Rabbi Dr. Meir Tamari
[The Chassidic Masters never saw the various cases of Israel's backsliding
in the desert as having political, social or economic causes nor as them
being the result of a slave mentality due to their enslavement in Egypt.
Rather they were guided by the maxim of Hazal that, "the generation that
left Egypt was a 'dor deah' - a knowledgeable generation, one that merited
great and wondrous miracles and Matan Torah. They saw all the incidents in
the desert as the results of misguided religious concepts or a lack of
faith in their own religiosity or an attempt to reach higher spiritual
levels than they were ready for. The Shem Mi Shmuel is part of this
tradition as we see from his various explanations of the acts of Nadav Ve
"And Nadav and Avihu, the sons of Aharon, took each of them his censer,
and put fire therein and laid incense thereupon and offered strange fire
before the Lord which He had not commanded them" (Vayikrah, 10:1).
It is difficult to understand how these two holy men, who were recognized
by Moshe and Aharon as being greater than them, should have made such an
"That eighth day of the consecration of the Mishkan there was rejoicing
before Hashem, akin to the day of the creation of Heaven and Earth"
(Megillah10b). This underlay the actions of Nadav and Avihu. They thought
that this was the time of the 'Tikkun HaKlali, just as in the future
Messianic times everything would be completed and corrected, and there
would be nothing left that was strange or deficient in Avodat Haboreh. So
they thought that it was not necessary, in view of that 'Tikkun HaKlali'
to have specific holy fire from Heaven in the offering of the incense and
that it would be fitting for them to use the fire that they, in their
great joy and ecstasy, brought. Chazal taught that the simcha of the
consecration of the Mishkan was marred by the death of these two'. They
however did not conceivethat they would die as a result of their bringing
the fire and thought that the pleasure and rejoicing was complete. In
truth, the simcha was not complete. In Heaven, present and future tenses
have no relevance so that there could be rejoicing with the Mishkan and
with Messianic days together. However, in human terms, present and future
are very different. Nadav and Avihu did not have the ability to know this
Heavenly distinction and judging according to the great simcha at the
consecration understood only that there was the same simch in Heaven as at
the time of the Creation, and that the 'Tikkun Klali' was complete. So
they erred and brought foreign unholy fire.
"The sons of Aharon laid down halakhah in the presence of Moshe Rabbeinu"
(Vayikra Rabbah, chapter 20), explains the Midrash.
Now the Arie z'l wrote that they embodied 2 streams of the error of Cain.
The name Cain is derived from 'kinyan', the act of possession, as Chava
said when she gave birth, "I have acquired a man with the help of the Lord"
(Bereishit, 4:1). Cain thus denotes actions, effort and initiative. So he
has self-value and self esteem, and the inability to recognize any limits.
The resultant arrogance brought him to error and sin. However, this same
trait contains a very positive element in that it can bring one to be
strong and zealous in the service of Hashem; "And his heart was elevated
for the ways of Hashem", and so one is not easily turned away from that
service or deterred from it. So Nadav and Avihu were determined to correct
the sin of Cain by using his trait of action and effort for holy purposes.
They sought to use their power and desire to be elevated in the holy
service, to offer the incense according to their own perception that it
would be to G-d's pleasure and will [perhaps out of a condition of
unlimited ecstasy], without waiting for a ruling from their teacher Moshe.
Good intentions, however, are never lost. It is known the Zohar (Part 3,
215b), taught that the souls of the 2 sons of Aharon were merged in
Pinchas [who is Eliyahu]. The whole nature and characteristic of Pinchas,
is the elevation of his heart and his striving for the word of G-d, and
his zealous actions for it, so he did not wait for the ruling of Moshe nor
did he ask for his guidance.
Perhaps we can understand their actions in the light of the answer to the
Wise son of the Haggadah. The Wise Son asked, "What are the testimonies,
statutes, and social laws that Hashem, our G-d has commanded you" (Devarim,
6:20). The Anei Nezer said that root of the question is that since all G-
d's laws and commandments are only to our benefit and bring life to us, it
is difficult to understand why the Torah always uses the language of
commandments, mitzvot, and not, 'as Hashem said to you'. Surely it would
have been sufficient just for the Torah to ask or suggest that we do or
refrain from certain actions, then, as everybody wants life and goodness,
people would have naturally obeyed? [In our language, why does Judaism have
to be a coercive religion?] His reply was that it is because the actions
and intentions of flesh and blood do not have permanence and standing,
since they themselves are transient and temporary. However, since the
mitzvot of Hashem are His messengers and His agents, and agents have the
power of the principal, therefore, they are eternal and lasting just as He
is. That is why the whole answer to the Wise Son is, "And the Lord
commanded us to do all statutes, to fear Him, for our good always, that He
might preserve us alive, as it is this day" (Devarim, 6:24).
When we base our Avodah on anything other than His command, then the
chitzoniim have a place to insert them-selves in that Avodah and pervert
it. We cannot say that Nadav and Avihu did not declare halakhah before
Moshe, since there was no halakhah involved. However they guided the
halakhah according to their own spiritual greatness. They assumed that
even at this time it was possible to worship G-d merely as a result of His
advice or words. However, because outside factors and foreign
considerations could grasp and pervert His words, all our Avodah has to be
couched in the form of commandments, tzivu and not dibbur.
Shem Mi Shmuel, Shemini, 5671 and 5676.
Copyright © 2004 by Rabbi Meir Tamari and Torah.org.
Dr. Tamari is a renowned economist, Jewish scholar, and founder of the Center For Business Ethics (www.besr.org) in Jerusalem.