Fair Warning: I have never seen what follows written anywhere nor heard it other than from the one person who originally told/taught it to me, so…I'm gonna put it out there; if you like it, you can take it, if you don't, send it right back.
וַיִּקְחוּ בְנֵי-אַהֲרֹן נָדָב וַאֲבִיהוּא אִישׁ מַחְתָּתוֹ, וַיִּתְּנוּ בָהֵן אֵשׁ, וַיָּשִׂימוּ עָלֶיהָ, קְטֹרֶת; וַיַּקְרִיבוּ לִפְנֵי יְהוָה, אֵשׁ זָרָה--אֲשֶׁר לֹא צִוָּה, אֹתָם.
And Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took each of them his censer, and put fire therein, and laid incense thereon, and offered strange fire before the LORD, which He had not commanded them.
וַתֵּצֵא אֵשׁ מִלִּפְנֵי יְהוָה, וַתֹּאכַל אוֹתָם; וַיָּמֻתוּ, לִפְנֵי יְהוָה.
And there came forth fire from before the LORD, and devoured them, and they died before the LORD.
Pffft, just like that…say good-bye to the oldest sons of Aaron HaCohen, the future Kohanim Gedolim of Klal Yisroel, gone. The weird thing (okay, one of the weird things) is that it is not very clear what exactly they did wrong. Furthermore, as the story progresses, Moshe instructs that the bodies be carried through Machane Yisroel and placed outside the camp…that their families not perform any acts of personal mourning for the two dead…that all of Bnei Yisroel mourn the fact that God was forced to perform such an act. This all seems a little over the top and in many ways twisted, and yet Aaron accepts it all… וַיִּדֹּם, אַהֲרֹן, And Aaron held his peace.
In the immortal words of one of the great teachers of our time: Son, what--ah say, what in the Sam Hill is going on here, boy!?
--Leghorn, Foghorn J.
A straightforward reading of the pesukim tells us that the error of the sons of Aaron was that they brought before God a “strange fire”, whatever that means. (I am not certain of the specifics behind what constitutes a “strange fire” but for today it is not important). Chazal provide a few other opinions as to what exactly they did wrong:
--that they acted arrogantly in the presence of Moshe (deciding a halacha in his presence)
--they did an act that their father Aaron, the Kohen Gadol, was supposed to do
--they were drunk with wine
Regardless of whichever of the above you wish to learn as having been the reality of what happened, our original question of “what did they do wrong?” would seem to have been answered. However, a second even more confusing question now stands out from this entire episode. Let’s say for the moment that what the sons of Aaron did was deserving of their punishment…HOW WERE THEY SUPPOSED TO KNOW!!! At no point had any such rule been transmitted to Bnei Yosroel…or the Leviim…or to the Kohanim. It seems a little harsh to hold someone accountable for something that they have not been informed of. Also, we still have all of the stuff about not mourning for them and having them paraded through and placed outside of the camp.
So what--ah say, what exactly is going on here?
The answer I was taught is as profound and meaningful (at least to me) as it is short and blunt; that the reason they were punished, regardless whatever it was that they did wrong, was because of the following….THEY SHOULD HAVE KNOWN BETTER. Correct, they were never told specifically that doing many of the above things was wrong. You know…so what. Not everything in life needs to be, can be or will be spelled out in black and white. God expects people to be able to use the abilities that He instilled in them to make the right choices. This applies to all people to varying degrees. Should I be able to discern the same sense of appropriateness for what should go on in a Royal Court as one who is spends all of their time there and has a “feel” for what will or will not fly…no, I should not. However, I should be able to do so when it comes to things that do fall within my sphere or things that fall within everyone’s sphere. At its heart the lesson is that a person is responsible for their actions.
Nadan and Avihu where Kohanim…sons of Aaron HaKohen…students of Moshe Rabbeinu and yes, in this instance they messed up and did something that they should have known not to do, even without being told so.
This was a profound lesson that Moshe felt needed to be instilled in all of Bnei Yisroel. So he ordered them carried through the camp, still in their clothing so that it was obvious who they were, and placed outside of it in order for people to ask what had happened and to learn from the event. So to the family was prevented from mourning publicly in order to strengthen this message, that to a certain degree they “had it coming” and there was no reason to “feel bad” (note that this was a one time thing and only done under express direction from God through Moshe, this is not an approach that should be taken in general) and Aaron understood this lesson and therefore held his peace and did not challenge this action. Imagine the self discipline and clarity of thought required by a father in the face of the death of two of his sons to be able to see the greater message that was being delivered and that needed to be sent (but we should expect nothing less from the very same man who was able to set aside personal ego and stand beside and behind his younger brother for so many years).
The only mourning that was allowed was a national one in sadness of God having to have struck down two people in such a manner.
The sense of loss was to be one of not living up to our abilities in our service of God…and hopefully a better understanding of our roles in that service. We are not mere automatons fulfilling orders from on high, we are active participants who have a responsibility to try and achieve Gods will…at all times and in all situations.
--Now then, to the status of the cartoon normally found in this location. Recently the following message was received by the managing editor of this little collection of letters and words we like to call a "blog":
Blogger has been notified, according to the terms of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), that some of your images allegedly infringe upon the copyrights of others. The URLs of the allegedly infringing images may be found at the end of this message....Please note that repeated violations to our Terms of Service may result in further remedial action taken against your Blogger account. If you have legal questions about this notification, you should retain your own legal counsel. If you have any other questions about this notification, please let us know.
I am in discussions with our esteemed ME as to how best approach this situation. It pains me how some would wish to limit the dissemination of the works of The Gary Larson...truly there is no limit to the forces of evil in this world.