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PLAYING WITH FIRE

by Rabbi Yonason Goldson    
Torah from Dixie Staff Writer    

"And Aaron's sons Nadav and Avihu each took his fire-pan. . .and offered up before Hashem a strange fire that had not been commanded to them. A fire came forth from before Hashem and consumed them, and they died before Hashem" (Leviticus 10:1-2).

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"And Aaron's sons Nadav and Avihu each took his fire-pan. . .and offered up before Hashem a strange fire that had not been commanded to them. A fire came forth from before Hashem and consumed them, and they died before Hashem" (Leviticus 10:1-2).

The text of the blessings which we say many times each day, "Blessed are you Hashem, our G-d. . .who sanctifies us with His commandments and commanded us. . . " reveals that our ultimate sanctification comes through our scrupulous performance of the commandments as Hashem commanded them to us, and not through our own embellishments or enhancements, no matter how much these alternatives may appear to improve our service. The mitzvot in which we are commanded are manifestations of the Divine Will translated into worldly terms and, as such, are not subject to human refinement.

The commentaries explain the nature of the sin committed by Aaron's sons: through divine insight with which they, as priests, were endowed, they perceived a means of enhancing their service to Hashem and thereby serving Him on an even higher level than that in which they had been commanded. Indeed, as Rashi, an 11th century French commentator, explains, the miraculous manner of their death "before Hashem" prompted Moses to say of them to Aaron," I see now that they were greater than we." It may be inferred that their offering truly contained some element representative of a higher spiritual level. Nevertheless, Nadav and Avihu erred in a much more fundamental tenet of the Jewish people's service of Hashem. One who does not appreciate the immutability of Hashem's mitzvot and presumes to change them has departed down a path that will ultimately lead him to total separation from Judaism and the Jewish people.

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The ideas in this D'var Torah were originally expressed by the Sfas Emes, a 19th century leader of Polish Jewry. Rabbi Yonason Goldson is a teacher at the Yeshiva High School of Atlanta.

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