This week, Parasha Shemini celebrates the completion of the Tabernacle (Mishkan) and the inauguration of the worship services by Aaron and his sons, the Kohanim (Priests). After a week of celebration, the last day – the eighth day – arrives. Aaron blesses the people. The offerings that the Kohanim prepare and place upon the Altar are consumed by a fire sent down by God. “The people saw and sang glad song, and fell upon their faces.”
Then tragedy strikes. Aaron’s two eldest sons, Nadab and Abihu, bring their fire pans with their own fire and place incense on the fire. “A fire came forth from God, and consumed them, and they died before God.”
The Sages give many reasons for their death. A few verses after the description of their death, the Torah teaches that the Kohanim may not come to the Tabernacle if they have been drinking wine, so some rabbis suggest the Nadab and Abihu had been drinking, and were punished. Others suggest that they sinned by bringing their own fire, rather than letting God ignite the incense. Still other say that they were overly proud of their positions, and felt they were too good for any of the Jewish women, and so did not marry.
The interpretation that means most to me is that Nadab and Abihu did, indeed, sin by bringing “strange fire that God had not commanded them to bring” (Leviticus 10:1), but that they did so because they were overcome with the emotions of the consecration of the Mishkan, and wanted to do more to sanctify it.
Viewed this way, Nadab and Abihu made the mistake of making up their own rules for the holiest of places, the Mishkan, when their zest to serve God should have caused them simply to follow the laws God had given them.
We do this, too, in our own lives. We become so attached to an idea or a practice that we forget what it is really about.
Sports and exercise are great ways to have fun and stay healthy. But people who do nothing but exercise until they injure themselves, or are so involved in sports that it takes over their lives, are missing the larger idea of what those activities can do for us.
Ideas are important to think about and discuss. But people who become too convinced of their positions can lose the ability to see the other side of the issue, and may not be open to discussion with people who do not agree with them.
As Scouts, we each have an obligation to watch out for own well-being, because we promised “To keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight.” It’s great to be enthusiastic about things, just make sure you do them in a way that keeps you healthy and balanced.