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Five Lessons From Nadav And Avihu

The lesson here is that no matter how holy and exalted we may be Judaism requires that we have a teacher, mentor or guide with whom to consult.

19.04.2023 464 (0)
Five Lessons From Nadav And Avihu
Five Lessons From Nadav And Avihu

The Five Transgressions

The two eldest sons of Aaron were stricken by a fire because they brought an unlawful offering on the day the Mishkan, the portable Sanctuary in the desert, was inaugurated. The Torah describes their offering as “foreign” or unauthorized and thus the cause of their demise.

According to our Sages there were actually five reasons Nadav and Avihu incurred the death penalty. According to the Chidah they are represented by the words “aish zarah (a foreign fire”).

The letter aleph stands for aish-fire. This refers to their primary crime of bringing an unauthorized offering into the Mishkan.

The letter shin stands for shtuyei yayin-they imbibed wine [before entering the Sancuary].

The letter zayin stands for zera, which means progeny. This refers to the fact that they did not marry and therefore had no children.

The reish represents rechitza-washing; they failed to ritually wash their hands and feet before entering the Mishkan.

The letter hei stands for hora’ah-instruction and refers to their failure to consult with Moses and obtain his ruling as to whether their ritual was proper; they improperly decided that matter on their own. For one to issue rulings in matters of Torah law in the presence of one’s teacher is a serious sin.

Let us now analyze these five transgressions and apply them to our own quest to create a Sanctuary in our lives.

No Foreign Fires

The concept of foreign or unauthorized fire conveys two messages:

First, our enthusiasm for the Divine should not cause us to withdraw totally from the physical world.

Second, the idea of a “foreign fire” connotes diverting enthusiasm and passion that we ought to have for spiritual matters into the material and physical domains.

No Intoxication

Intoxication before entering the Mishkan conveys two messages:

The first is that while passion and enthusiasm for G-d and G-dly matters is praiseworthy one should not allow that passion to lead to abandonment of the physical world. According to the Or Hachaim, the primary sin of Aaron’s sons was their desire to liberate their souls from their bodies. In a sense, their deaths were not a punishment but a hoped for consequence of their passion for G-d. But, His desire is for us to create a dwelling for Him within the precincts of the physical and material world.

The second lesson is that when attempting to generate passion for G-d and Torah, we ought to refrain from using artificial means to reach a heightened consciousness. While Judaism allows and even encourages drinking wine at certain occasions it does not sanction drinking before prayer, when the desire is for us to develop a feeling of love for G-d. This is consistent with Judaism’s objective of making the natural forces holy; not overriding them.

This explains why Maimonides insists that Moshiach does not have to perform miracles to establish his credentials as Moshiach. While miracles can happen and do happen, the goal is not to change the world with miracles, and Moshiach, who will bring the world to the ultimate realization of its purpose, will achieve that goal without having to employ supernatural means.

No Children; No Continuity

The third transgression, that of not having children, can also be understood on two levels:

First, their refusal to marry and start a family was yet another manifestation of Nadav and Avihu’s desire to be detached from the physical world. Their modus operandi can be summed up in one word: “escape!”

Second, children connote continuity. The message here is that whatever passion we generate must be one that can last. Human emotions are fickle and it is virtually impossible for a human being to maintain an emotional high. Invariably, these spiritual highs fizzle out and we are hard pressed to ignite the same passions again. We become demoralized when we cannot feel the same spiritual exhilaration and ultimately, we can lose interest and become jaded.

To maintain a level of inspiration that can be reignited, one must ensure that the inspiration is grounded. Chassidic philosophy emphasizes the need that the passion we feel should be based on our intellect. By contemplating G-d’s greatness and His love for us, among other meditations, we can find the means to sustain our interest and gain the capacity to reignite the flame.

No Washing

Why did Nadav and Avihu fail to ritually purify themselves by washing their hands and feet, as they were otherwise required to do?

Several explanations come to mind:

First, they were so impulsive and spiritually intoxicated that they felt they had no time to pause and wash themselves. They were so filled with fiery passion that they could not control themselves and rushed into the Mishkan to offer their “foreign fire.”

Second, Nadav and Avihu were on such a spiritual high that they did not feel the need to purify themselves.

Here too we can glean two lessons and apply them to our own lives.

First, while alacrity is a virtue and procrastination is a vice, we should not be impulsive in our behavior. It is imperative that we do not overlook Torah’s requirements for and prerequisites to performing certain rituals.

Second, no matter how elevated we are and ostensibly free of impurity, we must always strive for greater purity as we seek greater spiritual growth. What may be considered pure for a person on a low spiritual level may be considered impure for a person who stands on a higher rung of the ladder of holiness. That is why the High Priest would have to immerse himself in a Mikveh repeatedly during Yom Kippur. Although he was the holiest of Jews, entered the holiest place and had already immersed himself, nevertheless, as the day progressed his climbing to a higher level of holiness required that he also attain a higher level of purity.

Everyone Needs a Mentor

The fifth transgression, not consulting with Moses prior to their unauthorized offering, can also be understood on two levels.

First, because of their impulsiveness they had no time or the ability to pause and ask Moses if what they were about to do was acceptable.

Second, precisely because they were on such a high level, even higher than Moses in some respects, they did not believe they needed to consult with him. After all, they thought that they were superior to Moses! Indeed, Moses said as much to his brother Aaron; that Nadav and Avihu were even holier than they.

The lesson here is that no matter how holy and exalted we may be Judaism requires that we have a teacher, mentor or guide with whom to consult. Indeed, everyone needs a mentor with whom to consult.

In all Jewish history, there is not a single great teacher or leader who did not himself have a teacher and mentor. While there were many autodidacts, they would still seek out teachers with whom to consult and from whom to receive guidance.

Shortly after the Rebbe suffered a severe heart attack, he wanted to resume his custom of visiting the gravesite of his father-in-law and predecessor. Concerned with his health, the doctors sent several of the elder Chassidim whom the Rebbe greatly respected to try to dissuade him from making that strenuous trip. Rather than saying outright that the Rebbe should not go they hinted it by stating to him, “We need a Rebbe!”

The Rebbe’s immediate response was: “Just as you need a Rebbe, I too need a Rebbe!”

The Rebbe also launched a campaign for every individual to choose a mentor with whom to consult about spiritual matters. In addition to the humility it engenders, only an outside person who is objective can give sound, unbiased, advice. We, as humans, cannot judge objectively when it comes to our own needs and interests.

We are taught that when Moshiach comes and the Patriarchs and Moses return to life, they will study Torah under the tutelage of Moshiach. Despite Moses being the one who revealed the Torah to us, Moses in his humility will not hesitate to seek out the knowledge of Moshiach.

Translation: Пять уроков Надава и Авиу Comments: 0

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