, since Aaron ascended the mountain part way? We must say they were Nadab and Abihu.

They are referred to in the verse, And [Moses] sent the youths of the children of Israel to offer burnt offerings and bulls as sacrifices to G‑d.(Ex. 24:5)

This verse also describes the preparations for the giving of the Torah. These youths were obviously priests, since only priests offer sacrifices.

However, at this stage in Jewish history, the descendants of Aaron had not yet been designated as the priests. The priesthood was at this time the firstborn. Only later, after the sin of the Golden Calf, would the tribe of Levi be designated as the officiants of the Temple and Aaron and his line designated as the priests. Nonetheless, Nadab and Abihu can still be referred to in these verses as "the priests".

For they were both firstborn. [Their souls] were of the same aspect [of spirituality]. After them, Elazar and Itamar, [the other sons of Aaron,] were of another aspect.

Thus, even though Abihu was born after Nadab, they may both be considered Aaron's firstborn. Thus, they were priests.

Of this, it is written, "The firstborn, Nadab, and Abihu…" - this was one aspect [of soul, then] "…Elazar and Itamar." (Num. 3:2)

This verse is taken from the census of the Jewish people. The simple understanding of the verse connects the word "the firstborn" simply with "Nadab", the word following it. However, since Abihu is joined with Nadab by the conjunction "and," while Elazar is joined with Itamar the same way, we may see Nadab and Abihu as one unit and Elazar and Itamar as another unit.

Of this, it is written, "the building of youths is destruction" (see Megillah 31b), for [Nadab and Abihu] did not succeed at what they tried to do.

When the Tabernacle was dedicated, almost ten months after the giving of the Torah, Nadab and Abihu offered incense on their own initiative and were consumed by a fire that issued from the inner chamber of the Tabernacle. Although they were inspired by holy ecstasy and sought to do something exceptionally holy, they instead caused great tragedy.

They wanted to rotate [the partzufim] to face each other at the level of netzach and hod….

They wanted to rotate [the partzufim] to face each other at the level of netzach and hod - for this was the [spiritual] position of Nadab and Abihu - but [instead] they caused destruction.

We have explained previously that the ideal coupling between the partzufim occurs when they are both facing each other. Then, they can share their innermost essences with each other and achieve true union. (As we know, the word for "face", "panim", is related to the word for "innermost", "penimi", since the face expresses the inner feelings of the heart and mind.) Before they face each other, however, the partzufim are initially situated back to back. This is also a type of relationship, but a very external one, more of a truce than true sharing. "We get along fine: I don't bother her, and she doesn't bother me."

Netzach and hod are the level of the schema of the sefirot from where prophecy originates.

Had they merited, they could have affected this with their incense.

This is similar to what we find in relation to Moses [and Solomon; of Moses] it is written: And there never arose again a prophet in Israel like Moses (Deut. 34:10). But of Solomon it is written: And he was wiser than all men (Kings I 5:11), meaning that he was wiser even than Moses! Moses' name was missing the lamed of Solomon's…

Similarly, Moses' name was missing the lamed of Solomon's, which [mystically] means that the coupling [of the partzufim] that Moses caused was back-to-back, while that which Solomon caused was face-to-face.

"Moses" in Hebrew is Moshe(h), spelled mem-shin-hei. "Solomon" in Hebrew is "Shelomo", spelled shin-lamed-mem-hei.

If you say: how could Solomon accomplish what Moses could not accomplish? The answer is that Moses found [reality] sunk in the depths of evil and exile, and with [his] great [spiritual] power brought it out and rectified it [such that the partzufim were positioned in holiness, albeit only] back-to-back. Then, when Solomon came, he found [reality relatively] rectified; all he had to do was rotate [the partzufim] to face each other, and this is done easily.

It is much harder to bring reality from evil into holiness than it is to bring it from holy indifference to holy mindfulness. Thus, Moses' accomplishment was greater; Solomon simply built upon it.

Nadab and Abihu would have accomplished this same coupling [i.e. that of face-to-face] with their incense offerings had they been married….

They themselves were not married even though they were of age. This indicates that they were too self-oriented. If they were not selfless enough to marry, they certainly did not possess the spiritual wherewithal to affect the "marriage" of the partzufim.

Translated and adapted by Moshe-Yaakov Wisnefsky from Sefer HaLikutim, parashat Yitro; 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.