Instructions for the many sacrifices mandated by God continue apace in Tzav. It cannot have been easy to remember and follow all the stages of each of these sacrifices to the letter. At the end of Tzav, we come to the installation of the Priests. Everything is going well until, suddenly, a terrible tragedy occurs. Aaron’s two eldest sons, Nadav and Avihu, make an offering they have not been commanded. Fire springs forth and consumes them. The sages have offered several explanations for this, including the brothers’ failure to understand the nature of holiness, and their being ruled by their own egos rather than by God’s word. Whatever the reason, or reasons, the punishment is terrible and it is understandable that Aaaron and his surviving sons are so shocked that, later in the day, they fails to follow the commandment to eat the sin offering. What is also shocking is how Nadav and Avihu’s punishment is so suddenly meted out and just as suddenly left behind. It goes like this. After the installation of the Priests, Aaron blesses the people and God’s glory is revealed to them. The people respond. Then, without introduction we are told that the two brothers take their fire pans and place fire and incense on them. They are consumed by fire. Moses gives a brief explanation of their death to Aaron and gives instructions for the bodies to be removed. Without more ado, he tells Aaron, Eleazar and Ithamar not to go without a haircut or to tear their clothes. As listeners or readers we cannot but be aghast, however much we accept what has happened.
There is lots more in Sh’mini, including detailed dietary laws. Being Shabbat Parah, however, many congregations will read the episode of the Red Heifer, taken from B’minbar, a challenging sacrifice to understand.
To understand more, come along this Saturday at 10:30 when Harvey Kurzfield will lead us.