Parshat Shemini 5784: Nadav and Avihu — Pride and Arrogance Leading to Catastrophic Error

Shalom Friends;

Our Parshat Shemini vort is being sponsored by Dov and Bracha Moses of Ramat Beit Shemesh who dedicate this vort Lilui Nishmas for Dov’s Father, Avraham ben Chaim Mordechai, z”l, Lilui Nishmas Rachel bat HaRav Meir Moshe z”l and Refuah Shleima to Shmuel ben Rivka, as well as dedicated for the safety of the Chayalim and the liberation of all hostages and their return home whole physically, mentally and spiritually as well as for the good health and security of kol Am Yisrael. To the Moses family, many thanks for your sponsorship and your continued kindnesses.

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Moshe Burt
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Parshat Shemini 5784: Nadav and Avihu — Pride and Arrogance Leading to Catastrophic Error

by Moshe Burt

In previous years, this author discussed the several aveirot (wrong-doings) of Aaron’s sons Nadav and Avihu, including their performance of the unauthorized Service, the offering of a “strange fire …”, uncommanded by Hashem. Also discussed in previous years’ Parshat Shemini, was how Nadav and Avihu sought to perform a unique service, apparently thought by each of them to be pleasing to Hashem, and how many others through our history have sought to alter, to change the traditional modes of service, more often than not, in ways and for reasons not L’Shem Shemayim (not honoring Hashem’s name) and perhaps, eventually rendering whatever service they attempted as unrecognizable in Shemayim, and actually an aveirah (a sin).

Following seven preparatory days of training, Rabbi Shmuel Goldin provides a context on the eighth day — the day when the Kehunah is formally launched in his sefer “Unlocking the Torah Text”, Sefer Vayikra followed by questions and commentary (pages 52 – 54) :

Hashem commands the nation to assemble at the Mishkan’s entrance to witness the rituals of investiture through which Aaron and his sons will enter their priestly duties. A Heavenly fire descends, consuming the offerings on the Mizbeiyach.

…After seven days of preparation, an eighth, celebratory day of investiture dawns for Aaron and his sons. On this day, they will publicly assume the Kehunah, an honored priestly role to be bequeathed in perpetuity, to their descendants. (Rabbi Goldin summarizing Sefer Vayikra, Perek 9, posukim 1-24)

Suddenly, …this exalted moment of celebration turns to tragedy and sorrow. The Torah testifies: “And the sons of Aaron, Nadav and Avihu, took, each man his censer; and they placed in them fire; and they placed upon it incense; and they offered before Hashem a foreign fire which Hashem had not commanded them. And a fire came forth from before Hashem and it consumed them; and they died before Hashem.” (Sefer Vayikra, Perek 10, posukim 1 -2 as rendered to English by Rabbi Goldin, ibid)

What exactly is the sin of Nadav and Avihu? Why is the sin so onerous [adjective: burdensome, oppressive, or troublesome; causing hardship: onerous duties] that it merits the overwhelmingly severe punishment of immediate death by Hashem’s hand?

Aaron’s sons died because they dared to determine law in the presence of their teacher, Moshe…[and] act contrary to Moshe’s instructions. (R’ Goldin citing Sefer Vayikra, Perek 1, posuk 7)

They enter[ed] the Mishkan in a drunken state. (R’ Goldin citing Midrash Rabbah Vayikra, Shemini 12:5) Support for this position can be derived from immediate subsequent passage where Hashem commands the Kohanim not to enter the [Mishkan, Beit Hamikdash] while drunk, on pain of death. (R’ Goldin citing Sefer Vayikra Perek 10, posukim 8-11, Midrash Rabbah Vayikra, Shemini 12:5)

They fail to confer with Moshe, Aaron or with each other. They each act independently precipitously. (R’ Goldin citing Torat Kohanim 10:1)

They long for the death[s] of Moshe and Aaron in anticipation of the moment when they will inherit the mantle of leadership. (R’ Goldin citing Midrash Rabbah Vayikra, Acharei Mot 20:10)

They refuse to marry because they feel that no woman is worthy of their exalted status (R’ Goldin citing Midrash Rabbah Vayikra, Acharei Mot Ibid) , [and thus] they [deliberately] fail to have children. (R’ Goldin citing Midrash Rabbah Vayikra, Acharei Mot 20:9)

Rabbi A. Henach Leibowitz, in his sefer “Majesty of Man” (page 181-182) provides additional clarity citing the Yalkut Shimoni’s crucial observation about Nadav and Avihu and their failure to discuss and clarify among themselves the halachot regarding their offerings:

The Yalkut Shimoni points out (524:20) that they made this mistake [the unauthorized fire] because they did not consult Moshe. Furthermore… they were blamed because they did not consult with each other…. Why were they blamed for not consulting each other? If both Nadav and Avihu, the greatest men in Israel after Moshe and Aaron, both independently came to the same conclusion that this korbon [the “strange fire”] should be brought, why would asking each other make a difference?

Chazal are showing us the power of asking advice. Even if two equals… both feel the same way about a certain topic, talking it over may cause them to change their minds. By discussing a matter, the concepts involved become clarified.

Had Nadav and Avihu consulted each other, the ensuing discussion would have brought into question the halachic basis for the korbon and saved them from their fatal mistake.

Rabbi Zelig Pliskin discusses the strange fire brought by Nadav and Avihu in his sefer “Growth Through Torah” (page 247) :

Consult wiser people and peers before doing things that are questionable. In Torat Kohanim (in Parshat Acharei Mot) it is stated that Nadav and Avihu erred by not consulting Moshe for advice on whether it was proper to bring this incense. They also erred by not asking each other for advice.

There are two important ideas from the Braisa. One, before doing something that is questionable, make certain to consult someone who is older and wiser. One might feel that what they are about to do is the right thing to do. But there are always aspects that one might have overlooked or were unaware of. The second thing… is that if they [Nadav and Avihu] were to have consulted each other they might not have erred. Neither one might have come to this conclusion on their own. But together, they might. Develop the habit of discussing things with peers to see if there are reasons why one should not do some of the things they feel like doing.

We see throughout history, and particularly today, that people, politicians, governances, top military brass err, often abysmally — again and again and again, and yet are too proud, too stuck on their agendas or prejudices to admit error.

Today, we seem to see the emergence of chaos evolving from peoples’ loss of respect for agendized, self-serving, stubborn and flawed ideological governments and military officers too full of hubris [noun: excessive pride or self-confidence; arrogance] and whose credibility is lacking in sufficient wisdom, virtue, morality or righteousness.

Age and extent of erudition [noun: knowledge acquired by study, research, etc.; learning; scholarship] are sometimes not necessarily the recipe for appropriate decision-making. Instead of Israel’s top military generals sitting in their headquarters in the Kiriah in Tel Aviv threatening their subordinates who are on the front lines of potential combat with insubordination [noun: being disobedient to authority; defiance] over repeated warnings of plans for massive terror attacks.

One therefore can wonder and question to what extent the excessive self-pride and arrogance of Israel’s top military brass, in the run-up to Simchat Torah, i.e. the massive terrorist massacre of Jews and the seizing of hostages of 7 October, might rival in gravity the sins of Nadav and Avihu?

May it be that our Chayalim emerge totally victorious — eradicating Hamas, their terrorist buddies and the so-called “innocent civilians” of Gaza who joined with Hamas in their murderous deeds, and that the Chayalim return home whole — physically, mentally and spiritually and that the Chayalim Liberate and bring home all remaining hostages. And may we see the restoration of true unity within Am Yisrael.

May we, the B’nei Yisrael be zocha that our brethren — the refugee families from Gush Katif be permanently re-settled in Gush Katif, once the IDF, by the Yad Hashem, destructs and eradicates the wild beasts of Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah, all other terror entities, and if necessary Iran, and that our brethren be made totally whole — be totally restituted for all that was stolen from them, that the thrice expelled families of Amona be restored to their rebuilt homes and the oft-destroyed Yeshiva buildings in Homesh be rebuilt, as well as the buildings of Yishuv Elchanan, all at total government expense. May our Chayalim return from battle unharmed — physically, mentally and spiritually and may all of the hostages brutally taken by the wild beasts of Hamas be liberated and returned to their families. Baruch Hashem that our dear brother Jonathan Pollard is now in his fourth year at home in Eretz Yisrael and continues in a new chapter in his life. May Esther Yocheved bat Yechiel Avraham have an aliyah in Shemayim and may her spirit and memory continue to lift Jonathan to at least 120 years. May the MIAs be liberated alive and returned to us in ways befitting Al Kiddush Hashem — as with the return in April, 2019, via Russia, of the remains of Zachariah Baumel, as should the remains of the two chayalim from the Gaza War of nine years ago. May we have the courage and strength to stand up and physically prevent the possibility of Chas V’Challila any future eviction of Jews from their homes and prevent Chas V’Challila the handing of Jewish land over to anyone, let alone to enemies sworn to Israel’s and Judaism’s destruction and eradication. May we see, in 5784, the REAL Jews from the Ukraine and Russia as well as the US and Canada, the real Jews via matrilineal descent, make Aliyah enmass — via thorough review by Misrad HaPanim. And may we soon and finally see the total end to the Communist Chinese Wuhan Lab corona virus pandemic and all like viruses and variants. May we fulfill Hashem’s blueprint of B’nei Yisrael as a Unique people — an Am Segula, not to be reckoned with as with “the nations” and may we be zocha to see the Moshiach, the Ge’ula Shlaima, as Dov Shurin sings; “Ki Karov Yom Hashem Al’Kol HaGoyim”, the Ultimate Redemption, bimhayrah b’yamainu — speedily, in our time”, — Achshav, Chik Chuk, Miyad, Etmol!!!

Good Shabbos!
Moshe Burt, an Oleh, is a commentator on news and events in Israel and Founder and Director of The Sefer Torah Recycling Network. He lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh.