“It was on the eighth day (HaShemeni), Moshe summoned Aharon and his sons, and the elders of Israel.” -Leviticus 9:1
There had been a seven day inauguration process that was set to reach its climax today. It was now the first of Nissan. For those past seven days, Aaron and his sons were taught and trained by Moshe in regards to the specifics of the different offerings that could be brought to the Mishkan. Up to this point, Moses had been the one doing the processes and procedures concerning the atonement offerings. It was now Aaron’s turn.
We see in Leviticus 9:7 that, once again, Moses has to convince Aaron to come closer to perform his part of the service to HaShem. The Torah uses the word “kerav” here again to denote the closeness Moshe was speaking of (See more on this word in Parsha Vayikra.)
An odd thing occurs in verse 22 and 23 of chapter 9. Aaron concludes the service, blesses the people with the Birkat Kohanim (Aaronic Blessing) and begins to descend from his position. Notice that the fire does not consume anything until Moses and Aaron enter the Tent of Meeting and reemerge once again. What happened? Did Moses have to give his brother a pep talk before the Shekhinah (Divine Presence) devoured the offering?
Maybe, says Rashi. Rashi, was medieval French Rabbi who offers basic and literal commentaries on the Torah. Here, he offers two possible reasons: a) Moses was showing him the procedure of burning incense on the Inner Alter or b) Aaron was still distraught about the Golden Calf incident and he and Moses entered the Tent of Meeting to pray. In doing so allowed for the Shekhinah to rest upon the people. Is this explicitly stated in the Torah? No, but it’s an interesting thought. Who better to serve as the Kohen HaGadol, the High Priest, than someone who understood and was moved by guilt and repentance?
Compare that to his sons Nadav and Avihu. Many of you know of the story of the “strange fire” that were brought forward by them and how they died instantly. Whatever the specific reason for their death may be, it’s clear that they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. We might even be able to say the were the wrong people for the task. There are many different opinions as to why they died or what their motive was behind the whole ordeal, but my thoughts echo that of the Rashbam’s.
“Knowing that there was a commandment to bring fire and incense every day, and seeing that Moses had not yet told anyone to do so, they assumed that they should act on their own. Moses, however, was waiting for the descent of the Heavenly fire. He wanted the very first incense to be kindled with God’s own fire, in order to cause sanctification of God’s Name.” (Rashbam)
Assumed. They supposed that they could be the ones to bring fire to the altar. They did not confer with their father or Moses first before taking the initiative to do such a bold thing. It is true that we should come before HaShem to pray and give thanks, but as seen with the seven day training period, there was a method and an order in which He set in place when approaching the Altar. Jonathan did a video teaching called Approaching the Throne that talks about this. Perhaps Elohim did intend to be the one to kindle the Fire with His Shekhinah. Could that also be so that no man could claim to have been the one who lit the first spark that would burn forever? Whatever the case may be, their zeal got the best of them.
God has placed certain tasks in front of us that only we can do. Yes, other people can do the same things that we can, but only you can do what you are called to do. Aaron had a specific role that couldn’t be fulfilled even by the man who taught him how to do his job. And because Aaron listened carefully to everything Moses taught him, he was able to correct his teacher when the time came (see Lev 10:16-20). Had Nadav and Avihu truly listened, they might have found another way to demonstrate their excitement and zeal and lived to retell the story to future generations.
Readings for this week’s Parsha:
2 Shmuel/Samuel 6:1–7:17