Parshas Shemini 5778
This week’s Parsha begins on a happy note with the description of the first day that the Mishkan was in use. However, it turns sad as the two of the sons of Ahron, Nadav and Avihu, brought an unauthorized fire and were killed by Hashem. Chazal actually enumerate six sins that Nadav and Avihu transgressed: they brought this strange fire which they had not been told to bring: they had drunk wine before entering the Mishkan; they had decided the law in the presence of Moshe their teacher by acting without first consulting Moshe; they had not had children because they had felt that there were no suitable candidates for them to marry; they were waiting for the demise of Moshe and Ahron in order to take over the leadership of the Jewish people; they didn’t consult one another. Even though we associate their sin together, according to Chazal, each of them independently had the same idea at the same time which resulted in their being in the same place and, therefore, being killed together.
Reb Eliya Baruch Finkel comments that this sixth sin seems much less serious than the other sins. They each came to the same conclusion independently; wouldn’t we think that they would have concluded the same thing had they discussed it together? He explains that it’s true the sin of not consulting each other is much less severe than the others. However, had they discussed their plan, there would have been a sense of unity when they committed their sins. From other examples in the Torah, it is clear that Hashem’s great love is for unity, and in some cases Hashem is willing to delay punishment due to people because the sin was committed by a unified group. For example, Rashi explains that the people who committed the sin of the flood were wiped out while the people who committed the sin of building the tower of Baval were merely scattered around the world because, although both groups sinned, the people who built the tower of Baval did so in unity. Therefore, their punishment was much more lenient than the penalty for the sin of the flood.
Rabbi Finkel explains that while not consulting each other was not the gravest sin, it was actually the lack of unified action that may have triggered Hashem’s punishing them so immediately and so severely. We should recognize the great power of being unified as a group that brings Hashem to look favorably at us.