This week’s Torah Portion covers Leviticus 9:1 to 11:47. After taking a two week break to cover Passover readings, we are back to the third book.
On the eighth day in our reading of Leviticus, we reach the culmination of divinely sanctioned human creation. The priests and ritual vessels are consecrated. When we last saw Aaron and the priests, they were sitting outside the entryway to the sanctuary, day and night. The seven-day inauguration is complete. The Tabernacle, an earthly microcosm of God’s celestial sanctuary, built by the people collectively and voluntarily, is finally operational. They have followed the blueprint given directly from God to Moses to the letter. Sacrificial services for the people commence for the first time.
With the help of his sons, Aaron presents a sin offering, burnt offering, fellowship offering, and grain offering to the Lord to atone for his own sins and the sins of the people. Once he has finished preparing the sacrifices, Moses and Aaron reenter the Tent of Meeting. The people gather at the entrance way. When Moses and Aaron came out, they bless the people. When the Israelites witnessed the revelation, “they shouted for joy and fell face down.”
But this powerful image of spontaneous worship does not last. In the very next verse, tragedy strikes. Aaron’s sons, Nadav and Avihu took their censers, put fire in them and added incense and they offered unauthorized fire before God. Fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed them. Aaron goes from his highest high to lowest low in an instant. But he remains silent in his grief.
Why were Nadav and Avihu so severely punished for their spontaneous act?