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Weekly Torah Portion: Tragedy Strikes

The Sin of Nadab and Abihu, as in Leviticus 10, illustration from a Bible card published 1907 by the Providence Lithograph Company [Image: Wikimedia Commons]

The Sin of Nadab and Abihu, as in Leviticus 10, illustration from a Bible card published 1907 by the Providence Lithograph Company [Image: Wikimedia Commons]


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At the height of the celebrations of the first day of the Tabernacle service, Aaron’s two older sons, Nadab and Abihu, take it upon themselves to offer incense that is not part of the commanded service. God sends out a fire from before Him and consumes their souls. Moses offers comfort to his bereaved brother, but Aaron remains silent.

The Israel Bible explains Nadab and Abihu’s actions. Moved by the closeness they felt to God during the inauguration of the Tabernacle, they wish to get even closer to Him by bringing an offer in the Holy of Holies. It was not commanded, however, despite their good intentions, and therefore they were punished. This is the meaning behind Moses’s words to Aaron: “I will be sanctified through those who are nearest to me.” Through the deaths of Nadab and Abihu, who were immeasurably close to God at the time, the Children of Israel learned that God’s rules must be upheld, even by those who are powerful.

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Aaron’s cousins minister to the bodies of the fallen priests, as Aaron and his younger sons are not permitted to leave the Tabernacle at this time. God also warns them not to consume any alcohol while serving in the Tabernacle, lest they die.

Moses instructs Aaron, Eleazar and Ithamar on how to complete the remaining parts of the service. However, they do not follow his instructions precisely. Moses confronts them for it, and Aaron argues that given their state of bereavement, they acted correctly. Moses accepts his brother’s explanation and acknowledges that they did the right thing under the circumstances.

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