On the eighth day of the very detailed and instruction-filled consecration ceremony of the Tabernacle, Aaron’s two older sons, Nadav and Avihu, bring a “strange” fire, an unscripted part of the ceremony. The response is immediate and fatal. God sends a fire that kills both of them instantly.
There’s a plethora of commentaries as to what exactly Nadav and Avihu’s sins were and why the repercussions were so severe.
The Chidushei HaRim on Leviticus 10:1 provides a fascinating thought as to the actual mechanics of what was going on.
He states that Nadav and Avihu were in a state of total devotion to God. They wanted to cleave and attach themselves to God, and at what they thought was a propitious time, they created this innovative offering of bringing a fire which was not commanded into the Sanctuary. Their devotion to God was indeed supreme and admirable. However, their innovating to such an extent and putting their entire heart and soul into something God didn’t command proved to disrupt the mechanics of their very existence.
The Chidushei HaRim explains that when we do something for God, when we perform a Mitzva, we are somehow expending our soul. It seems the soul seeks to connect to God more seriously and wants to “jump ship” from our mortal forms. However, the very Mitzva we perform, the instructions that God has given us, are what reinstate and keep the soul in the body. The Mitzvot, the instructions which God has commanded in some spiritual sense are the very things that grant our existence.
However, when Nadav and Avihu “gave it their all” for something which God had not commanded, there were no instructions, there was no Mitzva to revitalize their souls and make sure they stayed alive. Therefore, immediately after they offered this “strange” fire, they couldn’t remain in physical existence. Their souls could no longer stay in their bodies as there was no Mitzva, no instruction set, that would “reinstall” their souls. Hence we have the Midrash that states that God’s fire consumed Nadav and Avihu’s souls but their bodies remained intact.
May we keep to the instructions as much as possible. They’re challenging enough.
Dedicated to the memory of Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky zt”l.