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The Worship of Disgust

R Pesach Siegel

Parshat Shemini

Mar 21, 2014

Parshas Shemini


The Worship of Disgust

The tragic end of Aharon HaKohen’s two children, Nadav and Avihu was due to the bringing of a strange fire into the Mishkan.[1]

It was on the eighth day of the inauguration. The sacrifices of the day were arrayed on the altar. A fire descended from heaven and consumed the sacrifices. It was a divine sign that the service of the Bnei Yisroel found favor in the eyes of G-d.

Nadav and Avihu filled a fire pan with burning coals and incense. They entered the premises of the Mishkan and brought their offering. The heavenly fire[2] split into four tendrils[3] and entered the nostrils of Nadav and Avihu. It consumed them from within, leaving their externals intact.

Their death was an atonement. They died as perfect tzaddikim.[4]

What was their sin?

They partook of wine prior to the sacrifice.

They brought a sacrifice that was not commanded.

They brought a fire of their own, instead of relying upon the heavenly fire.

They entered the Kodesh HaKodashim.

They didn’t consult with one another.

The decided a halachic matter in front of their rebbe, Moshe Rabeinu.

They were not married. No one was fit for them.

They were missing one of the bigdei kehunah, the me’il.

They didn’t wash their hands and feet.

They awaited the demise of Moshe and Aharon, so that they could then lead the nation.[5]

When the heavens opened up by the giving of the Torah, they gazed improperly at the revelation.[6]

The Torah mentions none of these explicitly. The only sin mentioned openly, is the sin of bringing a strange fire that they were not commanded to bring.


What was the core of their sin? What is the common link between all the reasons mentioned in the medrash?

I once heard an explanation from Rav Nissan Alpert, z”l.[7]

There is a rare cantillation called a mercha kefulla. It is found under the words, “asher lo tziva osam” – That they were not commanded. It is specifically found under the word “lo”. The Sefer HaZohar reveals that when a mercha kefulla is under a word, it is to be understood as if the word were written twice.[8] Thus, the understanding of the posuk would be that Nadav and Avihu brought a strange fire that they were “not not” commanded to bring.

Rav Alpert explained with a story.

He was once in the presence of his rebbe, Rav Moshe Feinstein, z”l, when a member of the Orthodox rabbinate was asking Rav Moshe a sha’aleh. A convention of the Conservative rabbinate was to take place in Florida. He was issued an invitation to attend. Was it permissible or forbidden for him to participate? Rav Alpert heard the sha’aleh, but he wasn’t able to hear Rav Moshe’s response. Later, he found out that, indeed, his colleague had attended the conference. He contacted the Rabbi and asked him how, after asking Rav Moshe, could he have attended such an event? The Rabbi replied, “Rav Moshe did not tell me it was forbidden to attend. He told me that to go to such a gathering is a disgusting thing.”

Rav Alpert explained, that some think that the only basis for not doing something inappropriate is when a direct command is issued. That is not the case and it is not true. One doesn’t do something if there is no compelling reason to do it in the first place. One does not have to be commanded not to do something which is disgusting.

Every one of our actions should fit into kiddush shem shamayim. The ladder to perfect avodas Hashem is a long and steep one. Perfection is unattainable in an instant. But the goal of every creature on this earth is to perform each and every action in accordance with how Hashem wishes it to be performed. We do not serve Hashem in the manner that we wish, or that we see fit to serve Him.

However inspired we might be to allow certain practices, however convinced we are that certain acts have merit in our eyes, we do it G-d's way.


This is the meaning of the phrase, Nadav and Avihu brought a strange fire that they were “not not” commanded to bring. They were aware that every aspect of the Mishkan was strictly according to the explicit command of Hashem. And Hashem had not commanded them to bring this strange fire. But Hashem also didn’t command them “not” to bring it. This served as their justification.

On some level, their sin is one of self worship. They allowed themselves to define how to serve their G-d.

Upon inspection, this is the root of all the aforementioned causes for their untimely death.

[1] Parshas Shmini, perek 10, posuk 1

[2] Chizkuni

[3] Targum Yonason ben Uziel

[4] Rabeinu BaChaye

[5] Medrash Yalkut Shmoni, perek 10, remez 524

[6] Medrash Rabbah, BaMidbar, Parsha 2, piska 25

[7] Rav of Agudas Yisroel of Long Island. Son-in-law of Rav Chaim Pinchos Scheinberg, z”l.

[8] Chelek gimmel, daf 189a

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