Shemini: Strange Fire

In Parashat Shemini, Aharon’s sons Nadav and Avihu are killed by fire for bringing an “Esh Zarah,” a strange offering, to God. The rabbis utilize several explanations for why Nadav and Avihu received such a harsh decree. The authors of the Sifra, which is halachic Midrash on Vayikrah, explain that since the Torah states that Nadav and Avihu “each took his own censer” (Vayikrah 10:1) this means that they not only acted without consulting their father or Moshe, but that they also acted without seeking advice from one another (Sifra Acharei Mot 1). Why do you think Nadav and Avihu were allegedly punished for acting independently? Why do you think the rabbis composing the Midrash in the 3rd century C.E. would have considered “independent initiative” a challenge? 

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