Parshat Shemini

Parshat Shemini

This week’s parsha discusses the famous tragedy of Nadav and Avihu. I have always questioned Nadav and Avihu’s punishment. What exactly did they do wrong? In todays society giving an incense offering would be considered a great act of chesed, and love towards Hashem. Why are Nadav and Avihu punished so harshly for wanting to show Hashem their love and devotion?

I think these questions touch upon a fundamental point, which relates so much to our own connection with Hashem today. The Sforno explains that Nadav and Avihu’s sin was that they got carried away in their exultation of Hashem’s greatness that they gave an incense offering that was not commanded by Hashem. Nadav and Avihu decided to create their own commandments, and made a statement of it which was punishable by death.

Nadav and Avihu sacrificed incense offerings to Hashem which were consumed by a “strange fire”. Why was this fire strange? Rabbi Sinclair from Ohr Somayach gives a beautiful explanation for this phenomenon. He explains that we live in a time where people are more centered on feeling spiritual, rather than being spiritual. This fire felt spiritual to Nadav and Avihu, but it is described as strange. The reason it is strange is because it is not like the other fires that lit the incense offerings, this fire was not connected to Hashem. Because Hashem never commanded this offering, the fire that lit it had no connection to Him. It was only later on that the pasuk specifically describes a fire coming from Hashem Himself to punish Nadav and Avihu for their sins.

The idea that one commands himself to serve G-d in his or her own way, is not the way of Torah and truth. Hashem “spends” an unbelievable amount of time meticulously describing every detail that must go into giving a Korban, every animal which is treif, and how exactly to identify which are kosher. Hashem gives us all these details not to bog us down with rules rather, He is giving us a clear way to live a Torah life, a direct path of truth. Today, it is so tempting to pick and choose for ourselves which path we believe is the right one in serving Hashem. However, we are reminded with stories like Nadav and Avihu that we cannot pick and choose. There is no consideration of what is easier for us, or what makes the most sense. Hashem gave us a guidebook, the Torah, and we must accept it. We must follow all the mitzvot, even if they don’t possess any meaning towards our lives. This parsha reminds us to trust Hashem in a way that Nadav and Avihu did not. We trust that Hashem knows what is best for us and we follow only in the ways He commands, and don’t listen to any other convictions, even our own.

Student Studying in Harova