The Torah portion of Acharei begins with the words:1 “G-d spoke to Moshe after the death of Aharon’s two sons, [Nadav and Avihu] upon drawing close to G-d and they died.”
Why does the verse conclude “and they died” when it had already stated “after the death of Aharon’s two sons”?
According to the Midrash,2 the deaths of Nadav and Avihu came about for a number of reasons: they entered the Holy of Holies; they were lacking the proper number of priestly vestments while performing the service; they had no children; they did not marry.
Where are the above reasons hinted at in the Torah?
Our Sages tell us3 that after their passing, Moshe told his brother Aharon that he had known the Mishkan would be sanctified by those who are beloved by G-d, and close to Him. Now he realizes that Nadav and Avihu were even greater than he and his brother Aharon.
This being so, how was it possible for them to sin so grievously that they died?
Chassidus explains4 that the sin of Nadav and Avihu is not to be understood as a sin in the simple sense; it consisted in letting their intense closeness to G-d actually draw their souls out of their bodies; they drew so close to G-d that they died.
Nevertheless, their action was still considered a sin. Although a Jew should strive to attain a level of service that enables him to break free of the physical, he is at the same time commanded to “return” and perform the service of a living Jew — the service of a soul within a body.
The Divine intent is not that the soul flee the body and the physical world, but rather that it transform the world itself into a dwelling fit for G-d.5
Since Nadav and Avihu merely fled the world and corporeality but did not “return” to it, they are considered to have sinned.
This is why the verse concludes “and they died.” The seeming redundancy comes to explain that it was their intense cleaving to G-d that caused their souls to leave their bodies.
Accordingly, we can now understand how the verse hints at the various reasons mentioned in the Midrash as to why Nadav and Avihu were punished; their passion for G-d was not accompanied by a return to this world:
“They entered the Holy of Holies” indicates that they kept reaching for ever higher levels, without giving thought to “returning” to the physical world. The term “garments” alludes to the Jews’ garments of mitzvos,6 which are clothed in physical matters. “Lacking garments” thus means that they lacked the proper devotion to mitzvos and sought to escape this world rather than purify it.
“They had no children; they did not marry” means they did not fulfill the commandment to “be fruitful and multiply,” bringing souls into physical bodies; their approach was to separate the soul from the body.
Every story in the Torah carries a lesson for all Jews, as “Torah” means “lesson.”7 But how does the story of Nadav and Avihu apply to all Jews, when the lesson derived from this tale seems to apply to only the very few who reach such an exalted spiritual state that their souls are in danger of leaving their bodies?
There are times when all Jews are in a state of spiritual arousal — when their souls flee their bodies, as it were. This is especially so during the more spiritual days of the year, such as Shabbos, the Yomim Tovim, the Days of Awe, and particularly on Yom Kippur. During those times, Jews rise above their everyday routines and attain new spiritual heights.
The lesson here is that we should not divorce our spiritual “highs” from our regular activities; we should endeavor to “return” this spiritual exaltation, making it part of our daily lives, so that all our days and all our physical activities become imbued with holiness.
Based on Likkutei Sichos Vol. III, pp. 987-992
Remaining Within the World
The Torah portion of Acharei begins8 with G-d instructing Moshe — after Aharon’s two elder sons died as a result of their unauthorized entry into the Holy of Holies — to warn his brother against making the same mistake and entering the Holy of Holies whenever he wanted; he could do so only on Yom Kippur.
In the earlier portion of Shemini , where the demise of Aharon’s two sons is described at length, G-d warns Aharon and his descendants against serving in the Sanctuary in a drunken state, as did Aharon’s two older sons.9
What lessons can we derive from these two exhortations?
The sin of Aharon’s two sons was not a sin in the simple sense.10 This can readily be understood from the fact that, after their passing, Moshe told Aharon that they were on an even higher plane than Moshe and Aharon themselves.11 Rather, their “sin” lay in the fact that they allowed their desire to cleave to G-d to become so great that it caused their souls to leave their bodies.
This was considered a sin for them, for although a Jew should desire that his divine service release him from all aspects of physicality, he is also expected not to desire to leave this world. Rather, he should yearn to fulfill his mission of transforming the world itself into a dwelling fit for G-d — something that can be accomplished only when the soul is within the body.
There are two opposite motives that may lead a Jew to divorce himself from the physical world: The person’s comprehension of and passion for G-dliness can be so great that he does all he can to enhance his attachment to G-d, up to and including divorcing himself from the world.
Alternately, a person may find corporeality so repugnant that he flees from it with all his might, perceiving it as a hindrance in his quest for holiness. His flight may become so extreme that he divests himself of this world entirely.
Generally, these two motives are related to the two categories of full-time Torah scholar and business person. A person wholly involved in Torah study need not flee the lowliness of the corporeal world, inasmuch as he finds himself in quite a different “world” to begin with — the world of Torah.
This individual must be forewarned against concluding that, since Torah transcends the world, the only way to be absolutely involved in Torah is to leave this world. He is therefore told that true mastery of Torah is achieved in this world ,12 by a soul within a body, since Torah must be understood with the intellect as well.
Business people, however, must be cautioned against going to the other extreme. They may say to themselves that to be involved in worldly affairs means to be constantly subject to the temptations and blandishments of corporeality. They might thus mistakenly assume that it would be best for them to forsake any dealings with the physical world and flee it for a higher realm.
They are therefore told that the ultimate purpose of existence lies not in escaping from the world, but in making the world an edifice for G-dliness. And, since G-d demands no more of an individual than he is capable of,13 it follows that G-d has given him the strength to withstand all worldly trials and temptations.
Herein lies the difference between the two commands related in connection with the demise of Aharon’s sons: The scholar can become intoxicated with his Torah study, and is told that he should keep his bearings and remain in this world. The business person may be inspired to lose himself in the “Holy of Holies” and flee this world, so he is reminded that not every day is Yom Kippur, when entering the Holy of Holies is permitted. His task lies in transforming the world itself into a “Holy of Holies.”
Based on Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XXVII, pp. 116-122
1. Vayikra 16:1.
2. See Toras Kohanim beginning of Acharei; Vayikra Rabbah 20:8; Bamidbar Rabbah 2:23; Tanchuma, Acharei 6.
3. Rashi on Vayikra 10:3, quoting from Toras Kohanim, Shemini; Zevachim 115b.
4. See Maamar Acharei Mos 5649; cf. commentary of Or HaChayim.
5. Tanchuma, Naso 16. See there Bechukosai 3; Bereishis Rabbah conclusion of ch. 3; Bamidbar Rabbah 13:6; Tanya ch. 36.
6. See Tanya ch. 5; Iggeres HaKodesh, Epistle 29.
7. Zohar, Vol. III, p. 53b.
8. Vayikra 16:1-3. See also commentary of Rashi.
9. Ibid. 10:8-9 and commentary of Rashi, ibid., verse 2.
10. See Or HaChayim beginning of Acharei.
11. Shemini 10:3 and commentary of Rashi.
12. See Bava Metzia 59b; Shabbos 89a.
13. Bamidbar Rabbah 12:3.
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