Beit Midrash

  • Torah Portion and Tanach
  • Kdoshim
To dedicate this lesson



Rabbi Stewart Weiss

Iyar 8 5777
The tragic story of Aharon's sons Nadav and Avihu – the only case in the Torah where righteous individuals explicitly come to an untimely end – reverberates through numerous Parshiyot. In Shmini we record their deaths; Acharei Mot begins by referring to it, Kedoshim hints at it, even the census in Bamidbar, detailing the lineage of Aharon, states that they died childless.

While numerous reasons are given for their deaths, they can all be summed up by the first pasuk in our reading, "B’karvatam lifnei Hashem, vayamutu." They came (too) close to G-d - and they died. All their acts – adding to the prescribed offering; entering the Mishkan when it was not called for; getting drunk; even refraining from having children – all these were done in an effort to supercharge their spirituality and come closer to the Almighty.

But how do we reconcile Nadav and Avihu’s fate with the opening pasuk of our second Sedra: "Kedoshim tih’yu, ki kadosh ani Hashem Elokeychem; Be holy, for I, G-d, am Holy." If Hashem wants us to be "kadosh/holy" – a word which means, "to separate ourselves for a higher purpose," then isn’t this exactly what Nadav and Avihu did?!

I want to suggest that Nadav and Avihu were not so much punished, as they were the victims of their own actions. They took so much upon themselves, they so "overloaded their circuits" with such massive spiritual energy, that the whole system broke down, and they experienced burn-out. They came too close to the Heavenly fire and, despite their good intentions, their wings got singed and they crashed.

There is a profound lesson to be learned here. G-d surely wants us to get close to Him, to come under His wings and within His protective force-field. But if we get too close, if we cross the Divine line into the "red zone," we risk losing everything and plummeting into the depths of despair.

I had a friend once who was determined to start a Yeshiva – no small undertaking. He devoted himself to that noble cause night and day, 24/7. In doing so, he neglected everything else, including his family. He stopped being a normal human being living a normal life, with its mix of business and pleasure, Torah and time out. He was unable to relax, to enjoy and to partake of G-d’s world. He would not even listen to his own Rebbe, who pleaded with him to not be so obsessed. In the end, tragically, he lost it all – his friends, his family and then the Yeshiva itself.

The end of our double-Sedra discusses the idea of "Havdala - separation. We have to separate from unholy practices, from the impure and the treif. But NOT from life itself! We have to know how to balance acting holy – and
acting human - all at the same time. No easy task, but our mission nonetheless.
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