Today is the 27th Sabbath of the annual Torah cycle. Today, the second sabbath of the counting of the seven sabbaths toward the Feast of Weeks, the torah reading is Lev 9:1-11:47.
The paragraph divisions are as follows:
Lev 8:1-36 s Consecration of the tabernacle + priesthood
Lev 9:1-10:7 p Offerings on the 8th day + Nadab, Abihu consumed
Lev 10:8-11 p Intoxication forbidden for priests that they may distinguish + teach holy/ unholy; clean/ unclean
Lev 10:12-20 p The two sons who were left did not eat the sin offering in a holy place
Lev 11:1-47 p The law of clean and unclean animals
Lev 11:1-28 s Unclean animals, sea life, birds, creeping things which may not be eaten
Lev 11:29-38 s Transferring uncleanness; DEATH = UNCLEANNESS
Lev 11:39-47 p Uncleanness of creeping things + conclusion
Lev 8:1-36 is not part of this week’s parashah, but it is part of the strong paragraph which concludes with Lev 9:1-10:7. As I was meditating on how these two paragraphs are connected, and why God considers Lev 8:1-36 and Lev 9:1-10:7 facets of the same theme, I realized that just as the ceremony consecrated Aaron and his sons into the priesthood, so the fire that went out from the Lord, consuming Nadab and Abihu, consecrated the priesthood. It eliminated the dross from the sons of Aaron. Nadab and Abihu did not sufficiently regard the holiness of YHVH whom they were serving, as we can see:
1a) Lev 9:22-23a, Aaron blessed the people;
1b) Lev 9:23b-24, The glory of the Lord appeared to all the people when fire from the Lord consumed the offering;
1c) Lev 10:1, Nadab and Abihu put fire in their censers and offered incense before the Lord which He did not command;
central axis) Lev 10:2, Fire from the Lord devoured them and they died;
2c) Lev 10:3a, By those who come near Me I must be regarded as holy;
2b) Lev 10:3b, And before all the people I must be glorified;
2a) Lev 10:3c, Aaron held his peace (he did not curse God).
The c pair reveals that Nadab and Abihu put strange fire in their censers because they did not regard the LORD as holy. It is not that they did not know that God was a great and holy God. But they fudged His commandment and instruction. They felt at liberty at add to the LORD’s instructions, things they were not instructed to do, and take away from the LORD’s instructions, things they were instructed to do. Perhaps they regarded their own importance as priests a little too highly. The end result was, fear of the LORD, the beginning of wisdom, which came upon the Aaronic priesthood, which preserved both the LORD’s instructions as He gave them, and the lives of the priests.
The deaths of Nadab and Abihu play a part in a greater chiastic structure, which I had to go beyond Shemini to complete:
1a) Lev 10:1-7, The deaths of Nadab and Abihu;
1b) Lev 10:8-11, Do not be intoxicated that you may distinguish between clean and unclean;
1c) Lev 10:12-15, The goat of the sin offering to be eaten;
central axis) Lev 10:16-18, Its blood was not brought inside the holy place;
2c) Lev 10:19-20, If I had eaten the sin offering today, would it have been accepted?;
2b) Lev 11:1-15:33, The laws to distinguish between clean and unclean;
2a) Lev 16:1, After the death of the two sons of Aaron.
The central axis throws a spotlight on the dispute between Moses and Aaron after the death of Aaron’s two sons. The commandment was, that the blood of the sin offering was to have been brought inside the holy place, and it wasn’t, and the goat of the sin offering was to have been eaten by the priests (Aaron and his two sons who were left), and it wasn’t. The family of Aaron was in grief and turmoil because of the deaths of Nadab and Abihu.
So now, why did fire not go out from the LORD and consume the men who were left for these violations, as it consumed Nadab and Abihu?
I don’t think I am wise enough to answer this. However, if fire were to come out from the LORD and consume everyone who transgressed a point of Torah, there would be no people left. I think the difference between the two incidents of transgression, is the hearts. In the case of Nadab and Abihu, they were perhaps proud of their exalted status before the people, instead of humbled by the gravity of what they had been called to do before the LORD. With Aaron and his sons who remained, their hearts perceived the truth of it: observing strictly correct rituals does not atone for proud hearts set on transgression (Lev 10:19-20). They were moreover grieved by the sin and its consequences, which is the first step of repentance. To repentant hearts who regard Him and His commands, He is rich in mercy.