Jewish World

Parshat Shmini: No less and no more

“And Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu, each took his pan, put fire in them, and placed incense upon it, and they brought before the Lord foreign fire, which He had not commanded them. And fire went forth from before the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord. Then Moses said to Aaron, ‘This is what the Lord spoke, [when He said], ‘I will be sanctified through those near to Me, and

The Bible is describing the climax of the seven days of the Consecration of the Sanctuary, the great celebration inaugurating Aaron the High Priest and his priestly sons into the exalted positions of religious, sacramental and dynastic leadership. A fire of Divine acceptance descends, consuming the sacrificial offerings; the ecstatic nation joyously breaks out in exultant song, falling on their faces in submission to the Lord. And the sons of Aaron, apparently caught up in the ecstasy of the moment, respond to God’s fire by bringing their own fire offering, two fire-pans of incense before the Lord. But alas, the Lord sends down another fire which consumes the two young men, shattering the celebrations.

The biblical commentaries attempt to identify the precise crime which merited such an extreme punishment.

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