Rabbi Ephraim Sprecher, Dean of Students and Senior Lecturer at Diaspora Yeshiva, is not only a popular speaker and teacher, but also a dynamic thinker and writer. A student of Harav Yaakov Kamenetsky and Harav Gedalia Schorr, Rabbi Sprecher was granted smicha (rabbinical ordination) by Torah Vodaath Yeshiva. Prior to his current position, Rabbi Sprecher was a professor of Judaic studies at Touro College in New York. In addition to his duties at Diaspora Yeshiva, Rabbi Sprecher writes a regular column on various Judaic topics in the Jewish Press, and lectures regularly at the OU Israel Center in Jerusalem.
Nadav & Avihu - The Divine Kiss of Death
Published: Tuesday, April 17, 2012 12:48:36 PM
Number of views: 2411

"And Nadav and Avihu, the sons of Aaron, took both of them his censer, and put fire therein, and put incense, and offered strange fire before Hashem, which He did not command them. And there went out fire from Hashem, and devoured them, and they died before Hashem." ( Vayikra 10:1-2). Many Torah commentators have pondered why Nadav and Avihu died.

Was the "strange fire" sufficient cause for a Divine death sentence ? The dilemma has been further complicated by Moshe's puzzling response to this tradgedy: "Then Moshe said to Aaron, this is what Hashem has said, I will be sanctified in them that come near to me, and before all the people I will be glorified." (Vayikra 10:3).

Moshe's cryptic statement is open to various interpretations, but the common denominator seems to be that the act committed by Aaron's two sons was not totally negative. Rashi quotes the Midrash, "Moshe said to Aaron, my brother, I knew that Hashem's Mishkan would be sanctified through the death of someone close to G-d, and I thought it would be either you or me. Now I see that Nadav and Avihu were greater than you and me."

Rabbi Chaim Ben Attar ( Ohr Hachaim) , notes: " The meaning is that Nadav and Avihu drew too close to the upper light of the Schina out of an uncontrollable and passionate love for G-d, and that is why they died. This is the secret of the G-dly kiss of death these two Tzaddikim received – the same Divine kiss of death that all Tzaddikim receive upon death. However, there is one important difference, in the case of other Tzaddikim, the kiss of death expresses G-d's desire to draw them nearer to Him, whereas Nadav and Avihu themselves wanted to draw nearer to Him before their time."

There are situations, says Rabbi Ben Attar, where the thirst to draw near to Hashem is so strong that the soul, disgusted with the body that binds it to this world, longs to part from it and to cleave and cling to Hashem. In his Ohr Hachaim commentary on the deaths of Nadav and Avihu, he states that our own consciousness is inadequately equipped to help us understand such longing, nor can we learn about it from other individuals or from books.

Aaron's two sons committed no actual sin; they simply reached such a lofty spiritual level that their souls became disgusted with the flesh of their bodies. Thus, the only solution was to abandon the flesh & and cling to the "Supreme light" – to Hashem. If we adopt this interpretation, we can then more easily understand Aaron's reaction; he does not challenge Hashem's judgment, he does not weep for the loss of his two sons, he maintains a stony silence: "And Aaron was silent" (Vayikra 10:3). The Hebrew word for silent is "vayidum", and where the English word Dumb comes from.

The spiritual energy Nadav and Avihu exhibited was unprecedented; it simply burst forth from their souls. Such intense power cannot allow a person to lead a normal existence, and yet the whole purpose of the Mishkan is to enable us to be in daily, normal contact with Hashem. What can one do when the desire to touch the sublime draws the soul out of the body ? And how can we lead a normal, daily life in which we are in frequent contact with Hashem, but are prevented from attempting to reach the highest level of Kedusha: which is abandonment of our earthly existence ?

In order to answer these questions, let us look in Vayikra 16:1 "And Hashem spoke to Moshe after the death of the two sons of Aaron, when they came too close before Hashem, and died." Following their deaths, G-d issues His command immediately, His directive is related specifically to the expression of Nadav and Avihu's desire to draw closer to Him: "And Hashem said to Moshe, speak to Aaron your brother, that he should not come at all times into the Holy place within the curtain before the Cover, which is upon the Ark that he should not die. For I will appear in the cloud upon the Ark Cover. Thus shall Aaron come into the Holy place, with a young bull for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering." (Vayikra 16:2-3)
Nadav and Avihu present a "strange fire" before G-d because it entails a sacrifice that G-d has not requested. However, this act is not a sin per se, it is simply the expression of the brothers' intense longing to get closer to G-d. It is a desire to achieve a bond with G-d that no other human being has ever attempted to attain before. They desired an out of body experience. However, G-d wants us to continue to live in the earthly world that He has created. Our mission in life is to sanctify ALL of Creation, even the secular and the mundane. As the Torah states in Devarim 11:21, "like the Heavenly days on the earth". Our task as Jews is to bring down Heaven on earth.

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