This week we read two Torah portions, Acharei and Kedoshim. Acharei, begins with the words, “And G-d spoke to Moses after the death of the two sons of Aaron.” Nadav and Avihu, both of whom were truly righteous men, were consumed by a great fire. Why did they deserve such a harsh punishment?
The Midrash offers some reasons why Nadav and Avihu died: They entered the Holy of Holies without permission; they performed their service without wearing the required priestly garments; they were not married and thus had no children. But what was so terrible about these infractions that it brought about their premature deaths?
Chasidic philosophy explains that Aaron’s sons died precisely because of their high spiritual stature. Nadav and Avihu possessed an overwhelming love of G-d, which ultimately blinded them to their true purpose. Their deaths were caused by their good intentions which ran counter to G-d’s intent in creating the world. Aaron’s sons’ desire to merge with G-dliness was incompatible with human existence. Their souls so longed to be one with G-d that they could no longer remain in their physical bodies, and the two men died.
On the one hand, this attests to Nadav and Avihu’s high spiritual accomplishments. But on the other hand, their behavior was considered sinful because man was not created solely to fulfil his spiritual yearnings. G-d created man for the purpose of making the world holy through the performance of the Torah’s commandments.
G-d gave us the responsibility to refine the world, purifying it and enabling physical matter to become a receptacle for holiness. G-d desires a “dwelling place below,” not for us to follow only spiritual pursuits and disdain this world. Nadav and Avihu’s excess in the realm of the spiritual, to the exclusion of the physical, was their downfall.
This is why the verse reads, “…when they had come near before G-d, and they died.” Their death was not the result of their actions, but rather, the essence of their sin. Aaron’s sons drew so close to G-d that physical existence was impossible.
Entering the Holy of Holies without permission was therefore symbolic of ascending too high; performing the service while being improperly clothed shows an unwillingness to “clothe” oneself in mitzvot, which are called the garments of the soul. Nadav and Avihu wanted to take the “short cut” to G-d, without having to trouble themselves with the obstacles posed by the physical world.
Likewise, the fact that neither Nadav nor Avihu married and had children showed their refusal to lead a natural, physical existence. Such a path to G-dliness was too cumbersome for them. However, this is not what G-d wants from us.
We learn a valuable lesson from their death: Although there are certain times when we feel a strong desire and longing for G-dliness and we experience a great spiritual uplift, we must carry those feelings into our daily lives and translate them into tangible actions. This is the purpose for which we have been created – to transform our physical surroundings into a dwelling place for the Divine Presence. Moshiach NOW!!!