The Torah portion of Acharei begins with the words:1G‑d spoke to Moshe after the death of Aharon’s two sons, [Nadav and Avihu] upon drawing close to G‑d and they died.”

Why does the verse conclude “and they died” when it had already stated “after the death of Aharon’s two sons”?

According to the Midrash,2 the deaths of Nadav and Avihu came about for a number of reasons: they entered the Holy of Holies; they were lacking the proper number of priestly vestments while performing the service; they had no children; they did not marry.

Where are the above reasons hinted at in the Torah?

Our Sages tell us3 that after their passing, Moshe told his brother Aharon that he had known the Mishkan would be sanctified by those who are beloved by G‑d, and close to Him. Now he realizes that Nadav and Avihu were even greater than he and his brother Aharon.

This being so, how was it possible for them to sin so grievously that they died?

Chassidus explains4 that the sin of Nadav and Avihu is not to be understood as a sin in the simple sense; it consisted in letting their intense closeness to G‑d actually draw their souls out of their bodies; they drew so close to G‑d that they died.

Nevertheless, their action was still considered a sin. Although a Jew should strive to attain a level of service that enables him to break free of the physical, he is at the same time commanded to “return” and perform the service of a living Jew — the service of a soul within a body.

The Divine intent is not that the soul flee the body and the physical world, but rather that it transform the world itself into a dwelling fit for G‑d.5

Since Nadav and Avihu merely fled the world and corporeality but did not “return” to it, they are considered to have sinned.

This is why the verse concludes “and they died.” The seeming redundancy comes to explain that it was their intense cleaving to G‑d that caused their souls to leave their bodies.

Accordingly, we can now understand how the verse hints at the various reasons mentioned in the Midrash as to why Nadav and Avihu were punished; their passion for G‑d was not accompanied by a return to this world:


“They entered the Holy of Holies” indicates that they kept reaching for ever higher levels, without giving thought to “returning” to the physical world. The term “garments” alludes to the Jews’ garments of mitzvos,6 which are clothed in physical matters. “Lacking garments” thus means that they lacked the proper devotion to mitzvos and sought to escape this world rather than purify it.

“They had no children; they did not marry” means they did not fulfill the commandment to “be fruitful and multiply,” bringing souls into physical bodies; their approach was to separate the soul from the body.

Every story in the Torah carries a lesson for all Jews, as “Torah” means “lesson.”7 But how does the story of Nadav and Avihu apply to all Jews, when the lesson derived from this tale seems to apply to only the very few who reach such an exalted spiritual state that their souls are in danger of leaving their bodies?

There are times when all Jews are in a state of spiritual arousal — when their souls flee their bodies, as it were. This is especially so during the more spiritual days of the year, such as Shabbos, the Yomim Tovim, the Days of Awe, and particularly on Yom Kippur. During those times, Jews rise above their everyday routines and attain new spiritual heights.

The lesson here is that we should not divorce our spiritual “highs” from our regular activities; we should endeavor to “return” this spiritual exaltation, making it part of our daily lives, so that all our days and all our physical activities become imbued with holiness.

Based on Likkutei Sichos Vol. III, pp. 987-992