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 Israel, as the heirs to Moses and AaronBa'al Ha'turim also suggests that they coveted leadership.  According to this opinion, "a foreign fire" is an insincere offering, a self-promoting service, a hollow worship.  They were interested only in their own gain and, therefore, their offering was rejected and they were punished.

In the days of the Holy Temple, an offering, a sacrifice, was often a part of a prayer (read, for example, the story of Hannah, I Samuel 1:1-2:10).  Nowadays, when we come to Shabbat 'services' we actually participate in prayers.  We may also pray individually, as Hannah did, for various purposes.  For example, we regret our sins and pray to be forgiven; we pray for good health, for the success of our children, for peace; and we pray to express our gratitude for being alive and well.  But, what do we give? What is our sacrifice?  We complement the prayers with donations and volunteer activities.  When we offer money, time and talent to help our community, this service is the sacrifice that goes along with the prayer.  And as long as we offer our service to the community, our offering is blessed.  The story of Nadav and Avihu teaches us that the service, the offering, is "foreign" only if it is not sincere, if it is done for personal gain.

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.

n      Judah Ari-Gur 



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