By Rabbi Pinchas Winston
The sons of Aharon, Nadav and Avihu, each took his censor and put
fire in it and put incense on it and offered it before G-d...
The story of Nadav and Avihu is both dramatic and quick, at least in
the Torah. It is an unmitigated disaster: at the height of human
success when the Divine Presence descended to dwell within a man-made
creation - the Mishkan - Nadav and Avihu stepped over halachic
boundaries and brought upon themselves instantaneous death from
Regarding the reason for their sudden and tragic deaths, the Talmud says:
Moshe and Aharon were walking along the way followed by Nadav and
Avihu, who were followed by the rest of the Jewish people. Nadav
said to Avihu, "When will these two elders die so that you and I can
lead the generation." The Holy One, Blessed be He, said to them, "We
will see who will bury whom!" (Sanhedrin 52b)
However, as disrespectful as this attitude may have been, especially
considering that they were referring to Moshe Rabbeinu and Aharon
Kohen Gadol, what did they actually do wrong to warrant such strict
Divine retribution? The following helps to explain this:
Rebi Elazar said: The sons of Aharon did not die until they taught a
law in front of Moshe their teacher. What did they derive? "The
sons of Aharon put fire on the altar" (Vayikra 1:7): They said,
"Even though fire will come down from Heaven there is a mitzvah to
bring normal fire as well." (Eiruvin 63a)
This is referring to the igniting of the altar onto which the
sacrifices were to be placed for burning. Originally, fire came down
from Heaven and ignited the wood that had been set up for this
purpose. However, Nadav and Avihu understood that there was a
separate mitzvah to bring ordinary fire as well, which they did
without asking Moshe.
This, says the Talmud, is a very serious offence, for:
One who teaches law in the presence of his teacher is punishable by
death. (Brochos 31b)
While this sounds somewhat extreme, it is important to recall how
much emphasis Judaism places on the transmission of Torah tradition
as the basis of everyday Jewish life and belief. Maintaining the
integrity of that tradition means maintaining the integrity of the
teacher-student relationship, which by definition cannot be reversed.
For, it is the previous generation that is the current generation's
link to all the previous generations before it, going all the way
back to Moshe Rabbeinu and Mt. Sinai.
If that is so of one's own living rabbi, how much more so is this the
case of the rabbis of the Talmudic era, as Rabbi Shlomo Elyashiv
"The main obligation of a Jew is to believe with perfect faith that
all that is found within the words of the rabbis, either in halachah,
Aggados of Shas (midrashim within the Talmud), and the Midrashim, are
"the words of the Living G-d." All they have said is with the Divine
Spirit which has spoken through them, as it says, "the Secrets of G-d
to those who fear Him" (Sanhedrin 48b)." (Drushei Olam HaTohu,
In other words, there is something special about the rabbis who
recorded the Mishnah and the Talmud, and certainly those who preceded
them in the Talmudic chain. It wasn't just their sterling character
traits or prowess of intellectual ability, but something called
"Ruach HaKodesh," which literally means "holy spirit" but which, in
this case refers to a kind of supernatural connection to Heaven.
Thus, on the outside they may appear merely like great rabbis, but on
the inside there is a supernatural pipeline to Heaven that guides
their thinking and provides them with insights the average person
cannot know. As a reward for developing their fear of G-d, that is,
their belief in the hand of G-d in all that occurs, G-d shares with
them Heavenly secrets. Even to this day, G-d shares "secrets" with
those who fear Him - acknowledge His Existence and live each day with
the reality of It.
Based upon this, Rav Elyashiv has more to add, as we will now discuss, b"H.
...An authorized fire not commanded of them. (Vayikra 10:1)
Continues the Leshem (Rabbi Elyashiv):
"Anyone who tries to use his own wisdom to understand their words in
order to contemplate their accuracy puts himself into grave danger,
for human intelligence cannot understand them and he is liable to
come to heresy, G-d should help us. With respect to this, Koheles
said, "Do not be overly righteous and excessively wise. Why be left
desolate?" (Koheles 7:16). One who enters himself into this will
find it difficult to go against his own perspective and he will
always try to balance out both views."
In other words, when life is a matter of opinion not only is it not
dangerous to investigate what others have said, but it is healthy and
prudent to do so. However, even if the Talmud seems to be a matter
of many opinions, it is really a discussion of G-d-fearing Torah
leaders being lead by Heaven in search of halachic solutions, the
process of which teaches us a large amount as well as the conclusions
reached. This is why the Talmud can say with respect to two
apparently divergent opinions that "both are the words of the Living
If someone approaches the Talmud with the assumption that it is only
the product of rabbis from the distant past and that his "modern"
opinion may hold more merit than theirs, every time he runs into an
intellectual road block he is bound to assume that his opinion is the
correct one. Given the choice to abandon his own opinion in the
matter or that of the rabbis, like so many before and after him, he
will hold fast to his own opinion. Otherwise, he will have to change
his way of thinking which may seem less safe (and certainly less
convenient) than ignoring rabbis who are not alive today to enforce
This is the reason for all the "strange fires" that have been offered
throughout the ages, fires "not commanded of them." Without the
proper respect for the rabbis before them they have gone and changed
Judaism to their liking, breaking the link in their family.
"Therefore, they have said with respect to heresy: "All that come to
her do not return, and they will not reach the paths of life"
(Mishlei 2:19; Avodah Zarah 17a). However, the "righteous person
lives through his faith" (Chavakuk 2:4), because it is the foundation
of the entire Torah."
For those who have grown up secular without the proper exposure to
Torah and its history, there is almost no choice in the matter. How
can they be expected to respect the rabbis of the Talmud if they
don't know what it is or who they were?
However, many others have or will be exposed to enough of the Talmud,
and/or the rabbis of that period of history to be confronted with a
decision: do I accept my understanding over theirs and reject it, or
do I assume that they may have known something we don't, even today
after all we have gone through since their time? Do I simply have
faith in Torah and their explanation of it?
Says the Leshem, the latter is the foundation of Torah and the
survival of Torah Judaism. Not only that, but it is also the
rectification for an even greater sin in the history of mankind: the
sin of eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil:
"This sin was also included in the sin of the Tree of Knowledge of
Good and Evil, as it says, 'the tree was desirable for
After all, this was the first time a student (Chava) assumed that her
understanding and appreciation of the moment was greater than her own
teacher's (Adam). Furthermore, to succeed at carrying through with
this tremendous transgression, she had to somehow exclude G-d from
the picture, which she apparently did.
It was the first time, and it certainly wasn't the last time, as this
week's parshah shows. Worse yet, as Jewish history continues to
reveal, as it becomes increasingly harder to find Jews loyal to the
tradition of Talmud, going all the way back to its origins.
Moshe said to Aharon: This is what G-d said to me, saying, "Through
My close ones I will be sanctified..." (Vayikra 10:3)
There is the other side to the story which transforms Nadav and Avihu
from being bad guys into good guys. One might assume that Moshe was
only trying to comfort his mournful brother. However, "Toras Moshe"
is "Toras Emes" - one-hundred percent truth - and therefore Moshe's
statement must be one of fact, not to mention prophecy. This is
certainly the approach that all of the commentators take when
scrambling to prove how it is true.
However, none of the classical commentators touch on that which is
found in Sha'ar HaGilgulim regarding the two sons of Aharon,
something that expands the quick and tragic account of the death of
Nadav and Avihu into something far more global and rectifying.
However, this will take some explaining:
"When Kayin and Hevel, Adam's sons were born, they received the level
of Nefesh, Ruach, and Neshamah from Asiyah, Yetzirah, and Beriyah, as
well as the level of Nefesh of Atzilus which previously had been
their father's. As is well known, every soul has levels called 'Ohr
Makif' and 'Ohr Penimi'."
Every soul has five levels to it - from the bottom up: Nefesh,
Ruach, Neshamah, Chayah, and Yechidah - that help to filter G-d's
light so that our bodies can physically exist while interacting with
the spiritual. The three lowest levels are considered to be less
spiritual compared to the two uppermost levels, which are too
spiritual to be contained by any kind of vessel, let alone a body.
Therefore, they are said to be encompassing levels (makifim) as
opposed to those on the "inside" (penimim).
In the beginning, Adam HaRishon contained the souls of all of
humanity. However, because of the sin of the Tree of Knowledge of
Good and Evil, only the part of soul necessary for his own personal
life remained with him, the rest being divided up amongst the rest of
mankind throughout history, all of which were subject to
This was especially so when it came to his own sons, Kayin and Hevel.
Thus, they received their own particular souls, and in addition, they
received a level of soul that Adam had lost because of the sin,
called here the "Nefesh of Atzilus." (I could explain what this
means, but it is not central to this discussion.)
The Arizal continues:
"When Yisro, the father-in-law of Moshe converted, he merited the
Nefesh of Atzilus that had been given to Kayin, but just on the level
of Ohr Penimi, of which it writes, "Chever the Kenite separated from
Kenites" (Shoftim 4:11). We will explain this in its proper place.
Nadav and Avihu took the Ohr Makif of the Nefesh of Atzilus of Adam,
which had been given to his son Kayin."
In other words, Chever was in fact Yisro, and the reference to
"Kenite" is an allusion to Kayin, from whom he received the three
levels mentioned above within the level called "Nefesh of Atzilus" -
a subset of the fourth level of soul called "Chayah."
At this point, Sha'ar HaGilgulim shows how Pinchas, the grandson of
Aharon HaKohen was a combination from Yosef HaTzaddik and Yisro,
after which it says:
"Thus we find that Pinchas took a Soul-Spark from Yisro, which was
the level of Ohr Penimi of the Nefesh of Adam HaRishon from Atzilus.
After that, because Nadav and Avihu had died when they brought the
unauthorized Incense-Offering (Vayikra 10:1), when Pinchas killed
Zimri he merited the souls of Nadav and Avihu, which were the Ohr
Makif of Adam of Atzilus. This was possible because he already
possessed a spark from the root of Yisro, and it completed the Nefesh
of Atzilus within him, since he now possessed both the Ohr Penimi and
the Ohr Makif. However, the Ohr Penimi entered him as an actual
gilgul when he was born, while the Ohr Makif came to him b'sod ibur,
after he was born and had grown up."
In other words, the part of the soul called "Penimi" was the actual
soul that Pinchas had been born with, and which could not separate
from his body except through death. However, the part of the soul
called the "Makif" which came to him from Nadav and Avihu, entered
him while he was a full-grown adult while he was already alive as an
"additional soul," like a fetus within its mother. Therefore, it
could come and go without killing Pinchas in the process.
This transformation, explains the Arizal, not only made Pinchas
spiritually greater, but it triggered a process of which we will be
the beneficiaries of at the End-of-Days, as we will show, b"H,
perhaps even as early as this Shavuos!
Behold, I will send you Eliyahu the Prophet before the great and
awesome day of G-d. (Malachi 3:23)
"Thus, we find that four levels were in Pinchas. The first was that
of the Nefesh of Pinchas himself from birth, a single soul even
though it was the combination of two drops, one from Yosef and one
from Yisro. The second level was that of the Nefesh of Nadav and
Avihu, which came b'sod ibur and was also called "one soul," as is
known from the Zohar: Nadav and Avihu were two limbs of one body
(Acharei Mos 57b). The third was the Nefesh called "Eliyahu
HaTishbi" from the root of Gad, and the fourth level was "Eliyahu"
from the root of Binyomin."
Thus, because Nadav and Avihu died through the incident in this
week's parshah, their souls from Kayin were available for
reincarnation and rectification. Thus, when Pinchas killed Zimri in
his act of zealousness on behalf of G-d, he drew those souls towards
himself and initiated a process that brought other souls towards him
that literally transformed him into Eliyahu the Prophet!
However, the story does not end there. Unfortunately, Pinchas was
later involved in a particular sin that caused him to lose the souls
of Nadav and Avihu. Therefore:
"After that, his (Pinchas') name changed to "Eliyahu HaTishbi."
Nadav and Avihu had not been rectified through him, and Pinchas
himself from the side of Yisro had been involved in the sin with the
daughter of Yiftach. Eliyahu, from the tribe of Binyomin, had only
been in him b'ibur to join together the other souls. What remained
as the main part was Eliyahu from the root of Gad, and therefore he
could no longer be called "Pinchas," but rather "Eliyahu HaTishbi,"
alluding that his soul was from the tribe of Gad."
However, this transformation into Eliyahu worked in his favor
creating the opportunity for rectification at a later date in time, a
famous later date in time:
"Thus, when prophecy returned to him it was after he was called
"Eliyahu HaTishbi." This was after Shmuel had died . . ."
Shmuel HaNavi, that is, whose prophecy came to him because he had
inherited the souls of Nadav and Avihu in the meantime. Once Shmuel
died, their souls once again were free to reincarnate, which they did:
"... And thus, Nadav and Avihu were able to return to him b'ibur
during the incident of Mt. Carmel, when the people fell upon their
faces and said, 'Hashem is Elokim' (I Melachim 18:20-29). At that
time, they (Nadav and Avihu) were forgiven for their sin of "cutting
off their plantings" by blemishing the Divine Presence, when they
(the nation) said, "Hashem is Elokim." Understand this. For,
because they (Nadav and Avihu) had sinned in the beginning when they
glanced at the Shechinah at Mt. Sinai, as it says, "They saw the G-d
of Israel" (Shemos 24:10), they underwent rectification when they
(the nation) fell on their faces in order to avoid seeing the fire
that descended from Heaven."
Voila! It took a few centuries and quite a bit of spiritual
wandering, but finally at the dramatic and famous incident with
Eliyahu at Mt. Carmel, the souls of Nadav and Avihu achieved
rectification, which meant that Kayin also did. Thus, they were free
to return to Heaven for good, and Eliyahu remains in waiting to
herald the end of history and the arrival of Moshiach.
May it occur in our time, and if this is really the eighth year of
the Sh'mittah Cycle that we are in, you can't begin to imagine how
great the potential is for this period between Pesach and Shavuos to
be that time. Depending upon where we are holding in history, it is
a potential that could be actualized whether we're ready or not.
Have a great Shabbos,
This week's parshah sheet is in the merit and loving memory of Chaim
ben Yitzchak, z"l, by his son and family, whose many acts of chesed
and support of Torah causes will surely bring great honor to their
father's soul and elevation after elevation.