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Beit Midrash Torah Portion and Tanach Shmini

More Is Less

Rabbi Stewart WeissAdar II 21 5776
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One of the most tragic - & mysterious - events in the Torah occurs in our Sedra: Nadav & Avihu, Ahron’s oldest sons, perish while bringing the incense offering. Many reasons are offered for their death: They decided a law in front of their rabbis, Moshe & Ahron; they were
intoxicated; they added a new offering that had not been commanded to them or added an extra ingredient to the Korban.

Which is correct? That is never specified.

What IS clear is that Nadav & Avihu were righteous people; Moshe explicitly says so. He assures Ahron that his sons were even greater than they themselves are! This is why Ahron is stunned into silence: He is at an emotional impasse, pulled in two very opposite directions; he grieves for the loss of his children, yet at the same time, he rejoices that his sons lived, & died, as holy individuals.

But, of course, this only complicates matters. If they truly were such great tzadikim, then why did they have to die?

The key to this puzzle may be found in two little words: "Lifnei Hashem." The pasuk says Nadav and Avihu died when they offered strange fire "before G-d." Now, that phrase can mean, literally, in front of Hashem (i.e. they brought their offering in the Mishkan, where G-d’s presence dwelt). But "before G-d" can also mean preceding Hashem, as in, "I go before you in line, I take precedence."

In other words, while Nadav & Avihu certainly worshipped Hashem, they overstepped their bounds in their desire to come close to Him. They were so determined to connect to Hashem, they superseded even His directives!

It's comparable to a soldier who finds a comrade pinned down by enemy forces. His commander orders him to stay put, because the situation is too dangerous. But the soldier is so determined to rescue his fellow soldier that he rushes forward, kills the enemy, and saves his friend's life. The commander praises the soldier for extreme bravery, & then puts him into jail for disobeying orders.

There are times when we so want to impress G-d, when we are so filled with religious ecstasy, that we lose our perspective. And then we lose control; we do things that we think will bring us closer to Hashem when, in reality, it only drives us further away from Him & ends up injuring us spiritually. We forget that G-d comes first, & that He has the final say - even if we don’t approve.

The road to hell-fire, alas, is all too often paved with the very best of intentions.
Rabbi Stewart Weiss
Was ordained at the Hebrew Theological College in Skokie, Illinois, and led congregations in Chicago and Dallas prior to making Aliyah in 1992. He directs the Jewish Outreach Center in Ra'anana, helping to facilitate the spiritual absorption of new olim.
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