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Shemini: Why Did God Reject Nadav and Avihu


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In this week’s parsha, we see the sudden and disturbing death of two of Aharon’s sons, Nadav and Avihu. In exploring the text more closely, what earlier Biblical story shows parallel themes and language to this story, and what is the meaning behind this connection?

About the Author: Rabbi David Fohrman is the dean of Aleph Beta Academy. He has taught at Johns Hopkins University, and was a lead writer and editor for ArtScroll's Talmud translation project. Aleph Beta creates videos to help people experience Torah in way that is relevant and meaningful to them. for more videos, visit: alephbeta.org.


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7 Responses to “Shemini: Why Did God Reject Nadav and Avihu”

  1. Jan Barczuk says:

    Great comments! Thank you.

  2. Laurel Hobbs says:

    The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom…confirmed in your insights! Thank-you. Very thought provoking.

  3. Yes, it's great comments last Parsha, Thank you

  4. Ari Friedman says:

    thank you for your insights. there is another issue connecting the stories and perhaps the story of Noah as well and its connection to wine. the first thing noah plants is a vineyard and gets drunk. perhaps in this getting close to hashem they used alcohol incorrectly and perhaps wine plays a role in our connection hence it's role in Purim and Pesach.

  5. Alexandra Schmidt says:

    This was absolutely beautiful (I am Christian, I hope you don't mind, and never cease to marvel at the Foundation which is Judaism). Thank you so much!

  6. Gary Harper says:

    I have always considered the "foreign fires" to be analogous to the staffs of the magicians that were consumed by Moshe's staff. I also have always seen a relationship between the pair and other pairs, like Cain and Abel, neither of whose insincere attempts at seeking their blind father's blessing through either indifference or camouflaging their motive were fully acceptable to Hashem. The relationship of the tabernacle to Eden was always obvious, especially the red soil of Eden and the coverings. Adam himself was to be the original tabernacle, but he chose his own inclinations over Hashem's instructions.

  7. Gary Harper says:

    To finish.

    One who tills the fields has little time or inclination to reflect upon how good they have it, while sweating under the sun. Cain’s offering to Hashem was of “some” of the fruits of the field. It is implied that Cain did not take his offering seriously, or even begrudged having to part with it. It is implied that they were not the best of the harvest. He did not value his offering. Therein is his error.

    The herdsman has time to contemplate Hashem. Abel offered the “fat” of the “firstborn”. Of course his offering was acceptable, as he put the best before Hashem, always thinking of Hashem first.

    Hashem told Cain that his right action would still be found acceptable. The implication is that right action is preferable to any offering or sacrifice.

    Esau sold his birthright for a bowl of food. He did not value it. Jacob stole Esau’s blessing through lies and subterfuge. Hashem does not find either of these attitudes or actions to be fully acceptable. So, He promised Esau that, in the end time, Esau would throw off his brother’s yoke for good. And Jacob still had some hard things to learn, something to wrestle with, a river to cross, before he earned a name for himself. Right action is far preferable to sacrifices or offerings.

    In times of peace, the dweller in tents is preferred. In times of turmoil, the wanderer over the lands is preferred. Man always favors the wanderer; and woman favors the one who stays home.

    In the end time, the dweller and the wanderer will be one and the same. The lion and the lamb, they will be one. Cain of the humid fields of the river bottoms, Esau of the wild mountains, Jacob of the tents of the plains, and Abel of the pastures of the hills, will all be as one. In all of the corners of the earth, they are found. The ox, the ass, the lamb, and the lion, will all coexist in the peaceable kingdom found within a man. This one is your tzaddik, and is the land promised to each of you, is your true inheritance. Become one. You were once that way, when you were first born; you need only return.

    So, the narratives of the many pairs you find in the scriptures are all the same. The dual natures of men must be reconciled, and only then can Hashem be approached. There is only one acceptable way to do this. Hashem cannot be approached by men who have conflicting natures or motives wrestling inside of them. Only he who has first wrestled with himself can approach close to Hashem without fear, can approach the Holiest of Holies at any time. Indeed, Hashem is always waiting.

    To bring the foreign fires of our own egos before Hashem is not found to be an acceptable offering. It is not a pure sacrifice. It is not brought in peace; it is brought in the spirit of conquest. To be fired up by the wrong spirit is a grave error. Such a vessel ultimately be unfavorably consumed; as were all the gods and religions that were thrown down before Pharaoh as serpents, by the staff of a shepherd.

    The one who fully contains and reconciles within all of these many pairings found in Torah is, of course, mashiach.

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