The deaths of Nadav and Avihu on the day of the inauguration of the first Mikdash (Tabernacle) that the Israelites built after the Exodus from Egypt have raised many questions and concerns throughout the ages – while never convincingly answer the disturbing questions. Our heading above presents alternative suggested answers from Rabbinic commentaries on this week’s Parashah. Considering these suggestions in the light of our ongoing search and renewed concepts of this End-Time build-up to the Final Redemption (Geulah) will shed more Light on the above question around this tragic and disturbing event of the deaths of these two foremost spiritual leaders in the Sacred Service of the newly built and finally inaugurated Tabernacle (Mishkan). It also links up with the important concept which we have emphasized in our recent discussions about “the Temple in which HaShem would dwell amongst His People in His Coming Universal Kingdom.” It will also confirm some of the renewed understandings that we have gained in these recent enlightening Times – however controversial it may be. And it will confirm the need for our renewed attitudes for challenging current long-held concepts which obstruct much-needed progress towards Geulah.
This review, extracted from Rabbinic commentaries, does not propose to suggest clear answers. Such clear answers do not exist, which is clear from Rabbi Shimon Felix’s commentary here below. He writes: “For centuries, commentators have debated the meaning of this story. What was the sin of Nadav and Avihu, what was the ‘strange fire’ which they offered, and why did they die because of it?” The lack of distinctive Rabbinic conclusions and guidance in this matter is also clear from the non-dogmatic language used in these Rabbinic commentaries, viz. “Probably … apparently … assuming” etc.
This disturbing episode clearly hinges on the entire Divine Plan, in fact, on its core Goal, i.e. for HaShem to indwell the Tabernacle of His People in order to “live amongst them and rule over the nations from His Eternal Kingdom” (to come). And it is this Final Goal and Events of the Final Redemption (the Geulah) which are still much mystical in the interpretations of all religions – even in Judaism. Proof of this is the acknowledgement by Jewish Sages throughout the centuries regarding their lack of proper understanding of the Prophetic details contained in the writings of Biblical Prophets.
As continually emphasized in our recent Newsletter commentaries, the Prophets also foretold of an End-Time Era of Enlightenment and clearer understanding of these Mysteries, Daniel 12
This enlightened understanding will unfold because of the evolving of the Final End-Time Scenario itself – IF …. and this is where the Message underlying the event of Nadav and Avihu may hold such enlightenment. Rabbi Shimon Felix’s commentary (further down below) presents some in-depth observation and consideration of this End-Time enlightenment – yet, thereby raising some new questions. The fact is: we just do not know yet. But, if it concerns Final Redemption, we had better attempt to understand the Divine Plan in order to better conform.
And this is where the contemplation of the Truth behind the Nadav and Avihu event is so important:
In order to better understand the puzzling circumstances we would suggest the following:
Reading Options for this week:
The KOL HATOR commentary unfolding developing End-Time projections of the Divine Purpose, i.e. to raise a Temple for HaShem to dwell in amongst His People. The enlightening concept gained from our study of this week’s Prophetic Haftarah lays an acceptable projection for the End Time Tabernacle referred to by the Nadav – Avihu Event. So, it is important to consider and understand this first in order to consider further possible conjectures and confirmations underlying and indicated by this Event.
– Tradition! Tradition? The Tragedy, and model, of Nadav and Avihu
by Rabbi Shimon Felix
DISCLAIMER – the author of this commentary is not connected in any way to KOL HATOR and may well not share our views and interpretations. We do however thank him for his insight and pointers that confirm our understanding and broaden our insight.
When to stick with traditional approaches and when to change them has been a basic question facing the Jewish people for quite a long time, with increased urgency in the modern era, and with what feels like breakneck speed over the past 40 years or so. The tragedy at the centre of this week’s portion, Shmini, which means “the eighth”, sheds some light on the issue.
The parsha is about the eighth day of the opening of the Tabernacle, which was actually its first fully functioning day, after seven days of special inaugural rituals performed by Moshe, Aharon, and the other priests. On this ‘opening day’, Moshe commands Aharon and the people to bring sacrifices to the Tabernacle, “for today God will appear to you”, which is, after all, the point of the Tabernacle.
(Ref. *1 in the KHT Commentary below).
Aharon and his sons prepare the animal sacrifices as they are commanded, and, as hoped for “…the Glory of God was shown to the entire nation. And a fire went out from before God and consumed the burnt offering and the fats which were on the altar, and the entire nation saw, and celebrated, and fell on their faces.” This moment, the climax of so much work and ritual, is what the Tabernacle was all about: the palpable presence of God, experienced and witnessed by the entire people.
Unbelievably, tragically, what happens next is this:” Now Aharon’s sons, Nadav and Avihu, each took his pan and placed in it fire, and placed on it incense, and brought it before the Lord; a strange fire which he had not commanded them. And a fire went out from before the Lord and consumed them and they died before God. And Moshe said to Aharon: this is what God was referring to when he said ‘with those close to me I will be sanctified, and before the entire nation I will be honored’, and Aharon was silent.”
For centuries, commentators have debated the meaning of this story. What was the sin of Nadav and Avihu, what was the ‘strange fire’ which they offered, and why did they die because of it? What does Moshe mean when he says “this is what God was referring to when he said ‘with those close to me I will be sanctified, and before the entire nation I will be honored'”? How could such a tragic event sanctify and honor God, and why did it happen on the joyous day of the opening of the Tabernacle?
(Ref. *2 in the KHT Commentary below).
First let’s find out what Moshe was talking about when he said to Aharon “this is what God was referring to when he said ‘with those close to me I will be sanctified'”? When did God say this, and what kind of sanctification did he mean? Rashi quotes a Midrash which appears in the Talmud, which explains that, back in Exodus, along with the original commandment to build the Tabernacle, God said that the Tabernacle would be hallowed by His glory. At the time, Moshe apparently understood this to mean that it would be hallowed by the death of God’s most glorious and respected servants. Moshe, in our Parsha, after the deaths of Nadav and Avihu, tells Aharon that, until now, he had thought that God meant that either he, himself, or Aharon, the two leaders of the people, would die, thereby, somehow, sanctifying and glorifying the Temple. But now that Aharon’s sons have died, Moshe sees that they are in fact greater than their father Aharon or their uncle Moshe, and were therefore chosen to sanctify the Tabernacle with their deaths. This is apparently intended as a kind of consolation to Aharon, who accepts it in silence.
The notion that someone great or important would die at the inauguration of the Temple, in order to somehow sanctify it, is a strange one, and feels uncomfortably like human sacrifice (as well as a bit Christian). Apparently, it indicates that the full force and profundity of God’s presence in the Tabernacle could only be communicated by the death of one or more of the leaders of the Jewish people – a dramatic indication of God’s might, and of the awesome nature of His Temple and His presence in it. If this is the case, why, indeed, were Moshe and/or Aharon, clearly the greatest Jews [Israelites, Hebrews] available, not chosen to play that role? Why were Nadav and Avihu chosen, wherein lies their greatness?
To answer this question, I am going to assume that there is no secret, unknown story which explains their stature. I will assume that what the Torah tells us about Nadav and Avihu is all we need to know. If this is so, then all we know of them is the fact of their offering “a strange fire, which they had not been commanded to bring” before God. This, apparently, is their greatness, and also the act which triggered their deaths. If this is the case, and the act of offering an unbidden ‘strange fire’ before God places the sons of Aharon on some higher level than Moshe and Aharon, then it would seem that this spontaneous, voluntary, from-the-heart offering of incense is in some way more precious, more honorable, holier, than the commanded rites performed so obediently by Moshe and Aharon. The impetuous, unbidden, unscripted act of the sons stands in stark contrast to the days and weeks of strict obedience to the specifics of God’s commandments concerning the building and operation of the Tabernacle on the part of the fathers. The values of spontaneity, imagination, and creativity, until now absent from Moshe and Aharon’s efforts to build and run the Tabernacle, are apparently greater than the values of strict obedience to the letter of the law.
And yet, for acting on these values, Nadav and Avihu are killed. This voluntary offering seems, therefore, to communicate two contradictory messages. On the one hand, when Moshe states that Nadav and Avihu are greater than he and Aharon, he underscores the value of spontaneity, creativity, and personal statement in religious activity. On the other hand, the boys’ deaths indicate that such an approach is dangerous, threatening, and, ultimately unacceptable in the Temple. The implication seems to be that there is value in their actions, but not when they are done in the Temple. Outside the Temple confines, in other areas of religious life, the sensibilities which Nadav and Avihu represent are of value, and are to be cherished. This is what makes them ‘greater’ than Moshe and Aharon, who, as obedient servants of God, lack their qualities. In the Temple, however, the immediacy and totality of God’s overwhelming presence necessitates the obedience of a Moshe and Aharon – there is no room for the creativity and spontaneity of Nadav and Avihu’s offering. This is why Moshe and Aharon were not chosen to sanctify the Tabernacle with their deaths – their mode of religious activity is appropriate to the Tabernacle. They have learned to control themselves, and act in accordance with the demands of the immediate presence of God. It is Nadav and Avihu’s mode of religious expression, as precious as it may be, which is at odds with the supreme sanctity of the Tabernacle. Their deaths dramatically demonstrate that, and thereby “sanctify” the Temple. (Ref. *3 in the KHT Commentary below).
It is important to note, I think, that this entire story is told in the context of fathers and sons – Aharon’s grief as a father who has lost his sons, Moshe’s comforting him as a brother and uncle, all make this a family story. This would seem to indicate that the issue we have discussed here is a generational one. Aharon and Moshe, the archetypal fathers/founders of the family/tribe/ritual, have a relationship with God and His laws typified by humility, obedience, concern for detail, and letter-of-the-law compliance with the rules. Their children have a more personal, dynamic, from-the-heart (perhaps somewhat rebellious) relationship with the religion and its rituals. This is seen by the ‘parents’ – God, Moshe, and, in his silent acquiescence, Aharon – as valuable and precious, but too dangerous to be at play in the context of the central rites and rituals of the tribe in its Temple. Their spirit, their religious daring, belongs elsewhere, outside of the center. The Temple is not the place for this strange fire, and, therefore, they must be punished for deviating from religious norms in this holiest of places, thereby making it clear to the rest of the ‘children’ that such behavior, while at times perhaps of tremendous value, is unacceptable at the very epicenter of the nation’s religious experience.
This would seem to present us with an interesting religious and communal challenge: the need to determine exactly where and when such creativity and spontaneity is to be applauded and encouraged in religious life, and where and when it is to be condemned, and a more conservative and normative obedience to traditional religious behavior adopted. One could argue that there are many Temple-like, immutable religious and communal norms that demand unquestioning obedience and absolute loyalty – as the taboo of intermarriage was viewed, for example, during much of Jewish history. Perhaps we need to identify those types of behaviors and beliefs and red-line them as beyond the reach of Nadav and Avihu-like innovation and creativity, and only allow a fresh, personal, subjective approach in areas we identify as less sacrosanct, less dangerous to play around with. This approach could even argue that there are no such areas, and that all of Jewish tradition deserves a Temple-like respect and awe, but that would make it hard to understand the greatness of Nadav and Avihu, and also flies in the face of the entire Rabbinic project.
Alternatively, we could point out that there is not, and never was, anything in Jewish life that has the religious power of the Temple, nothing that, due to the palpable presence of God, demands total, unbending obedience and unquestioning loyalty, to prescribed ritual norms. Since the destruction of the Temple, perhaps all of Jewish life should be seen as the appropriate arena for the from-the-heart, personally inspired, innovative approach which was precisely the greatness of Nadav and Avihu.
“Perhaps all of Jewish life should be seen as the appropriate arena for the from-the-heart, personally inspired, innovative approach”
(It could be argued that we are talking about the period from the destruction of the first Temple, as the second is seen by Jewish tradition as being much less clearly and overpoweringly inhabited by the divine presence. Only in the Tabernacle in the desert and the First Temple was God understood to actually dwell among the Jewish people, and perhaps only in those circumstances are the spontaneity, emotional honesty, and daring of Nadav and Avihu inappropriate).
If this second understanding is correct, then it is only in the Temple that the absolute adherence to accepted, commanded norms is the right approach. Everywhere and everything else in Jewish life and thought is best approached in the spirit of our tragic heroes, Nadav and Avihu: fearlessly, with emotional and intellectual honesty, from the heart.
Rabbi Shimon Felix
KOL HATOR Commentary
*1 – on Par. 2 of the above article – We have in our recent Newsletter commentaries referred to the unfolding renewed realization that “The Coming of Mashiach” really has a deeper meaning and refers to the Return of the Shechinah (Presence) of HaShem, this time, to indwell a Living Temple, made up of the souls who will be elected in the Final Judgment. The statement in par. 2 by Rav. Felix of “the Appearances of HaShem being the salient point of the Tabernacle” thus confirms this conjecture. At the same time, it raises the question of whether this Appearance will take place at the start of the Eighth Day or at the End? (Ref, to the rest of the content of his commentary).
*2 – Ref. to insertion of this link in the article above. This question is raised of how God could be honoured by such a tragic event as the death of two leading Servants in the Tabernacle – two souls whom Moses comments on as being even more important than Aaron and himself could be contemplated with regard to the Prophet Zechariah’s statement in ch. 12:10
The Hebrew original rendering confirms these translations to apply to the ‘thrusting through, the piercing’ of HaShem HIMSELF – even to those with minimal Hebrew Grammar knowledge. Notably, it also refers to “One like a Son … a first-born.” Christianity’s contortion of applying this to “The Son of HaShem…” is overruled by the true implication of this observation of Rav Felix, that it applies to the Shechinah (visible Presence of HaShem Himself) Who comes to live “within”the righteous living Temples whom He will imbue with His Spirit. This implies and fulfils the Divine Promise of the Restoration of the Fallen Tabernacle of David.
*3 – Refer to the insertion of this link in the article above and in the context of the author’s reasoning. We would like to pose the alternative consideration here that perhaps it is HaShem’s appreciation of Nadav and Avihu’s mode of religious expression, which is so precious to Him that imbues Him to regard them as even superior to Moshe and Aaron’s strict following of obedience to the letter of the Law? Their deaths may therefore dramatically demonstrate their superior election for being the Sacrifice (in the allegory of Zecharaiah 12:10 discussed here above) as that for which HaShem Himself would become thrust through by His people for the sake of “sanctifying” the Temple in which He will choose to come to dwell – a Restored Tabernacle made up of the souls of reconciled Returnees from Exile of both the Houses of Judah and 10-Israel. This reconciliation will require the spirit of Nadav and Avihu – a virtual expanding from the letter of the Law alone. A liberated ‘new refreshed thinking’ in order to receive the End Time Enlightenment promised by HaShem through His Prophets.
End of Commentary
God created the world in six days and on the seventh day, He rested. What happened on the eighth day? This week’s Torah reading comes to answer this question:
Additional enlightening Rabbinic commentary on the same Topic:
DISCLAIMER – the author and publisher of this commentary is not connected in any way to KOL HATOR and may well not share our views and interpretations. We do however thank him for his insight and pointers that confirm our understanding and broaden our insight.
G-d created the world in six days and on the seventh day He rested. What happened on the eighth day? This week’s Torah reading comes to answer this question: “And it was on the eighth day, that Moshe summoned Aharon and his sons and the elders of Israel.” (Leviticus 9:1) What was the occasion? The inauguration of the Tabernacle in the desert. The children of Israel completed the work of the Tabernacle on the 23rd day of the month of Adar. The next seven days were called in Hebrew yamei miluim – literally – “days of filling.” On each of these seven days Moshe would construct the Tabernacle in the morning and break it down in the evening. Despite being called “days of filling” G-d’s presence did not rest upon and fill the Tabernacle until the eighth day, the day in which “Moshe summoned Aharon and his sons and the elders of Israel.” Moshe instructed Aharon to make the initial offerings upon the altar, and this is what happened next:
“And Moshe and Aharon went into the Tent of Meeting. Then they came out and blessed the people, and the glory of HaShem appeared to all the people. And fire went forth from before HaShem and consumed the burnt offering and the fats upon the altar, and all the people saw, sang praises, and fell upon their faces.” (ibid 9:23-24)
And just like that, the world that G-d created in six days, and desisted from creating on the seventh day, was given its final touch on the eighth day, by dint of the work and dedication, the faith and love of the children of Israel, who created for G-d a space in this world and invited His presence to enter the Tabernacle and fill our lives for all time.
This final tweak and polish and upgrade to G-d’s perfect creation took the new born nation of Israel exactly one year to complete. G-d first addressed His children as the nation of Israel, whilst still in Egypt, saying, “This month shall be to you the head of the months; to you it shall be the first of the months of the year.” (Exodus 12:2) This was the first day of the month of Nisan. Fourteen days later Israel walked out of Egypt, never to return, and exactly one year later, on the first day of the month of Nisan, marking one year as the nation of Israel, Israel inaugurated the Tabernacle, began the Divine service, and G-d’s presence, the holy Shechinah, rested upon and filled the Tabernacle. Quite an accomplishment for the former forced laborers of Egypt. Quite an accomplishment for the sons and daughters of Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov.
We are told, concerning the first Shabbat in creation, that “G-d blessed the seventh day and He sanctified it.” (Genesis 2:3) We are later told that “on the seventh day He ceased and rested.” (Exodus 31:17) And now we are told that on the eighth day, “the glory of HaShem appeared to all the people. And fire went forth from before HaShem and consumed the burnt offering and the fats upon the altar,” as described earlier, “a pleasing fragrance to HaShem.” (Leviticus 1:17)
How beautiful these days are to G-d: The sixth day, the day in which He completed the work of creation; the seventh day, the Shabbat, the day in which He rested, and the eighth day, the day in which His presence entered into His creation to reside and reign over His world forever. Why then, is the first day of Nisan (the eighth day in our count), not a holiday, celebrated each year as such?
The fact is, that every day that the Holy Temple stands, and the Divine service is performed, and the pleasing fragrance of the offerings rise up to heaven, is the eighth day. Every day G-d’s presence renews creation, and every day, via the service in the Holy Temple, may it be renewed speedily, we make a place for G-d’s presence in our world and within our hearts.
– End of Commentary –
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Wishing you HaShem’s richest Blessings!
Co-founder, KOL HATOR Vision for the Restoration of the re-united 12-Tribed Kingdom of Israel
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