Parashas Shemini

This week’s parashah recounts the events of the day the Mishkan was inaugurated. Among these events is the tragic death of Aharon’s sons Nadav and Avihu for offering a “foreign fire.” We are faced with a glaring question: Why did Hashem mar one of the most glorious days in history with such an extreme show of wrath?
The Maggid answers with an incisive parable. A baron of a certain province had a splendid town built within his province. He then hired a renowned medical expert to serve as the town doctor. On the day the doctor arrived, the townspeople honored him with a grand welcoming ceremony. They then began to look for a sick person to bring to the doctor so they could see him apply his skill. A person stepped up with a complaint of severe headache, and he was brought forward. The rest of the people envied this fellow for the privilege of being the first to be treated by the new town doctor, who would certainly exert himself to the utmost to provide the man a complete cure. The doctor took the man to his office and adminstered extensive treatment, involving much effort and a variety of costly medications. But a few days later, the patient died, and the incident generated a great scandal in town.
The baron approached the doctor and asked: “Tell me, what was the story with this patient? His illness seemed to be minor. And if indeed he was mortally ill beyond cure, why did you make a such a fool of yourself – and of me as well – by spending so much effort and expense on him?” The doctor replied: “As an expert, I knew right away that this patient was going to die. But I also saw how excited the townspeople were over my arrival. And I began to worry that they would rely on my skill, and not take care to look after themselves properly. I felt they would adopt reckless eating habits, trusting that if they got sick I would cure them. So I decided to jolt them with a mock show of utter failure. I figured this would lead them to be vigilant in guarding their health.”
The parallel is as follows. Hashem gave the Jewish People the Torah and made them into His people. He then provided them with the Mishkan, as a mechanism for providing them a wondrous cure for their spiritual ills. A person who, by lapse, committed a sin would be able to rectify the situation by bringing an offering. Through the offering, with the aid of the Kohen who carried out the service associated with it, the person would gain a cure. But with this wondrous healing mechanism came the risk that the Jewish People would not guard themselves properly from sin. Hashem therefore jolted the people by instantly striking Nadav and Avihu dead, for a seemingly minor infraction, rather than delaying or lessening the punishment. In this way, Hashem intended to instill fear in the hearts of the Jewish People and make them vigilant about avoiding sin.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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