Parashas Shemini, Part 2

In this week’s parashah, we read of the tragic death of Aharon’s son’s Nadav and Avihu for bringing a “foreign fire” before Hashem. The Midrashim give various explanations of the nature of their transgression. R. Yishmael builds his explanation on a Torah passage that immediately follows this episode. The Torah relates (Vayikra 10:8-9): “Hashem spoke to Aharon, saying: ‘Do not drink wine or liquor, you or your sons with you, when you enter the Tent of Meeting, so that you may not die. This is an eternal statute for all your generations.’” Based on this, R. Yishmael’s explains that Nadav and Avihu’s sin was entering the Mishkan under the influence of wine.
The Maggid explains the idea behind this as follows. The Mishkan (and its successor, the Beis HaMikdash) was the prime source of joy within the world – the place where the joy of serving Hashem reached its peak. A Kohen who drinks wine before entering the Mikdash acts as if he needs an external stimulus – a foreign fire – to kindle joy in his heart over the  service he will be performing there. This suggests that, when he goes to perform his sacred duties, his heart is not really in it. Hashem regards such a hint of apathy, among those at the level of serving in the Mikdash, as a serious offense.
We should take a lesson from this and strive to cultivate within our hearts a feeling of simchah shel mitzvah. The Maggid frequently expounds on this theme. For example, in his commentary on Ruth 2:11-12, he explains that this idea is what underlies the following classic teaching (Avos 1:3):
Do not be like servants who serve their master for the purpose of receiving a reward, but rather be like servants who serve their master not for the purpose of receiving a reward.
There is no greater joy than the joy of serving Hashem; any other reward pales by comparison. A desire for reward is a sign of spiritual illness. We must strive to purify ourselves and restore our spiritual health. We will then feel the joy of serving Hashem in full measure.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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