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Thursday, April 30

The Weekly Shtikle - Acharei Mos / Kedoshim

In Bemidbar 3 and 26 when Nadav and Avihu are mentioned, the pasuk recounts "vayamusu... bahikravam eish zara..." the pasuk recounts the specifics of their sin in bringing the ketores which they were not commanded to bring. However, here, it only says at the beginning of the parsha "b'karvasam ... vayamusu." The pasuk refers to their coming close to HaShem and their subsequent death but there is no specific mention of the aish zara as there is in the other references.


The reference to the death of Aharon's two sons is followed directly by the instruction of Aharon as to the proper procedure for entering the kodesh hakadashim on Yom Kippur. The procedure is briefly prefaced by the warning that one may not enter the kodesh hakadashim whenever they please. Rashi connects the two topics with the parable of the doctor who tells his patient, "Follow these directions so that you don't die the way so-and-so died." But what in fact is the connection between Nadav and Avihu's death and entering the kodesh hakadashim?

The simplest answer might be that according to Bar Kappara in the midrash, the actual sin of Nadav Avihu was entering the kodesh hakadashim. However, R' Ephraim Eisenberg, zt"l, offers an answer which is concurrent with all the opinions in the midrash. There are quite a number of opinions quoted in the midrash as to the actual sin of Nadav Avihu. But with close examination, there emerges a pattern amongst all of them. The central theme seems to be that Nadav and Avihu were trying to reach a degree of closeness to HaShem which was beyond their reach. Their actions indicated a desire to become closer to HaShem but this yearning brought them to act inappropriately. Therefore, their actions serve as a lesson that there are limits when it comes to closeness to HaShem. This is the theme of the Yom Kippur avodah. A kohein gadol may not enter the Kodesh HaKadashim whenever he pleases, even if it is to become closer to HaShem. There is a time and place for this practice and it is on Yom Kippur only.

Perhaps this answers the original question. In this specific reference to the demise of Nadav and Avihu, we are not concerned with the actual actions that lead to their tragic death. We are merely concerned with the motives behind their actions and how they relate to the principal topic, the avodah of Yom Kippur.

Once again, the parsha provides us an insight which is most appropriate to our time. The main method by which we connect to HaShem is through tefillah and learning in shul. That has been taken away from us for now. Unfortunately, for some, this is too daunting a challenge and many have attempted to ignore the edicts of the medical community and the rabbanim. As many gedolim have made very clear, this irresponsible activity has the potential to be just as fatal – to many more people – as the actions of Nadav and Avihu. For us, the challenge of the day is to put limits on our attempts to become closer to HaShem and do so, to the best of our abilities, in our own home.

Have a good Shabbos.

Eliezer Bulka

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