Back to Main Page

Holy Matters

By: Ms. Sefi Kraut

Chapter 10 in Parshat Shemini, last week’s parshat hashavua, includes the shocking story of the deaths of Nadav and Avihu in the Mishkan following their unsolicited offering of an esh zara. The Torah discusses the consequences of the deaths of these Bnei Aharon in a parsha called Achrei Mot (After the Deaths), which begins in Chapter 16. Why does the Torah not present the consequences of these deaths immediately following the story of Nadav and Avihu’s passing? What is the purpose of the intervening five chapters?

The commentators offer many explanations as to why Nadav and Avihu died after offering a korban to Hashem. The Biur elaborates on an idea found in the Sifra on Parshat Shemini and claims that “Nadav and Avihu were towering personalities; they certainly did not maliciously transgress the word of the Lord. But in their superabundant joy, they lost their judgement and entered the Holy of Holies to burn fine incense although this was not commanded by Moses.” Thus, Nadav and Avihu maintained positive spiritual intensions, but their enthusiasm generated a tragic lack of judgement.

In the five chapters immediately following the deaths of Nadav and Avihu, the Torah presents a detailed and supremely structured list of purity and impurity that dictates when men and women are eligible to enter the Mishkan.  Rabbi Chanoch Waxman in his parsha shiur “On Death and Defilement”, published by the Virtual Beit Midrash of Yeshivat Har Etzion, explains why these chapters are inserted here:

"The common denominator of chapters eleven through fifteen, the laws of purity and impurity, consists not just of the categories of purity and impurity, but also the need to separate between the impure and the holy. Whether in the context of the sanctuary itself, the camp within which it resides or the people within whose camp God resides, holiness demands special care and particular conditions for encountering and preserving it.”

The Torah wants us to learn from the Nadav and Avihu story that good intentions are insufficient when it comes to matters of utmost holiness.

Shabbat Shalom





Back to top