29/30 Mar : Shemini : Shabbat comes in 6:14 pm, ends 7:18 pm
In Shemini, we are faced with a biblical narrative that seemingly punishes two priests, appointed by God, for aiming to keep their ritual original and inventive. Nadav and Avihu, Aaron’s eldest sons, are instantly killed in a divine fiery blaze after offering a strange fire before God.
The majority of commentators agree that Aaron’s sons performed unauthorized and innovative acts of ritual. No matter what the two men actually did wrong, it’s clear that they did something that wasn’t expressly spelled out by the rites that were previously in place. However, Judaism is an ever evolving faith — leading to its historical longevity !
So some commentators point out that directly after the death of Nadav and Avihu, God instructs Aaron as follows: “Do not drink wine or strong drink, you and your sons with you, when you enter the Tent of Meeting, lest you die” (Lev. 10:9-11). From this comparison of verses, Rashi infers that Nadav and Avihu were, in fact, guilty of sacrificing under the influence. This transgression warranted a swift punishment from above, not because of any malicious intent, but because these men were chosen as leaders and role models of their community and they should have behaved accordingly.
Written by Rabbi Paul Arberman