What Was Their Sin?
Was Their Sin?
this week’s portion begins, the Jewish people are celebrating the inauguration
of the Mishkan—Tabernacle. The mishkan was inaugurated over a period of eight
days, from the twenty third of Adar through the first of Nissan.
the last day, Aron, the high priest, performed the service. After he had
finished, his two sons Nadav and Avihu, without being commanded, arose and
offered up incense: “The sons of Aron, Nadav and Avihu, each took his fire
pan, they put fire in them and placed incense upon it; and they brought before
G-d a strange fire which He had not commanded them. A fire came forth and
consumed them, and they died before G-d” (Lev. Ch.10 V.1-2).
story needs a lot of explanation. Why did Nadav and Avihu deserve to die? The
Midrash notes in several places that Nadav and Avihu were both extremely righteous
individuals. True, they might have made a mistake, but was the mistake deserving
of the death penalty? And what exactly was their sin?
let us understand why they deserved death. G-d does not judge people by a set
standard; rather, He judges them by their own ability and potential. Because
Nadav and Avihu were such outstanding people, they were held to an infinitely
higher scale than the average person. In fact, their death was a sanctification
of G-d’s name for a number of reasons (A sanctification of G-d’s name takes
place when people are more cognizant of G-d).
of all, the manner in which they died was a sanctification of G-d’s name. The
fire flew into their nostrils and consumed their souls. This showed how close
G-d was with them. G-d is loathe to go against the laws of nature, but for His
beloved servants, Nadav and Avihu, He did so. Their deaths also gave their
father Aron a tremendous opportunity to
sanctify G-d’s name through his acceptance of the judgment that G-d had
pronounced on his sons. Aron was rewarded for this when the next commandment was
taught through him (the commandment that the priests may not drink wine before
performing their priestly duties).
way in which it sanctified G-d’s name, was it showed most that no person is
“above the law”, not even people as great as Nadav and Avihu, who, besides
being great in their own right, were also the sons of the high priest, Aron.
question remains: still, what exactly was their sin? Thirteen
possibilities have been posited, amongst which the following: they had drunk
wine before they entered the sanctuary; they were not wearing the correct
priestly garments; they decided matters of Jewish law before Moshe and Aron did
(while in their presence, which showed a lack of respect; they went uninvited to
the Holy of Holies, etc.). The Midrash explains how each example could be
construed as a strange fire.
Dessler explains that each one of these sins also has a common root: a lack of
humility. For any Jew to reach his potential, he must have a large amount of
ambition. But the ambition must be tempered with a dose of humility, for as
great as any person may be, in order for him to be his best, he must be
subservient to G-d. Even the great King Solomon realized that there was a limit
to his wisdom and understanding (e.g., when he studied the laws of the red
heifer and ritual purity). So while he had the ambition and drive to be King
Solomon, he also had the humility to understand that he was not without
is a challenge for every human being: to be confident in his own abilities, yet
to constantly look towards G-d for guidance and strength.