Use your mind when serving Hashem

Rabbi Reuven Mann

In this week’s parsha, Shemini, we read about the dedication of the Mishkan which came about through the special sacrificial service that was performed by Aaron and his sons.  The Torah describes how they carried out all the required actions in a precise and meticulous manner.  When his work was successfully completed Aaron was filled with a spirit of love and raised his hands and blessed the people.  Hashem demonstrated His satisfaction with the service by causing a fire to descend from Heaven and consume the sacrificial parts and the incense.  The people who witnessed this were filled with joy and burst out in song and “fell on their faces.”

One can imagine the great happiness which engulfed the nation at this point.  However, it did not last for long.  In the very next verse we encounter a terrible tragedy.  The sons of Aaron, Nadav and Avihu, placed incense in their fire pans and offered  before Hashem “a strange fire that He had not authorized.”  This had a catastrophic effect as Hashem brought forth a new fire which consumed the two sons of Aaron.   This day of simcha was suddenly marred by a seemingly inexplicable disaster.  It is not clear from reading the text exactly what the sin of the brothers consisted of or why it was so egregious that it warranted execution.  The commentators have offered various explanations of the fatal mistake which the brothers made.  What is interesting is that no one suggests that they had sinful intentions.  To the contrary, they were overcome with profound feelings of ecstacy and wanted very much to reciprocate the Divine fire with one of their own.  

There are many lessons we can learn from the death of these great people.  The most profound is that Judaism demands that we restrain our powerful “religious” emotions when engaged in the service of Hashem.  Judaism is based on serving Hashem through careful understanding of the Divine wisdom which is imparted in the Torah.  This demands intellectual concentration, clarity of focus and emotional sobriety.  The religious desire can motivate us but it cannot determine the direction in which we must go.  It is for this reason that the tragedy of Aaron’s sons is juxtaposed to the injunction against performing the Temple service after drinking intoxicating beverages.  The Rabbis extend this principle to a rabbi making a halachik decision (psak) while under the influence.  The same applies to davening.  A prayer said while in a state of drunkenness is regarded as an abomination. However, even small amounts of alcohol  would prohibit a person from engaging in Divine service.  We see from this that Judaism is a system of Divine wisdom which is designed to instruct and enlighten us in terms of the “knowledge” of what is pleasing to G-d.  It is haughty for man to believe that his feelings and emotions are automatically in line with the intentions of the Creator.  We are bidden to follow the will of G-d not as we would like it to be but as He has revealed it to us in His Torah.  This requires dedicated study, a clear head and an ability to maintain emotional discipline.  May our efforts to serve Hashem be meritorious and find favor with the Creator of the Universe.  

Shabbat Shalom