Shemini: Strange Fire

Fire Nail ArtIn 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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One Response to Shemini: Strange Fire

  1. Susan Mullen says:

    Rabbi Buechler, thanks for posting the ten modern plagues designs. And the “strange fire” manicure is beautiful! Your questions are very interesting, too. I have read this story many times and your questions never occurred to me. I guess I always “assumed” that Nadav and Avihu were punished because they acted outside the unifying commands that Hashem had given the people. Unity of purpose and of behavior were important as the people struggled through the desert. I never thought of how Nadav and Avihu’s actions contrasted with the importance our society today places on individual decisions and individual actions. Thanks for making me think!

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