The story of Nadav and Aveehoo. A tragedy that echoes in the heart of any parent who can feel a fellow parent’s love and heartbreak. On what could have been the most joyous of days for Aharan haKohayn, tragedy struck. His two beloved sons, brilliant and special, were struck down by G-dly fire for their sin in bringing “strange fire” “not commanded”.
It is a story hard to understand and one must delve into the different commentaries and explanations to begin to have at least some sort of grasp at what was at stake.
This year, I merited to learn Rabbi Samson Rafael Hirsch’s explanation and it gave me more than just an understanding at what was at stake here – it gave me a responsibility of how to live my life which I’m not sure I’ll be able to live up to – but at least now I know where the bar is set.
Here’s the understanding. Pagan culture had sacrifices. Jews were instructed in sacrifices. One and the same? One might think so, if not for the deaths of the two sons of Aharon, which is why Aharon was comforted by hearing that the deaths allowed a crystallization of G-d’s greatness be realized for everyone.
When pagan culture demanded a sacrifice, the sacrifice was at the behest of the giver. The giver brought food, an animal, a child – the idol was subservient to the giver, dependent on the giver for that item.
G-d mandates sacrifices. He gave us the items to give to Him and demands exactitude of what we are to bring. By sticking to the clearest of guidelines, to the letter of the law, we show we are becoming subservient to G-d and never vice versa.
Nadav and Aveehoo felt elated by a closeness to G-d. They decided “each man” on his own, not listening to Halacha, not bound by G-d’s commandment, to just bring what they deemed would be a fit tribute. By doing so, they went against the Jewish principle – that we are subservient to our Creator. G-d does not need anything from us. When we bring Him our service, we show our willingness to heed Him by sticking to His exact prescription. The minute we devise our own services and rituals, we are, in effect, bucking the obligation to bow and serve. The moments we bend our wills and curtail our ego and bind our service to the exactitude asked of us, those are the moments that proclaim loudly we know Hashem Hoo Ha’Elokim.