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Home » Acharei Mot, Family Life

Acharei Kedoshim: Balance

Submitted by on April 26, 2020 – 12:17 amNo Comment | 1,486 views

Balance is the most important tool to develop in life. Without balance, nothing succeeds. We learn this from Nadab and Abihu, Aaron’s two sons. They were among the holiest and the brightest of the Jewish people, but inexplicably, on the day that the tabernacle was erected, they entered the Holy of Holies unbidden and died. Who were they? Our sages told us many things about them, some more flattering than others.

Their faces were engraved on king Solomon’s throne.[1] With the exception of Moses and Aaron, they had no equal in all of Israel.[2] They knew G-d better than Moses and Aaron.[3] They were guilty of no sin but for the one for which they died.[4] They died only to sanctify G-d’s name.[5] They never married because a woman could not be found to match their level of piety and distinction.[6]

On the other hand, we learn that as Moses and Aaron’s designated successors, they were impatient for them to pass on so they could assume their roles.[7] They would rule on questions of Jewish law in the presence of their master Moses.[8] At Sinai, they gazed upon G-d with familiarity and for their own pleasure.[9]They entered the Temple while intoxicated and without priestly vestments.[10] Yet, at their moment of passing, they transcended even Moses and Aaron.[11]

How do we make sense of these conflicting statements, were they holy special people or were they not?

A Tale of Two Models
There are two ways to serve G-d. One is for personal pleasure, the other is for G-d’s sake. Neither is inappropriate, but the latter is certainly better than the former. Serving G-d for pleasure means that we take genuine pleasure in G-d’s happiness. We know that G-d went to great lengths to free us from bondage and to give us His Torah. This tells us that our service is precious to Him. We offer up our service because we are deeply pleased to bring G-d joy, and this is a profound level of devotion.

But there is a higher level of devotion. This is when we serve G-d simply because G-d wants to be served. We don’t seek reasons for our traditions and rules, and we don’t take pleasure in them. We simply do them because it is G-d’s will. This is not for our sake; it is for G-d’s sake.

As lofty as it is to take pleasure in G-d’s joy, it is still a me-directed motivation. I serve G-d because it pleases me to serve Him. Indeed, it pleases me to please G-d, but in the end, I do it because I take pleasure in it. The higher approach is to serve G-d because it pleases G-d. Full stop. No asterisks or footnotes. I serve Him because it pleases Him. This is not me directed. It is G-d directed.

Of course, even the lesser of these motivations is much better than serving G-d for reward or for fear of punishment. And it is lightyears ahead of serving G-d out of habit with no directed thought whatsoever. Taking pleasure in giving G-d joy is an admirable and lofty trait. Except for when we enter G-d’s home.

In G-d’s Home
Have you ever wondered why the most pious among us are also the humblest? Someone once told Winston Churchill that Clement Atlee was a humble man to which Churchill replied, “and he has so much to be humble about.” The ordinary perception is that when we have little to boast of, we are humble. But the pious among us have much to boast of, yet they are humble. Why is this so? Because they stand before G-d and before G-d, only G-d exists.

It is not that there is no room for ego before G-d. It is that there is no room for anything, even our very sense of self. When you are close to a king, you grow haughty and conceited. You are close to power and the masses must go through you to gain access to the king. But when you are close to G-d, the King of all kings, you grow humble. Not because G-d lacks power, but because before G-d, there is nothing.

Nadab and Abihu were very holy men, they served G-d with vigor and passion. They had a genuine thirst for G-d. They yearned for closeness and could not stand to be separated from G-d for even a moment. They did not wish death upon their father and uncle out of a lust for power, they were simply that desperate for G-d. They could not wait a moment longer. They wanted more access right then.

They gazed upon G-d for their own pleasure because they took so much pleasure in serving G-d. They were indeed intoxicated, but by their love for G-d. Wine is a pleasurable drink as opposed to water which has no flavor. Nadab and Abihu took so much pleasure in serving G-d, that they were intoxicated.

When our sages said that they entered the Temple without priestly garments, they meant to say that they could not suffer the limiting constraints of these garments because they wanted a full face to face encounter with G-d.[12] They ruled on Halachic questions in Moses’ presence, not because they were disdainful of Moses, but because they were desperate for words of Torah. They had no patience. They could not wait. So intense was their love of G-d that they could not marry and live ordinary lives. They could not love a woman, G-d was their only love.

They were, therefore, designated successors to their father and uncle. Therefore, king Solomon engraved their faces on his throne. But for Moses and Aaron, they had no equal in all of Israel. In biblical parlance, to know means to love and with respect to their love of G-d, they surpassed even Moses and Aaron.

Under ordinary circumstances, such passion for G-d would be admirable, but the moment they entered the Holy of Holies it became a fault. In G-d’s inner sanctum, they should have experienced their own nothingness. Their entire being should have been permeated with G-d, not with their experience of love. But their passion was so intense, that they could not put on the breaks. They were so intense that they did not know how to pull back. This was their one and only fault. And for this fault, they passed away. With their passing, they sanctified G-d’s name because they demonstrated that in truth, all that exists is G-d.

The lesson to us is straightforward. We each have hobbies, loves, and passions. But we also have many responsibilities. We can’t allow one love to crowd out the others or one interest to overwhelm the others. In life, we can’t lose ourselves in any one pursuit. We must always know how to put on the breaks.

We can’t love our spouse and forget our children or vice versa. We can’t love our work and forget our family or vice versa. We can’t love others and forget ourselves, or vice versa. In life, we must always strive for balance and ensure that as we have found a way in, so will we find a way out. Even if we love one thing more than others, G-d wants us to be responsive to all the responsibilities He placed in our path.[13]

[1] Targum Sheni 1:2.

[2] Zohar III 31b.

[3] Vayikra Rabba 12:2.

[4] Ibid. 20:8.

[5] Talmud, Zevachim 115b.

[6] Vayikra Rabba. 20:15.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Talmud Eruvin 63a.

[9] Vayikra Rabba 20.10

[10] Ibid. 12:1 and 20.9

[11] Pesikta Rabba 47:14.

[12] We don’t mean that they did not drink wine or enter the Temple without priestly garments. They did. We mean to say that it was an expression of their inner passion.

[13] This essay is based on Kedushat Levi on Acharei and Kedoshim and Sefer Ma’amarim 5663, pp. 183–197.