Sedra Shorts

Ideas and commentaries on the weekly Torah readings.

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Location: Bet Shemesh, Israel

I taught Tanach in Immanuel College, London and in Hartman, Jerusalem. I was also an ATID fellow for 2 years. At present, I work for the Lookstein Center for Jewish Education in the Diaspora, in Bar-Ilan University, Israel. The purpose of this blog is to provide "sedra-shorts", short interesting ideas on the weekly Torah reading. Please feel free to use them and to send me your comments.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Parshat Shemini

How They Died

Parshat Shemini focusses in on the Mishkan's opening day. Sefer Shemot already tells us that: "Moshe completed the work and the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the Mishkan" (Shemot 40:33-34). However, from this week's parsha, we note that the process of going from the Mishkan's completion to the glory of the God resting on it, was not that smooth. We will note that in the time between the completion of the work and the Shechina resting on the Mishkan, two of Aharon's sons died. How did this happen?

To begin with, imagine the tension and expectation. For months the children of Israel had been building the Mishkan. They were promised at out the outset: "They shall make Me a sanctuary and I will dwell in their midst" (Shemot 25:8).

The Mishkan was now ready and they had been practising all the ceremonies for seven days, to ensure that everything was done correctly. Moshe then assembled the entire people (VaYikra 9:1), Aharon told them all that he was about to do (ibid 3) and then Moshe told them all to approach and stand before the Lord declaring: "This is the thing the Lord has commanded; do [it], and the glory of the Lord will appear to you" (ibid 5-6).

Everyone must have been asking themselves whether God would truly appear and whether all their labor had been in vain.

However, after Aharon carried out the procedure nothing happened: "Aaron lifted up his hands towards the people and blessed them. He then descended from preparing the sin offering, the burnt offering, and the peace offering" (ibid 22). Still nothing happened.

Moshe and Aharon went to investigate: "Moshe and Aharon went into the Tent of Meeting. Then they came out and blessed the people..." Only then: "the glory of the Lord appeared to all the people and fire went forth from before the Lord and consumed the burnt offering" (ibid 23-24).

However, Moshe and Aharon were not the only ones to investigate: "Aharon's sons, Nadav and Avihu, each took his pan, put fire in them, and placed incense upon it, and they brought before the Lord unauthorized fire, which He had not commanded them" (ibid 10:1).

As the Rashbam comments, Nadav and Avihu took it upon themselves to bring the fire (a normal procedure for an officiating priest, but unauthorized for that day) precisely because the heavenly fire had not come. Therefore, the events described in 9:24 and 10:2 occurred simultaneously:

"Fire went forth from before the Lord and consumed the burnt offering" ibid 9:24.

"Fire went forth from before the Lord and consumed them" ibid 10:2.

That is, as the fire traveled from the Holy of Holies to the Altar, it hit Nadav and Avihu and continued to the Altar. Fire did not go out twice.

We recall that that when the Shechina rested on the Mishkan, "Moshe could not enter the Tent of Meeting because the cloud rested upon it and the glory of the Lord filled the Mishkan" (Shemot 40:35).

Unfortunately, for Nadav and Avihu, they found themselves in the Mishkan at that precise moment and they paid the ultimate price.


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