Triennial Reading, Leviticus, Chapter Chapter 10, verse 12 through Chapter 11, verse 32.
Nadav and Avihu, two sons of Aharon, are executed by God because of their offering a non-prescribed ritual in the new Mishkan. It is unclear from the text as to what sin they actually committed. One of the suggested reasons for their death was the sin of entering the Mikdash after having consumed an intoxicating beverage. This would seemingly be unfair because the directive against entering under the influence is written in the Torah AFTER their deaths. The Midrash seems to imply that it was expected of them to know that proper honor and respect to the Mikdash would prohibit their entering after imbibing. This brings up the question of whether a person should be held responsible for an act if they were not warned ahead of time. In judicial proceedings of the Sanhedrin there is a requirement to warn perpetrators of a crime of their sinful intentions before it is possible to execute them. Why is this not prescribed in Nadav and Avihu’s defense? When Cain killed Abel, was there a law already given to prohibit the act of murder? According to one Talmudic version, the seven Noahide laws were actually given to Adam and Eve and hence Cain should have known about it. But a simple reading of the text would indicate that he did not know because it was not spelled out clearly that such a prohibition existed.
Another interpretation that our Sages offer is that they were arrogant. There were many women who were unmarried and they clung to their bachelorhood through years of maturity. According to the Midrash, they looked around them and saw that Moshe was the king and he was married. Their uncle Nachshon was the prince of the tribe of Yehudah. Their father was the Kohen Gadol, the High Priest. They realized that they came from probably the most Yichus, the highest degree of religious and national pedigree that anybody possessed in the entire nation. They could have surmised, says the Midrash, “what woman is worthy of this family and for us as heirs to religious and national leadership.” The Midrash leaves this as a suggestion and invites us to discuss that challenge.
Another Midrash that discusses Nadav and Avihu tells us that the fire that consumed the brothers was actually the Angel of Death, which comes to teach us that the death of these two Kohanic princes was a source of pain to Hashem. These sons of Aharon were beloved and completely righteous, says the Midrash. In such a situation the Midrash is really telling us that their death might be beyond the scope of our ability to properly understand why Hashem felt it was necessary for them to die. In the post-Holocaust era this Midrash takes on special meaning because, more than 75 years later, we still cannot comprehend the divine judgment that allowed six million Jewish people to die in the Holocaust. The Shoa is commemorated each year, with Yom HaShoah falling during this week of Parshat Shemini.
The laws of Kashrut are listed in Shemini. AS quiz: Which of the following animals are kosher? (a) Buffalo. (b) Giraffe. (c) Antelope. (d) Peacock. (e) Honey from the bee. (f) Human Milk. (g) Llama. (h) Seagull. (i) Sturgeon.
Shabbat Shalom שבת שלום.
Rabbi David Grossman