The S'fas Emes, one of the greatest Torah scholars and leaders of 19th century Poland, offers a penetrating analysis into the tragic deaths of Nadav and Avihu described in this week's Torah portion.
The S'fas Emes, one of the greatest Torah scholars and leaders of 19th century Poland, offers a penetrating analysis into the tragic deaths of Nadav and Avihu described in this week's Torah portion. In earlier portions, it is noted that prior to the sin of the golden calf, the Jewish people were on a very high spiritual level, like ministering angels, able to perceive, act, and then understand the Divine will. This level of increased sensitivity to Hashem's will is the secret level known as na'aseh v'nishmah. Unfortunately, following the sin of the golden calf, the Jewish people fell from their lofty ability to sense the Divine will prior to actually receiving the command and descended to the level of common Man who must be content, at least for the time being, to perform Hashem's service onlyafter receiving an actual command from Hashem. This somewhat lower level of Divine service is known as the nishmah level.
Nadav and Avihu, however, remained on that higher level with an ability to sense the Divine will and respond accordingly. They had hoped that their purely motivated action might serve to repair the damage of the golden calf and reclaim the lost crown of na'aseh v'nishmah on behalf of the Children of Israel.
Such was not the will of Hashem. The conduct of Nadav and Avihu was no longer an available religious option. No matter how accurate or sublime, it was inappropriate in that it was done without a command by Hashem and without prior consultation with the leadership. There is a need to respect the proper chain of command and protocol of the Temple service. There are no special privileges or exceptions for unauthorized religious expression, even by the sons of Aaron.
Aside from being an error in personal judgment and a personal tragedy, the whole generation is required to mourn this tragic loss because maybe the generation itself was really the cause of death by being a generation that was not worthy of a Nadav and Avihu. Had the generation not sinned with the golden calf and fallen from their lofty level, it is possible that another outcome may have occurred.
The legacy of Nadav and Avihu is a kiddush Hashem, a sanctification of G-d's name, of great magnitude, showing the extent of their love and devotion to the Jewish people; a lesson of boundaries that cannot be crossed by the noblest of desires; the mutual responsibility of leaders to their generation and of a generation to its leaders; and finally the meaning of what sacrifice is. It is their story which we read each Yom Kippur, and their ultimate sacrifice serves as a continuing merit for us all.
Steve Lerner writes from Atlanta.
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