Parshas Shmini - Consumed By A Strange Fire
This article was written in merit of my grandmother Sarah bas Asher z"l who passed away Erev Shvii Shel Pesach at the age of 90 years old from the Corona Virus. Grandma Sarah was a truly righteous woman. She was an exceptional baalas middos, totally devoted to her family in every way, and embodied the spirit of what it means to be a simple Jew. She was my role model in every sense of the word. I am confident that she will be a Meilitz Yosher for her family and for Klal Yisrael in these difficult times. May her memory be a blessing.
וַיִּקְח֣וּ בְנֵי־אַֽ֠הֲרֹ֠ן נָדָ֨ב וַֽאֲבִיה֜וּא אִ֣ישׁ מַחְתָּת֗וֹ וַיִּתְּנ֤וּ בָהֵן֙ אֵ֔שׁ וַיָּשִׂ֥ימוּ עָלֶ֖יהָ קְטֹ֑רֶת וַיַּקְרִ֜יבוּ לִפְנֵ֤י יְהֹוָה֙ אֵ֣שׁ זָרָ֔ה אֲשֶׁ֧ר לֹ֦א צִוָּ֖ה אֹתָֽם: וַתֵּ֥צֵא אֵ֛שׁ מִלִּפְנֵ֥י יְהֹוָ֖ה וַתֹּ֣אכַל אוֹתָ֑ם וַיָּמֻ֖תוּ לִפְנֵ֥י יְהֹוָֽה:
"And Aaron's sons, Nadab and Abihu, each took his pan, put fire in them, and placed incense upon it, and they brought before the Lord foreign fire, which He had not commanded them.And fire went forth from before the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord." (Vayikra 10:1,2)
One year after Klal Yisrael had been redeemed from Mitzrayim, on the first of Nissan 2449, the Mishkan was finally ready to be built. Five parshios in the Torah (Terumah, Teztaveh, Ki Tisa, Vayakhel and Pekudei) dealt with the building plans for the Mishkan and two more parshios (Vayikra and Tzav) dealt with the korbanos that would be brought in the Mishkan. In the past year, Klal Yisrael had received the Torah at Har Sinai, worshiped the golden calf and had obtained forgiveness in the first ever Yom Kippur. After seven days of inaugurating the Mishkan, the first official day (the eighth day) of service was set to begin. What began as a joyous day ended in unimaginable tragedy.
“The children of Aharon, Nadav and Avihu, each took a pan and put in it fire, and put upon it Ketores, and they brought it before Hashem, a strange fire, one for which Hashem had not commanded, and a fire went out and consumed them."
The Torah seems to be clear as to the cause for Nadav and Avihu's death. They brought a "strange fire for which Hashem had not commanded". Fascinatingly, Chazal offer many other reasons as to why Nadav and Avihu actually died.
The Gemara in Eruvin (63a) explains that one is forbidden from rendering judgment in front of his Rebbe. Nadav and Avihu paskened that it was a Mitzvah for them to bring their own fire in front of Moshe Rabbeinu and this was the cause of their early demise.
Rashi (Vayikra 10:2) quotes the Medrash (Vayikrah Rabbah 12:1) which explains that Nadav and Avihu entered the Mishkan while inebriated. This would explain why this episode is followed by an admonishment to the survivors not to enter the sanctuary after having drunk wine.
The Medrash (Vayikra Rabbah 20:10) offers several explanations as to their untimely death. Nadav and Avihu would walk behind Moshe and Aharon and say "When will these two elders pass away and we become the leaders over the community?" In response Hashem said, "Do not pride yourselves with tomorrow.”
Alternatively, Nadav and Avihu sinned by never marrying. While they had many opportunities to marry they reasoned “The brother of our father [Moshe] is a king, the brother of our mother [Nachshon] is a prince, our father [Aaron] is the Kohen Gadol, and we are the two vice high priests—which woman is good enough for us?”
The Medrash further suggests that when God revealed Himself at Har Sinai, Nadav and Avihu acted casually by eating, drinking and staring at the Divine as if they were looking at a friend. This stands in contrast to Moshe Rabbeinu by the burning bush who hid his face rather than looking at the Divine. "It is good that Moshe hid is face. The Holy One blessed be He said, 'I wanted to reveal Myself to you, and you honored Me by covering your face. By your life, when you will be with Me on the mountain for forty days and nights without food or drink, you will take pleasure in the radiance of the Shechinah ...' (Shemos Rabbah 3:1).
The Rabbeinu Bachya offers a Kabalistic approach. Nadav and Avihu understood that the Ketores countered the Middas HaDin (“they place incense to placate Your anger” - Devarim 33:10). Their sin was that they directed the offering of the Ketores to Hashem's Middas HaDin and not to Hashem Himself (the tetragrammaton).
The Ibn Ezra (Vayikra 16:1) suggests that Nadav and Avihu brought the Ketores in the Kodesh HaKedoshim (the Ramban disagrees). This would explain why the Torah (Vayikra 16:2) links the issur of entering the Kodesh HaKedoshim (punishable by death except on Yom Kippur and even then only by the Kohen Gadol) with the deaths of Nadav and Avihu.
As we consider the various explanations as to the cause of Nadav and Avihu's death several questions arise.
It would be a terrible mistake to consider Nadav and Avihu sinners.
The Medrash (Vayikra Rabbah 20:8) tells us that Nadav and Avihu had not sinned in their entire lives until this point. The Medrash Tanchuma (Acharei Mos 6:6) adds that in each of the four places in the Torah (Vayikra 10: 2, 16: 1, Bamidbar 3: 4, 26: 61) that the deaths of Nadav and Avihu is mentioned their sin is mentioned as well in order to highlight that this was their only sin. The Medrash (Bamidbar Rabbah 2:23) tells us that the reason their death is mentioned so many times in the Torah is because of how much God treasured Nadav and Avihu.
The Zohar Chadash (III 61b) tells us that Nadav and Avihu were on the same exalted level as Moshe and Aaron. The Targum Yonason (Shemos 24:11) tells us that Nadav and Avihu were exceptionally handsome which reflected their inner beauty.
When consoling his brother Aaron on the death of his two sons Moshe said "Of this did G‑d speak, saying: I will be sanctified by those who are nearest Me, thus I will be honored before the entire people." Rashi, citing the Talmud and Midrash, explains the meaning behind these cryptic words: Moses said to Aaron, "When G‑d said 'I shall be sanctified by those close to Me,' I thought it referred to me or you; now I see that they are greater than both of us."
Pesikta Rabbasi (47:14) tells us that after the death of Nadav and Avihu, Hashem told Moshe “Tell Aaron, your brother, that I have done a great kindness and honor to him by the death of his children Nadav and Avihu, for now I have placed him in the innermost chamber, even closer to Me than you, Moshe.” (The camp of the Leviim surrounded the Mishkan whereas the Kohanim camped within).
(אמר הקדוש ברוך הוא למשה אמור לאחיך אהרן חסד גדול עשיתי עמך וכבוד גדול חלקתי לך שנשרפו בניך אני נתתי אותם לפנים מכל המחיצות אפילו (משה) [למשה] אחיך היאך ישראל מקיפין את הלוים ומשה לוי והלוים יחנו סביב למשכן העדות (שם לג) נמצאת למד אהרן ובניו לפנים ומשה בחוץ)
Indeed, Hashem instructed all of Klal Yisrael to mourn their deaths. (Vayikra 10:6)
All of this begs the question, given the greatness of Nadav and Avihu, how could they have made such a tragic mistake?
Could it be that Tzadikim of their caliber entered the Mishkan in a drunken stupor?
Would Tzadikim yearn for the day when Moshe and Aaron would pass away so they alone could lead Klal Yisrael?
Is it the way of Tzadikim to see themselves as better than others because of their lineage and thus refuse to marry?
Do Tzadikim treat the presence of God as a mere friend around whom would casually eat and drink? Do they enter into the Kodesh HaKedoshim whenever they please?
Clearly, if this were some simple sin Hashem would not have instructed all of Klal Yisrael to mourn their passing. Moshe's words of consolation also make it clear that Nadav and Avihu were great men.
What then was the inner nature of their sin?
Sanctified Through Death
וַיֹּ֨אמֶר משֶׁ֜ה אֶל־אַֽהֲרֹ֗ן ה֩וּא אֲשֶׁר־דִּבֶּ֨ר יְהֹוָ֤ה | לֵאמֹר֙ בִּקְרֹבַ֣י אֶקָּדֵ֔שׁ וְעַל־פְּנֵ֥י כָל־הָעָ֖ם אֶכָּבֵ֑ד וַיִּדֹּ֖ם אַֽהֲרֹֽן:
"Then Moses said to Aaron, "This is what the Lord spoke, [when He said], 'I will be sanctified through those near to Me, and before all the people I will be glorified.' " And Aaron was silent." (Vayikra 10:3)
As we consider Moshe's words of consolation to his brother Aaron, another question jumps out at us. When did Hashem tell Moshe that He would be sanctified through those near me? Rashi explains that the passuk in Shemos (29:43) tells us:
וְנֹֽעַדְתִּ֥י שָׁ֖מָּה לִבְנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל וְנִקְדַּ֖שׁ בִּכְבֹדִֽי
“And I will meet with the children of Israel, and it will be sanctified through My glory."
Rashi brings the Medrash (Vayikra Rabbah 12:2) which explains that the word בִּכְבֹדִֽי, through my glory, should be read as בִּמְכֻבָּדַי, through my honorable ones.
It seems then that Hashem intended all along to sanctify the Mishkan with the deaths of Nadav and Avihu. Why does the Mishkan need to be sanctified in this fashion?
Furthermore, according to the Pesikta Rabbasi (47:14 - quoted above) it seems that somehow as a result of the deaths of Nadav and Avihu, Aaron is brought even closer to Hashem than Moshe? The Arizal in Shaar Hagilgulim (Hakdama 31) teaches that Eliyahu HaNavi was a gilgul of Nadav and Avihu. When the Kohen Gadol on Yom Kippur says אנא השם the word אנא is an acronym of Eliyahu, Nadav and Avihu. In the merit of Nadav and Avihu the Kohen Gadol merited to enter into the Kodesh HaKedoshim and gain forgiveness for Klal Yisrael.
Seen from this perspective it seems that Nadav and Avihu's "sin" was anything but. Not only was it not a sin but it was even a merit for Aaron and for Klal Yisrael throughout history. How can we understand this apparent dichotomy?
Is Silence Always Golden?
וַיֹּ֨אמֶר משֶׁ֜ה אֶל־אַֽהֲרֹ֗ן ה֩וּא אֲשֶׁר־דִּבֶּ֨ר יְהֹוָ֤ה | לֵאמֹר֙ בִּקְרֹבַ֣י אֶקָּדֵ֔שׁ וְעַל־פְּנֵ֥י כָל־הָעָ֖ם אֶכָּבֵ֑ד וַיִּדֹּ֖ם אַֽהֲרֹֽן:
"Then Moses said to Aaron, "This is what the Lord spoke, [when He said], 'I will be sanctified through those near to Me, and before all the people I will be glorified.' " And Aaron was silent." (Vayikra 10:3)
Aarons response to the death of his children is also troubling. When anyone loses a loved one it is a tragedy of epic proportions. The death of a loved one is always painful. This is especially true when it comes to the death of a child. Aaron HaKohen lost not one but two of his four children in one moment. We would have expected the Aaaron, the paradigm of love, would have cried out in terrible pain. After all, isn't it a Godly imperative to experience the full range of human emotions? How could Aaron have stood stoically through such a tragedy? Is this the way we are supposed to suffer our losses? In silence? That is difficult for me to conceive.
What then is the inner meaning of Aaron's silence?
Kiss of Death
The Rebbe Rashab (Rav Sholom DovBer of Lubavitch) explains the nature of the death of Nadav and Avihu. Ketores (incense) were brought on the inner altar whereas the korbanos were brought on the outer altar. The purpose of the outer altar was to draw close the animal soul which is outside of the realm of holiness. In contrast, the ketores is related to the word kesher, knot, which indicates a union. In this vein, the ketores is brought on the inner altar because it is in the intensification of that which is already inside the realm of holiness, namely the Godly soul's innate connection with God. In bringing the Ketores, Nadav and Avihu achieved total oneness with Hashem. This is the inner meaning of the passuk when it says that Nadav and Avihu brought an offering that God had not commanded. We, who lack understanding of the Divine will, need to be told what it is that God wants. Nadav and Avihu in their state of dveikus to Hashem had achieved a complete understanding of the Divine will and therefore one could not truly say that Nadav and Avihu were in the realm of Mitzvos.
The Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh describes the deaths of Nadav and Avihu as follows: "[Theirs was] a death by Divine “kiss” like that experienced by the perfectly righteous—it is only that the righteous die when the Divine “kiss” approaches them, while they died by their approaching it . . . Although they sensed their own demise, this did not prevent them from drawing near [to G‑d] in attachment, delight, delectability, fellowship, love, kissing and sweetness, to the point that their souls ceased from them."
The sanctification of the Mishkan could not be completed until Nadav and Avihu brought the Ketores. The purpose of the Mishkan was to be a dwelling place for God. In this sense it is a microcosm of the ultimate purpose of creation which is to make a dwelling place for God in the world down below. In its current state our world proclaims itself as independent from God. In Olam Haba our world will be a place where the physical world and the Divine presence are no longer seen as two separate entities. When Nadav and Avihu intensified the Godly soul's innate connection with God by bringing the Ketores, they succeeded in merging the Mishkan and the Divine Presence. For seven days the Shechinah rested upon the Mishkan but it wasn't until the eighth day that Nadav and Avihu brought the inauguration of the Mishkan to completion as now the Mishkan and the Shechinah were no longer seen as two disparate entities. As long as the service in the Mishkan was in the dimension of a Mitzvah it could not be said to be truly inaugurated because that indicated a separation between the Mishkan and the Shechinah. When Nadav and Avihu brought an eish zara, an alien fire, that was beyond the realm of Mitzvah then the Mishkan became a place where achieving oneness with God was now a possibility.
This explains why Nadav and Avihu experienced a missas neshika, a kiss of death. Missas Nehsika is a condition where the keilim (vessels - ie. the body) are no longer capable of containing the abundance of light that shines forth from the soul. When this occurs the soul ascends and attaches itself to the light on high. This state can be induced when the body's vessels are in an extreme state of yearning. The light of such a yearning is beyond the capacity of the vessels and therefore it causes the soul to depart from the body. "When they (Nadav and Avihu) came close before the Lord" (Vayikra 16:1) means that Nadav and Avihu achieved a state of intense yearning for God such that their vessels were no longer capable of holding their souls.
In a similar fashion, the Ohr Gedalyahu (Likuttei Diburim Yom Kippur) connects the death of Nadav and Avihu with the death of Rav Akiva. The Gemara in Berachos (61b) relates that when the Romans took Rav Akiva out to be executed, it was the time of Keriash Shema. As they were raking his flesh with iron combs Rav Akiva was reciting Shema, thereby accepting upon himself Ol Malchus Shomayim, the yoke of Heaven. The Talmidim of Rav Akiva watched this scene unfold and asked their Rebbe, "Our teacher, even now, as you suffer, you recite Shema?" Rav Akiva responded, "All my days I have been troubled by the passuk ״בְּכָל נַפְשְׁךָ״ With all your soul, which indicates that even if God takes your soul. I said to myself: When will the opportunity be afforded me to fulfill this verse? Now that it has been afforded me, shall I not fulfill it?" As Rav Akiva reached the word Echad (one), he elongated the word echad until his soul left his body. In this fashion he passed away as he uttered the word echad. At that moment a Bas Kol rang out and said: Happy are you, Rav Akiva, that your soul left your body as you uttered: Echad.
The Ruzhiner Rebbe zy"a explains this Gemara based on the concept of "ratzo" and "shov"- "yearning" and "return". The soul lives in a constant state of tension. On the one hand there is constant pull of the soul towards heaven (ratzo) and on the other the soul has an obligation to remain earthbound to fulfill its mission (shov). To put this into practical terms, a Jew must always be prepared to be in a state of Dveikus where they are ready to give up their lives and return to God. The only reason we don't do give up our lives is because the Torah says וָחַ֣י בָּהֶ֑ם, and you shall live by them (Vayikra 18:5). In other words, when performing a Mitzvah we ought to put our entire life force into the Mitzvah until the point where our souls leave our body and ascend to shomayim and yet we must hold back from totally cleaving to God so that we can stay in this world to serve our Creator. To put it a little differently, the Chiddushei HaRim says that וָחַ֣י בָּהֶ֑ם means that while we invest our entire life force into the performance of the Mitzvah, the Mitzvah itself returns that life force to us and in this way we remain alive.
Every day when Rav Akiva would recite Kerias Shema he would agonize over the words בְּכָל נַפְשְׁךָ, with all my soul. His true desire was to attach himself to Hashem to such a degree that his soul would simply leave his body but because of וָחַ֣י בָּהֶ֑ם he had to hold himself back. Now that Rav Akiva was being tortured by the Romans and either way he was going to die, he no longer had a Mitzvah of וָחַ֣י בָּהֶ֑ם allowing him to cleave to Hashem in such a fashion that his soul simply left his body. When Rav Akiva's talmidim saw him cleaving to Hashem in such a fashion they asked him, is one permitted to serve Hashem with such passion that they expire from the Mitzvah? Do we not have an obligation to hold back so that we may serve God in this world? On this the Gemara testifies that Rav Akiva died with the word echad on his lips. It was Rav Akiva's complete attachment to God (he was "one" with him) that killed him and not the torture of the Romans.
The Ramchal explains that when the passuk (Vayikra 10:1) says that Nadav and Avihu brought the Ketores לִפְנֵ֤י יְהֹוָה֙ it means that they had achieved a state where they were truly before God. They had invested their entire life force into the bringing of the Ketores. Just as with Rav Akiva, when there was no longer an imperative of וָחַ֣י בָּהֶ֑ם and thus the performance of the Mitzvah did not return the life force to his body, so too when Nadav and Avihu were makriv the Ketores there was no וָחַ֣י בָּהֶ֑ם (because there was no Mitzvah) to return the life force to their bodies and therefore they died from their sacrifice. The comparison between Nadav and Avihu is especially appropriate in light of the statement of the Arizal (Shaar Hagilgulim Hakdama 36) that Rav Akiva was a gilgul of Nadav and Avihu.
The Beis Yaakov of Izbitz compares Nadav and Avihu's sacrifice to a Mikvah. If the entirety of the mikveh or a majority of it is sheuvim (drawn water) it is invalid. However, it is impractical (and unhygienic) to have a Mikvah with only one bor (pit) of rainwater. One would have to wait until it rained forty seah in order to refill the Mikvah or change the water. To avoid this issue we build Mikvaos with at least two boros (pits). One bor is for tevilah (immersion) and the other bor contains natural rainwater. In this way we can change the water in the bor that is used for tevilla as often as we need from mayim sheuvim. How is such a Mikvah valid if it contains mostly mayim sheuvim? The two boros are connected using a principle called hashaka (literally kissing). The two boros are built side by side and when the waters "kiss" one another (either through a hole in between the two boros or if the waters meet at the top of the boros) then the waters of the immersion Mikvah are validated by the rainwater in the connected bor. Similarly, the Beis Yaakov explains that the exalted level that Nadav and Avihu attained when bringing the Ketores was transmitted to Klal Yisrael through the principle of hashaka. Just as Nadav and Avihu were able to achieve a level of לִפְנֵ֤י יְהֹוָה֙ now every Jew has the possibility of reaching the level of לִפְנֵ֤י יְהֹוָה֙. That is too say we can now all achieve a complete union with God.
The Ohr Gedalyahu points out that we also find the phrase לִפְנֵ֤י יְהֹוָה֙ when it comes to Yom Kippur as the passuk states:
כִּֽי־בַיּ֥וֹם הַזֶּ֛ה יְכַפֵּ֥ר עֲלֵיכֶ֖ם לְטַהֵ֣ר אֶתְכֶ֑ם מִכֹּל֙ חַטֹּ֣אתֵיכֶ֔ם לִפְנֵ֥י יְהוָֹ֖ה תִּטְהָֽרוּ:
"For on this day He shall effect atonement for you to cleanse you. Before the Lord, you shall be cleansed from all your sins." (Vayikra 16:30)
Only because Nadav and Avihu reached a level of לִפְנֵ֤י יְהֹוָה֙ was the Kohen Gadol able to enter לפני ולפנים and obtain atonement on behalf of Klal Yisrael on Yom Kippur. No wonder Hashem instructed all of Klal Yisrael to mourn the passing of these great Tzadikim. Where would we be without them?
It is now clear why the Arizal saw in the Kohen Gadols proclamation of אנא השם a reference to Nadav and Avihu. It was in their merit that the Kohen Gadol was able to enter into the Kodesh HaKedoshim. It is also clear what the Pesikta (quoted above) meant when it said that Hashem instructed Moshe, "Tell Aaron, your brother, that I have done a great kindness and honor to him by the death of his children Nadav and Avihu, for now I have placed him in the innermost chamber, even closer to Me than you, Moshe." Through the Dveikus of Nadav and Avihu the Kohanim would forever stand לִפְנֵ֤י יְהֹוָה֙.
Living In Our Dimensions
Earlier we were troubled by the seemingly inappropriate behavior of Nadav and Avihu. Could it be that Tzadikim of their caliber entered the Mishkan in a drunken stupor? Would Tzadikim yearn for the day when Moshe and Aaron would pass away so they alone could lead Klal Yisrael? Is it the way of Tzadikim to see themselves as better than others because of their lineage and thus refuse to marry? Do Tzadikim treat the presence of God as a mere friend around whom would casually eat and drink? Do they enter into the Kodesh HaKedoshim whenever they please?
We are now ready to address some of these issues.
Given what we have laid out above, it ought to be clear that the drunken state of Nadav and Avihu was not the senseless drinking of a simple drunkard. In fact, the Zohar teaches that the wine that Nadav and Avihu drank was the same wine that Noach drank after the flood and the same wine that Adam and Chava drank from the Eitz HaDaas. In fact, the Gemara in Sanhedrin (70a) connects the drunkenness of Noach and Adam HaRishon.
ויחל נח איש האדמה ויטע כרם אמר רב חסדא אמר רב עוקבא ואמרי לה מר עוקבא א"ר זכאי א"ל הקב"ה לנח נח לא היה לך ללמד מאדם הראשון שלא גרם לו אלא יין כמאן דאמר אותו אילן שאכל ממנו אדם הראשון גפן היה דתניא ר"מ אומר אותו אילן שאכל אדם הראשון ממנו גפן היה שאין לך דבר שמביא יללה לאדם אלא יין
“And Noah began to be a farmer, and he planted a vineyard.” In explanation of this matter, Rav Ḥisda says that Rav Ukva says, and some say that Mar Ukva says that Rabbi Zakkai says: The Holy One, Blessed be He, said to Noah: Noah, shouldn’t you have learned from Adam HaRishon, whose banishment from the Garden of Eden was caused only by wine? The Gemara notes: This is in accordance with the opinion of the one who says that the tree from which Adam the first man ate was a grapevine. As it is taught in a baraita: Rabbi Meir says: The tree from which Adam the first man ate was a grapevine, as, even today, nothing except wine brings wailing and trouble upon a person; most sins are caused by drunkenness.
The Leshem explains that Nadav and Avihu's bringing of the Ketores in a drunken state was their attempt to rectify the sin of Adam HaRishon. This explains why they drank from the grapes of the Eitz HaDaas. Holy intoxication means penetrating the deepest secrets of the universe. This can be seen from the Gemara in Sanhedrin (38a) wherein Rav Yehuda HaNasi instructed his servants to give wine to Yehuda and Chizkiya the sons of Rav Chiya so that they would reveal what was preventing Mashiach from coming. Similarly, the Gemara in Eruvin (65a) quotes Rav Chiya who said, anyone who can hold their liquor (and not become intoxicated) has an element of the mindset of the seventy elders of the Sanhedrin. This is because both יין (wine) and סוד (secret) both have the Gematria of seventy. Generally we say נכנס יין יצא סוד when the wine goes in the secrets come out but if someone can maintain their secrets after drinking they have are connected to the mindset of the seventy elders of the Sanhedrin. The implication of the Gemara is that there are two types of people who drink wine. There are those that lose their Daas (as was the case with Noach and Adam) and those who achieve an elevated state of Daas as was the case with the children of Rav Chiya and the Sanhedrin. This is also the deeper secret behind the Yom Tov of Purim and why even in the era of Moshiach, when all other Yomim Tovim will no longer be observed, Purim will be continue to be celebrated. The Medrash (Mishlei 9) derives this from the passuk (Megillas Esther 9:28) “the memory of Purim will never cease from among their descendants.” The holy intoxication of Purim that brings a person to a place of elevated daas (beyond the daas of this world to the unknowable place of Olam Haba) rectifies the sin of Adam HaRishon and the unholy intoxication of the Eitz HaDaas.
Why did Nadav and Avihu attempt to rectify the sin of Adam HaRishon now? At Har Sinai, Klal Yisrael came exceptionally close to rectifying the sin of Adam HaRishon and bringing the world to its ultimate fruition. The Gemara in Avodah Zara (22b) teaches that the Zuhama (a sort of moral poison) of the Nachash was removed from Klal Yisrael when they received the Torah at Har Sinai. (Tosfos Chachmei Angliya, Kol Bo - Perush on the Haggadah, Tashbatz Avos 3:18 - explains that when it says in the Pesach Haggadah, "Had Hashem brought us to Har Sinai without giving us the Torah Dayeinu, it would have been enough." it means to say that even without receiving the Torah, merely coming to Har Sinai was enough to remove the Zuhama embedded within us from the times of Adam HaRishon.) Unfortunately, Klal Yisrael sinned with the creation of the Golden Calf and returned the world to the state of mankind post sin. Ultimately Hashem forgave Klal Yisrael and now they were inaugurating the Mishkan.
In Yiddishkleit, the number seven symbolizes natural completion whereas eight symbolizes a supernatural completion. God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh. There are exactly six months between Succos and Pesach, each of which is celebrated over seven days. There are seven weeks between Pesach and Shavuos where we work on the seven natural emotional sefiros. The Menorah which served to illuminate the natural world had seven branches. There are seven colors of the rainbow and seven musical notes in the diatonic scale. A marriage is celebrated with sheva berachos over a seven day period. When losing a close relative we sit shivah (a seven day period). The Gemara in Sanhedrin (97a) tells us that after 6000 years of working to develop the world into a Godly place, we will have one thousand years of Shabbos.
Eight on the other hand symbolizes going beyond the natural order. Eight calls upon us to see through the world that disguises Godliness and transcend time and space.Thus, Chanukah, the celebration of the miraculous victory of the Maccabees, is an eight day holiday. We circumcise our male children on the eighth day to proclaim the transcendent covenant that exists between Hashem and Klal Yisrael. The Gemara in Eirichin (13b) teaches that in the times of Mashiach (a time that will be beyond the natural order) an eighth string will be added on to the seven stringed harp of Dovid HaMelech.
For seven days the Mishkan had been inaugurated. Each morning the Mishkan was erected and each evening it was disassembled as Aaron and his sons were initiated into the Kehunah. Our Parsha begins, "“It came to pass on the eighth day..." Though it was the first of Nissan (as well as the first day of the week) and the first day of the service of the Mishkan, the Torah does not choose to call this day the first but the eighth. Why? The Lubavitcher Rebbe explains that six represents chol (mundane) whereas seven represents Kodesh (sanctified/separated). Six days of the week we work (chol) and on the seventh day we keep Shabbos (Kodesh). Six years we work the land (chol) and in the seventh year we keep Shemitta (Kodesh). For six thousand years we develop the mundane world (chol) and in the seventh millennium we spend all of our time consumed by the knowledge of God (Kodesh). But while it appears that seven is set apart, it is not in truth completely transcendent. The very fact that in order to express Kedusha we must cease from our chol activities indicates that both the physical world and the spiritual realms exist in a particular order. Chol has its time and place and Kodesh has yet another. One is not completely independent of the other. Indeed they are defined by each other. True transcendence exists completely beyond time and space and simultaneously exists within time and space. The eighth dimension (if you can even call it a dimension) is not limited in any way. After seven weeks of working on ourselves between Pesach and Shavuos, we receive the Torah on the fiftieth day (the eighth dimension). After seven cycles of Shemittah we celebrate Yovel in the fiftieth year (eighth dimension). Yovel is not merely a suspension of work but a complete freedom from all boundaries. After six thousand years we will experience the seventh millennium in which we will experience total Kedusha and yet we will not have achieved true transcendence. Only in the eighth millennium of Olam Haba will we experience true transcendence. It is therefore clear why the Torah refers to the first of Nissan as the eighth day. The Torah is giving us an insight into the nature of the Mishkan as a harbinger of Olam Haba.
With this in mind we can understand why Nadav and Avihu saw this moment as the perfect time to rectify the sin of Adam HaRishon. The seven days of inaugurating the Mishkan represented the completion of the seven thousand years of history. With the establishment of the Mishkan on the eighth day, there was a clear portal to Olam Haba and therefore there was an opportunity to move completely beyond the sin of Adam HaRishon.
This explains why the Gemara in Sanhedrin (52a) describes the heavenly fire that consumed Nadav and Avihu as a fire that emerged from the Kodesh HaKedoshim and entered through their nostrils. Why the nostrils of all of the orifices of the body? In the story of Creation, after God formed Adam out of earth, “He breathed into his nostrils the soul of life." (Bereishis 2:7) The nostrils are the souls point of contact with God's original breath. The Gemara in Berachos (34b) suggests that the source for making a beracha on smell is כָּל הַנְשָׁמָה תְּהַלֵל יָ-הּ, all of the Neshamah praises Hashem. And what is the thing from which the Neshamah derives benefit and the body does not? The sense of smell. Thus we see that the sense of smell is the holiest sense of all the senses. In fact, the nose of Adam HaRishon is the only part of Adam that did not participate in the sin of the Eitz HaDaas. This explains why during Havdala we smell a pleasant fragrance which comforts the soul as Shabbos departs. When Yaakov comes to serve Yitzchak his food and receive the blessing of the bechor, Yitzchak remarks, "See, the smell of my son is like the smell of the field that is blessed by Hashem.” (Bereishis 27:27) Rashi explains that the field Yitzchak was referring to was Gan Eden and of course the sense that Yitzchak uses to detect Gan Eden is his sense of smell. The city of Yericho (which means fragrance) is so named because the burning of the incense from the Beis HaMikdash could be smelled even as far as Yericho. (Not coincidentally Yericho was the first city in Eretz Yisrael to be conquered by Yehoshua when the Kohanim and the Aron led Klal Yisrael around the city once a day for six days and seven times on the seventh day. They the blew the Shofar and the walls of Yericho fell. Yehoshua is also deeply related to the concept of the ירח, the moon, which shares a shoresh with the word ריח, smell but there is no space to discuss this connection at this present time.)
The Gemara in Niddah (61b) says that the Mitzvos will no longer apply in the world to come [i.e., after the Resurrection]. If the Torah is eternal how could Mitzvos no longer apply after Techias HaMeisim? According to the approach we have taken we can suggest that in Olam Haba our dveikus with Hashem will be such that we will have an innate understanding of the Divine will. In that sense there will be no more "Mitzvos" because we will naturally follow the Halacha. It is therefore understandable why Nadav and Avihu, who saw themselves as standing in the eighth dimension of Olam Haba, did not feel that it was necessary for them to have a commandment to bring the Ketores. Thus while it is true that in our dimension Nadav and Avihu paskened in front of Moshe Rabbeinu (an egregious sin), from their perspective they were not paskening at all because there was no more Mitzvah! They were simply following the halacha as they intuitively understood it.
Of course this was the "mistake" of Nadav and Avihu. We are meant to live in the dimension of this world so we can make it a dwelling place for God. Living in the eighth dimension, in a sense, is abandoning the mission. We all want to live a life of ratzo but we are meant to be shov as well.
This is also the inner meaning of Nadav and Avihu "casually" eating and drinking while staring at the Divine Presence. In our dimension there is a separation between Kodesh and Chol. In the eighth dimension there is a complete merging of that which is mundane and that which is sanctified. It is a state of complete oneness. Nadav and Avihu who lived in the dimension of Olam Haba were totally comfortable gazing into the Shechinah while eating and drinking. While Moshe Rabbeinu recognized that while in this world we must behave accordingly and averted his eyes at the Sneh, Nadav and Avihu lived in a dimension that transcended time and space and therefore saw no difference between the Kodesh and the Chol. Seen from this perspective it is clear why they behaved the way they did.
Similarly, the Ibn Ezra pointed out that Nadav and Avihu brought the Ketores from within the Kodesh HaKedoshim. From the perspective of our dimension there is Kodesh and Chol. Only the Kohen Gadol can enter into the most sanctified place in the world and only once during the entire year. From the perspective of the eighth dimension there are no longer the normative boundaries of Kodesh and Chol. All is the One God. Seen in this light, there would be no problem with Nadav and Avihu bringing the Ketores in the Kodesh HaKedoshim.
With this in mind we can now understand Nadav and Avihu saying “When will these two elders pass away and we become the leaders over the community.” Nadav and Avihu understood that they represented the world as it would one day be in its ultimate state. They yearned for the day when the era of Moshe and Aaron (the first seven millenium) would be over and the era of Olam Haba would dawn. To this Hashem responded, "‘Do not pride yourselves with tomorrow" which means to say that the time has not yet come for Olam Haba as there is still much work to be done.
Finally, Nadav and Aviu did not see themselves as superior to anyone. That is far from the reason they refused to marry. Humility is understanding who you truly are. Nadav and Avihu understood the progression of this world from its current state to Olam Haba. Moshe, Aaron and Nachshon would lead the world through seven millenium but then Nadav and Avihu would usher in the era of Olam Haba. Truly they felt that there was no woman who they could meaningfully mate with. They felt their souls had no counterpart in this world.
This also explains the Yalkut Reuveni (Shmini) which seems to be critical of Nadav and Avihu for not asking advice from Moshe, Aaron and even from each other. In the era of Olam Haba all is absolutely clear. There is no need to ask advice from anyone. What may have appeared to be arrogant in our dimension was simply Nadav and Avihu living within the dimension of Olam Haba.
With this in mind we can gain some insight into the Rabbeinu Bachya who explained that Nadav and Avihu directed the offering of the Ketores to Hashem's Middas HaDin and not to Hashem Himself (the tetragrammaton). In our world we cannot begin to fathom Hashem's oneness. To express this truth we do not even pronounce the letters of God's name rather we refer to God as Hashem, "The Name." To direct an offering to a particular attribute of God in our world would express seeing God as consisting of many parts. All offerings are therefore directed to God's ineffable name (Yud-Hey-Vav-Hey) so that we do not make this mistake. However, from the perspective of the eighth dimension, when God's oneness is completely understood, it would not be incorrect to direct an offering to a particular attribute. No one would make the mistake of thinking that this "part" of Hashem is actually a part because it is a dimension in which there are no parts. All is one.
Knowing the Unknowable
When someone is in pain it is certainly not a Godly behavior to remain stoic. We are obligated to experience the full range of human emotions in our service to God. Surely Aaron HaKohen having just lost two sons, two extraordinary Tzaddikim, must have been in indescribable pain. What then is the meaning of his silence? Why in the merit of his silence did Aaron alone receive the commandment not to enter into the Mishkan inebriated?
We can only communicate that which is comprehensible. The technology of language is that it allows us to articulate and define the known world. But there are experiences in our world that are simply beyond words. The beauty of powerful poetry is that it somehow encapsulates feelings that we believed to be beyond the realm of the spoken word. Still poetry cannot fully capture the feeling of love for example. Music captures feelings more deeply then love can but even music cannot fully encapsulate the most powerful emotions. To fully experience that which is beyond language, one must simply remain silent.
This is the inner meaning of a fascinating Gemara in Menachos (29b):
אמר רב יהודה אמר רב בשעה שעלה משה למרום מצאו להקב"ה שיושב וקושר כתרים לאותיות אמר לפניו רבש"ע מי מעכב על ידך אמר לו אדם אחד יש שעתיד להיות בסוף כמה דורות ועקיבא בן יוסף שמו שעתיד לדרוש על כל קוץ וקוץ תילין תילין של הלכות אמר לפניו רבש"ע הראהו לי אמר לו חזור לאחורך הלך וישב בסוף שמונה שורות ולא היה יודע מה הן אומרים תשש כחו כיון שהגיע לדבר אחד אמרו לו תלמידיו רבי מנין לך אמר להן הלכה למשה מסיני נתיישבה דעתו חזר ובא לפני הקב"ה אמר לפניו רבונו של עולם יש לך אדם כזה ואתה נותן תורה ע"י אמר לו שתוק כך עלה במחשבה לפני אמר לפניו רבונו של עולם הראיתני תורתו הראני שכרו אמר לו חזור [לאחורך] חזר לאחוריו ראה ששוקלין בשרו במקולין אמר לפניו רבש"ע זו תורה וזו שכרה א"ל שתוק כך עלה במחשבה לפני
Rabbi Yehudah said, "Rav said, "When Moshe ascended to the heavens, he found the Holy One, Blessed be He, sitting and attaching crowns to the letters. He said before Him, "Master of the Universe! Who is staying your hand?" He said to him, "There is one man man who will exist after many generations, and Akiva the son of Yosef is his name, who will in the future expound on every crown and crown piles and piles of laws." He said before Him, "Master of the Universe! Show him to me." He said to him, "Turn backwards." He went and sat at the end of eight rows [of students in Rabbi Akiva's Beit Midrash], and he did not know what they were talking [about]. He got upset. As soon as he got to one [other] thing, his students said to him, "Our teacher, from where do you learn this?" He said to them, "It is a law [that was taught] to Moshe at Sinai." He calmed down. He returned and came before the Holy One, Blessed be He, and said before Him, "Master of the Universe! You have a man like this, and You are giving the Torah through me?" He said to Him, "Be silent. This is what I have decided." He said before Him, "Master of the Universe! You have shown me his Torah; show me his reward." He said to him, "Turn backwards." He turned backwards, and saw that they were tearing his skin with iron combs. He said before Him, "Master of the Universe! Such Torah, and such reward!" He said to him, "Be silent. This is what I have decided."
Upon seeing the greatness of Rav Akiva and ultimately his terrible demise, Moshe Rabbeinu seeks to understand the inner workings of God's plan. Rather than respond, Hashem simply tells Moshe to be quiet. Why doesn't Hashem answer? Why not at least say that His plan is beyond human comprehension? As we said above, Rav Akiva was a gilgul of Nadav and Avihu. Given the chance to escape this world, Rav Akiva cleaved to God's oneness and ended his life. The Torah that Rav Akiva taught was incomprehensible to Moshe because it was the Torah of Olam Haba. This explains why Moshe Rabbeinu sat in the eighth row of the shiur. He was experiencing the Torah of the eighth millenium. Initially Moshe Rabbeinu was bothered by this Torah because it seemed to lack any connection to the Torah of the first seven millenium but when Rav Akiva explained that all of this was given to Moshe at Har Sinai, Moshe was comforted. Given the incredible nature of this Torah, Moshe was mystified as to why Hashem would choose to give the Torah through him and why Rav Akiva would suffer such atrocities. God answered Moshe by telling him to be quiet. Hashem was not avoiding answering the question, he was teaching Moshe Rabbeinu the secret of silence. Only in complete silence can someone experience that which cannot be captured in the spoken word. Moshe was seeking to give language to the dimension of Olam Haba but God explained that Olam Haba is only experienced in the absence of words.
It is for this reason that the Gemara in Berachos (34a) says about Olam Haba “All prophets prophesied only regarding the days of Moshiach; regarding the world to come, ‘No eye can behold it, O G‑d, save Yours’” It is simply impossible to prophesize about Olam Haba because there can be no language to describe a world that is beyond the limitations of words.
When Moshe explained that the deaths of Nadav and Avihu sanctified the Mishkan, that Nadav and Avihu had surpassed both of them, that because of their deaths Aaron would stand in the inner circle לִפְנֵ֤י יְהֹוָה֙, Aaron sought to experience the eighth dimension that is Olam Haba. To do so Aaron HaKohen adopted a posture of silence. In the merit of this silence, Hashem alone spoke to Aaron. On some level this indicates that Aaron achieved some of the level of Nadav and Avihu and yet the message that God communicates to Aaron is a telling one. We are not allowed to enter into the Mishkan inebriated. The time for such behavior has not yet arrived. The sod of Olam Haba must remain in the future until the world has been further developed. Nadav and Avihu sinned in living beyond their time. Nadav and Avihu endowed us with the ability to taste a little bit of Olam Haba in this world but at this time in history we are meant to incorporate these transcendent experiences back into our mundane, physical lives. In this fashion we build a home for God.