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by Dr. Avigdor Bonchek


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Parashas Shemini (70)

This week's sedra begins with the priestly ceremonies performed when the Tabernacle was dedicated. We learn of the death by divine fire of Aaaron's two sons which occurred during those ceremonies. The sedra also teaches us the laws of pure and impure animals and birds.

Leviticus 10: 1,2

1) And the sons of Aaron, Nadav and Avihu, took each one his fire pan, placed fire in them and placed on it incense and they brought Hashem a strange fire which he had not commanded them.

2) And a fire came forth from before Hashem and consumed them and they died before Hashem.


10:2 And a fire went forth : Rashi: Rabbi Eliezer says: The sons of Aaron only died because they rendered a halachic decision in the presence of Moses their teacher. Rabbi Yishmael says: They were intoxicated with wine when entered the Sanctuary. As evidence [that this is the reason] because right after their death the survivors were warned not to enter the sanctuary intoxicated with wine (see 10:8).

What would you ask these two sages who cite reasons for the sons' deaths?

Hint: See our first verse above (10:1)

Your Answer:


A Question: Why do Rabbis Eliezer and Yishamael have to tell us why Nadav and Avihu died? The Torah itself tells us why they died - because they brought a strange fire before Hashem? (see also the beginning of Achrei Mos 16:1 and Numbers where we are again told that they died because they offered up a strange, unauthorized, offering.)

Can you think of an answer?

Your Answer:


An Answer: There is no doubt and debate that Nadav and Avihu brought a strange fire which they were not commanded and that's why they died. The two sages were giving background reasons - why they did this audacious thing of bring strange fire in the sanctuary. One said they did it against Moses' ruling and one said they were drunk and therefore acted irresponsibly.

So both Rabbis understood that the actual sin was bringing the strange fire; they were just trying to understand what brought them to do such a thing.

Shabbat Shalom
Avigdor Bonchek

"What's Bothering Rashi?" is produced by the Institute for the Study of Rashi and Early Commentaries. The five volume set of "What's Bothering Rashi?" is available at all Judaica bookstores.

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