The Clothing and the Man

At the beginning of the service of the Tabernacle, on the joyous day of its dedication, tragedy struck. "And Nadav and Avihu took a fire that was not commanded of them .. and a fire came forth from the Lord and they were consumed." Nadav and Avihu were Aaron's two elder sons. They perished on that day for the unclear sin of bringing a "fire that was not commanded of them." What did they do wrong?

There are many different explanations, but one sticks out as being seemingly completely irrelevant: That they remained unmarried. Since when is being single a mortal sin? And what does that have to do with the uncommanded fire on the day of the Tabernacle's dedication? Very strange.

One commentary gives more depth to this by explaining WHY they were unmarried. They reasoned that, since their father was Aaron, their mother was the sister of the Prince of Judah (Nachshon), and their uncle was Moses, no woman would be of high enough stature for them. Thus, their singlehood was a sin of pride. But still, what does this have to do with the fire?

Actually, I never really understood the question to begin with, since the scripture says that they brought an unwarranted fire to the altar. I'm sure we can imagine how that is possible. So why all the different explanations (e.g. they made legal decisions without consulting Moses, they were intoxicated, etc..)?

Rather, I think that the sin was the fire, but that was the RESULT of all the other theories. So with our explanation, we can say that because they were not married, and for status reasons, they were tempted to bring this uncommanded fire. And I think there is a small detail in the story that supports my theory. What detail, Sherlock?

After they had died, their bodies were removed "in their garments." In other words, even though they were burned to death, their garments were untouched. That, indeed, is a miracle. Rashi tells us this explicitly, describing how two beams of fire entered their nostrils and took their souls, without any external burning. The fact that the garments were spared tells us a lot. In other words, they allowed themselves to define themselves by their garments, ie., by their external status.

The first humans were naked, and they were not ashamed. Adam and Eve, before the sin, had no need for clothing. I do not think that the "were not ashamed" aspect refers to sexuality at all. I believe it is more fundamental. They had not clothing, no external status. All they had was closeness to God, and that was enough. Once they sinned, they felt ashamed about who they were, and had a need to lift themselves up through externalities, through clothing.

To a certain extent, as we said, that is normal, and even required. Honor and dignity are part of human life. Modesty does not mean that I think I'm nothing. it means I do not think I am any more than I am. Moses was the most humble human ever, and yet he certainly knew that he was the leader, and he stepped up to the plate.

But when the person is so insecure as to believe that they ARE their status, that it is their identity and not just their job, as it were, then they have a problem. Nadav and Avihu fell into this trap. They felt that their priestly garments made them more than they were. No woman was good enough, and even the commanded sacrifices on the day of Dedication weren't enough. They were special, they had to bring their own fire, a fire that was not commanded.