Nadav and Avihu: How do we face death?

By Rabbi Michael Cohen
Parashat Acharei Mot

n the lead to this week’s Torah portion, after a seven-day ordination ritual for Aaron and his sons to initiate the Priesthood and worship at the Tabernacle, fire from the Lord suddenly consumes Nadav and Avihu, two of Aaron’s sons. Rabbis debate whether it was a sin by the youths, or rather their purity that triggered this event. Following their death, Moses tells his brother Aaron of God’s words — “Through those who are near to me, I will show myself holy.” So closely following the ordination ritual Nadav and Avihu have just undergone, Moses’ words suggest he meant they were motivated by holiness, not sin. Could Nadav and Avihu have meant to offer themselves as a sacrifice?
Using the possibilities presented by Nadav and Avihu, we can ponder how we individually will face death. Do we accept death as part of life, in our guts and in our hearts, much as we might cognitively recognize the inevitability of death? Are we able to believe in the possibility of sacrificial service to a greater cause? Do we expect to meet with God after death, as Nadav and Avihu may well have done? Can living out each day as we believe God wants us to live, be both a gift to us, and our gift to God? Striving toward our greatest moral purpose defines our worth. Working through such ultimate questions empowers us to make the most of the time that we have on this earth. And, this is true whether we have suffered or are suffering through loss of others dear to us, or contemplating our own mortality.

Rabbi Michael Tevya Cohen is the director of Rabbinical Services and Pastoral Care at The Legacy Willow Bend in Plano. He is a member of the Rabbinic Association of Greater Dallas.

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