The seven-day dedication of the Sanctuary was over, and despite the expectations of the Jewish people, the Divine presence had not become manifest. Even after the sacrifices were offered on the eighth day, the hopes of the people had not been fulfilled.

Aware of the people’s disappointment, Moses and Aaron entered the Sanctuary and prayed, and then “G‑d’s glory was revealed to all the people. Fire came forth from before G‑d and consumed the burnt offering.” In grateful acknowledgment, “the people saw this and raised their voices in praise.”

Then two individuals sought an even deeper bond with G‑d. “Aaron’s sons, Nadav and Avihu, each took his firepan, and placed fire and then incense upon it, and offered it before G‑d. It was strange fire which [G‑d] had not commanded [them to offer]. Fire came forth from before G‑d and consumed them, and they died before G‑d.”

Moses praised them in their death, telling Aaron: “This is [the meaning of] what G‑d said: ‘I will be sanctified by those close to Me and I will glorified before the entire nation.’”

The passage is paradoxical. On one hand, the conduct of Aaron’s sons appears undesirable, as obvious from the punishment they received and as reflected in our Sages’ discussion of “the sin of Aaron’s sons.”

But it also appears that there was a positive dimension to their efforts. For Nadav and Avihu had been designated for unique Divine service, and Moses himself praised them, stating that they were close to G‑d, and that it was through their sacrifice that the Sanctuary was consecrated.

The commentaries explain that the death of Nadav and Avihu resulted from their great love for G‑d. Moses and other righteous men died because of “the kiss of G‑d,” i.e., the revelation of a sublime G‑dly light so great that it could not be contained and their souls expired. Similarly, Aaron’s sons died because of their powerful and intense love for G‑d. “Although they understood that they would die, they did not hold back from coming close, and clinging [to G‑d] in a sweet [bond] of love to the extent that their souls departed.”

Chassidic thought develops this concept, stating that our love for G‑d must involve two phases: ratzu, a powerful yearning for connection with Him, and shuv, a commitment to return and express G‑d’s will by making this world a dwelling for Him. Aaron’s sons had reached an all-encompassing longing to cleave to G‑d. This should have been followed by a turn toward expressing this bond in their lives.

They failed to execute that change in direction. After turning upward, they could not turn downward. That was their sin. There was nothing wrong with the closeness they established with G‑d. The problem was that the connection did not bear fruit; they died without having expressed this bond in the realm of ordinary experience. For G‑d’s intention is that the deepest levels of love for Him be demonstrated in an appreciation for the G‑dliness that inhabits every element of creation, and in serious efforts to enable this G‑dliness to be visibly manifest.

In retrospect, the Divine service of Aaron’s sons provides us with two lessons:

a)a positive one - that every Jew has the potential to draw as close to G‑d as they did; and

b)a negative one - that our love for G‑d cannot be left in the spiritual heights, but must instead be applied within the context of our world.

Our responsibility is to apply these lessons in dedicating the Sanctuary for G‑d that exists with each of our hearts: to realize that powerful love for G‑d is within our grasp, but not to be so absorbed in these feelings of love that we lose sight of the expressions of G‑dliness in the world around us.