ותצא אש מלפני יקוק ותאכל אותם וימתו לפני יקוק
A fire went forth from before Hashem, and consumed [Nadav and Avihu], and they died before Hashem
At the conclusion of the Mishkan’s inauguration, the people were beset with tragedy. Nadav and Avihu, two of Aharon’s children, who were leaders of the Jewish people, died. They had volunteered an unrequested fire offering to Hashem, and perished instantly. The consequences of their actions seem too severe for their “crime”. Indeed, what they did seems meritorious. They were displaying their devotion to Hashem, and their joy at the opportunity to express it. As a result, many explanations are given for what their real crime was.
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Hashem’s exacting judgement
ובאהרן התאנף יקוק מאד להשמידו ואתפלל גם בעד אהרן בעת ההיא
Hashem became very angry with Aharon, to the point of almost destroying him; I even prayed for Aharon at that time
While Moshe was recounting to the people the sin of the Golden Calf, he mentioned his brother Aharon’s complicity in the sin. When Moshe was late returning from Mount Sinai, the people thought he had died. They demanded Aharon make them a deity to worship. Aharon complied, and the Golden Calf was created. In this week’s parsha, we learn that Moshe sensed that Hashem was going to “destroy” Aharon. Rashi explains this means that his children would die. Moshe prayed that Hashem have mercy, despite Aharon’s sins. Hashem complied, allowing two out of four of Aharon’s sons to survive. Only his sons Nadav and Avihu perished, during the inauguration of the Mishkan. However, this explanation is inconsistent with a different one Rashi provides. The Torah describes how a vision of Hashem appeared before the dignitaries of the Jews. This included Aharon’s sons. The verse says that they acted without the proper respect; their sin was so great that they should have died instantly. However, Hashem didn’t feel the time was appropriate, and waited until the inauguration of the Mishkan. If so, they died by their own sin; it wasn’t because of their father’s sin with the Golden Calf. How can these two statements be reconciled?
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