Nadav and Avihu: Hashem’s Justice by Akiva Sturm


After the death of Nadav and Avihu, the Torah writes “Hu Asher Diber Hashem Leimor BiKrovai Ekadeish Ve’Al Penei Kol Ha’Am Ekaveid VaYidom Aharon,” “This is what Hashem meant when he said: through those who are near me I will be sanctified and gain glory before all the people, and Aharon was silent”(VaYikra 10:3). Rashi (ibid sv. VaYidom Aharon) notes that “Kibeil Sachar Al Shetikato”; Aharon received a reward for remaining silent when his elder two sons died. So why were Elazar and Itamar, Aharon’s younger two sons who were instructed by Moshe not to mourn, not rewarded as well?  I heard the following answer from Rav Yosef Adler, the Rosh Yeshiva of TABC. Moshe’s specific instructions to Aharon and his remaining sons were “Al Tipra’u U’Vigdeichem Lo Tifromu VeLo Tamutu Ve’Al Kol Ha’Eidah Yiktzof,” “Do not bare your head and do not rend your clothes, lest you die and anger strike the whole community” (10:6).  Even though it is not explicated in the Pasuk, Yonatan ben Uziel adds “BeRam Shetukun VeTizkun Yat Dinah Aleichem,” “However, remain silent and acknowledge the justice of Hashem.” When you hear that someone dies, saying Baruch Dayan HaEmet (Bless the adjudicator of truth), is recognizing Hashem’s Tzidkut HaDin (Righteousness of judgment) and realizing that He is doing what is best for you. Similarly, the Mishnah (Berachot 9:5) states: “Chayav Adam LeVareich Al Ha’Ra’ah KeSheim SheChayav LeVareich Al HaTovah,” “A person is obligated to bless upon the bad just as he blesses upon the good.” The word KeSheim establishes an equation between blessing the good and blessing bad in life. Just like when you bless the good you are recognizing that Hashem is doing what is best for you, so too even when you bless things that are seemingly bad, you recognize that Hashem is truly doing what is best for you. That is precisely why Elazar and Itamar did not cry or mourn; they only said Baruch Dayan HaEmet, recognizing that what Hashem did what was best for them. They were upset by Hashem’s decision to kill Nadav and Avihu, but they still recognized that Hashem is just and has valid reasons for everything he does. Aharon, however, was not able to find closure in the way that his son’s did; he was experiencing tremendous internal turmoil, devastated by the loss of his two elder sons. He could not possibly fathom why Hashem would kill them; nonetheless, Aharon never questioned Hashem. Since he never expressed any doubt in Hashem, he received great reward that Elazar and Itamar did not.

It is meaningful to note that Yom HaShoah was observed this week, and that Parashat Shmini is often read during the week of Yom HaShoah. The Survivors of the Shoah, like Aharon, had to deal with unimaginable tragedy. Although there were many Jews who abandoned any semblance of religion after the Holocaust, there were many who instead had the same reaction as Aharon and remained loyal to Hashem. Even though they were traumatized by the events of the Holocaust and no doubt had many questions for Hashem, they still remained committed Jews. The Jewish Nation survives because of their faith and devotion to Hashem. The survivors of the Shoah, like Aharon, should continue to serve as an inspiration for us.

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