“Bring forth the tribe of Levi before Aharon the kohen and they shall serve him” (Bamidbar 3:6).
The Torah impresses upon us that every individual in this world has a particular mission and is endowed with traits and talents that will help him successfully fulfill it. The verse above concerns the appointment of the levi’im, and the verse before it concerns Aharon’s sons who were anointed as kohanim. The Torah reminds us that two of them – Nadav and Avihu – died when they offered an alien fire before Hashem.
R’ Nissim Yagen asks: Why does the Torah have to remind us of the passing of the sons of Aharon? He explains that the Torah wants to underscore the severity of the punishment of a person who doesn’t focus on his proper role in this world and embraces authority that isn’t his.
Nadav and Avihu were unquestionably great tzaddikim, thoroughly dedicated to Torah and mitzvos, with outstanding middos and yiras Shamayim. What egregious sin, then, did they commit that necessitated them dying suddenly on the day of the Mishkan’s dedication? Our sages suggest various explanations, but they all have one common denominator: The sons of Aharon didn’t take counsel and reflect on their calling.
The Talmud (Bava Basra 3b) relates that Hordos, a slave in the House of the Chashmonaim, killed all his masters except for one young woman whom he wanted to marry. To avoid becoming his wife, she went up to the roof and called out, “Whoever says he’s from the House of the Chashmonaim is a slave since only I remain from them.” With that, she fell from the roof and died, ending the era of the Chashmonaim.
The Chashmonaim were great tzaddikim. When the Greek empire issued decrees against shemiras Shabbos and talmud Torah, the Chashmonaim rose up and fought valiantly. They were willing to give up their lives to vanquish the evil Greeks and merited many miracles in successfully defeating them. Why, then, did their lineage come to such a precipitous end? Why didn’t they merit to continue leading the Jewish nation?
The Ramban answers this question by noting that in his blessings to his children, Yaakov specifically designated the tribe of Yehudah for kingship and leadership. The Chashmonaim weren’t from the House of David, yet they assumed the monarchy and reigned over the Jewish nation. Thus, even though they were great people who dedicated their lives to Torah and the Jewish nation, they were punished because they wrongfully adopted a calling that wasn’t theirs.
How does a person identify his mission in life?
A young man once came to the Chazon Ish with this very question. The Chazon Ish asked him, “What do you think your calling is?”
The young man answered, “I think I have the ability to be a good teacher.”
The Chazon Ish advised him to become a teacher for a few months. “If you’re satisfied, if your students like you, and if they’re happy and thriving, you should continue,” he said. “But if they’re not advancing in their studies, you should quickly leave the position like a person who runs from fire.”
If one continues to engage in a pursuit that isn’t suitable or beneficial in any way, he isn’t accomplishing his purpose in life.
The Netivei Ohr writes that when Moshiach comes, he will approach a simple shoemaker and tell him that he was supposed to be a leader of the Jewish people but became a shoemaker because he didn’t have the proper protektzia (preferential treatment). “You aren’t fulfilling your mission in life,” Moshiach will tell him. “Your true purpose in this world is to be a leader.”
Then Moshiach will approach one of the leaders who acquired his position because of his connections and will say to him, “You’re obligated to fulfill the mission that you were assigned in this world, which was to be a shoemaker. Go be a good shoemaker.”
The two individuals will have no choice but to quickly embark on their mission as directed by Moshiach. There will be no argument or protest.
As we prepare for Moshiach’s imminent arrival in these days of ikvesa d’mashicha, each of us has to contemplate: What is my personal mandate? What am I supposed to accomplish in this world?