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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