Parashat Shemini describes two of Aharon’s sons, Nadav and Avihu, as they bring a Ketoret offering on the Mizbeiach when they are not supposed to and the punishment that results. The Pasuk states (VaYikra 10:2), “VaTeitzei Eish MiLifnei Hashem VaTochal Otam VaYamutu Lifnei Hashem,” “And a fire came forth before Hashem and consumed them, and they died before Hashem.” The reason for the death of Nadav and Avihu is subject to much explanation amongst the commentaries. Rashi (ad. loc. s.v. VaTeitzei Eish), quoting Rabi Eliezer, believes that they are killed because they render a Halachah without consulting Moshe. Nadav and Avihu come to the correct conclusion that they should light the Mizbeiach, but they come to this conclusion without receiving direction from Hashem or even asking Moshe. Thus, by bringing the Ketoret on the Mizbei’ach, they challenge Moshe, and as a result Hashem kills them.
In addition to the opinion of Rabi Eliezer, Rashi quotes Rabi Yishmaeil, who argues that Nadav and Avihu die, because they bring the Ketoret while intoxicated. His proof is that immediately after their death, the Torah warns future Kohanim who will perform this Avodah, “Yayin VeSheichar Al Taisht Atah UVanecha Itach BeVoachem El Ohel Moeid VeLo Tamutu Chukat Olam LeDoroteichem,” “Do not drink intoxicating wine, you [Aharon] and your sons [the Kohanim] with you, when you come to the Ohel Moeid, so that you do not die; this is an eternal decree for your generations” (VaYikra 10:9).
One of the most shocking parts of this episode is Aharon’s reaction to the death of his sons. The Pasuk states (VaYikra 10:3), “VaYidom Aharon,” “and Aharon was silent.” How could Aharon be silent after two of his children die? Additionally, Rashi (ad. loc. s.v. VaYidom Aharon) states that Aharon receives a great reward for staying silent. Does this mean that when a tragedy happens, one should repress his emotions?
Perhaps, by staying silent, Aharon demonstrates that we must never doubt Hashem’s decisions. Although we may become emotional or distraught over a loss or tragedy, we must still never question Hashem. Aharon loses two of his sons while they are trying to serve Hashem, and he is able to accept Hashem’s decree without question. Today, when we hear about a death, we make a Berachah; “Baruch Dayan HaEmet,” “Blessed is the Judge of Truth” (Gemara Berachot 59b). This Berachah indicates that even though we may not comprehend Hashem’s Din, we accept that Hashem always makes decisions for a reason. We must realize this important lesson that Aharon teaches us, and, even in times of difficulty, we must not doubt Hashem’s divine judgment.