One of the horror stories in the Torah is the death of Nadav and Avihu - two of Aaron's sons -- as described in Leviticus 10:1-2: "... and they sacrificed before G-d a foreign fire, which (G-d) did not command them. And fire came from before G-d and consumed them, and they died before G-d". What was so wrong in what they did to deserve a sudden death? Although they were not commanded to offer a sacrifice, there is no indication that they were prohibited from it, either. Is it possible that they actually had good intentions, but they were killed because of some misunderstanding? Would G-d, the source of justice and mercy, end the lives of two people who committed an innocent mistake? And what is the meaning of "foreign fire"?
Rashi suggests, following Rabbi Ishma'el, that Nadav and Avihu were drunk when they approached the Tent of Assembly. Indeed, immediately following this story, the Torah (Leviticus 10:9) commands the Kohanim (priests): "Do not drink wine and alcohol, you and your sons with you, when you come to the Tent of Assembly, that you not die". The two brothers suffered a harsh penalty for showing disrespect and not keeping the Don't-Drink-and-Worship law, but certainly not for an innocent mistake. In this context the meaning of "a foreign fire" is an unauthorized or unlawful offering.
A different viewpoint is offered in the Midrash (Safra): Nadav and Avihu wanted to
establish themselves, in front of the assembled people of
In the days of the
I would like to take this opportunity to thank the many active members of our holy congregation, and to encourage everybody to complement their prayers with activities to help our congregation. Active involvement, not for personal gain, is the source of our strength and blessing.
For additional columns: http://homepages.wmich.edu/~arigurj/Column_list.htm