Commentary for Shemini

4 Apr

This week’s parshah contains one of the most difficult sections in the Torah to comprehend: two of Aaron’s sons go into the holy of holies in an attempt to worship God… and God smites them for it.


Over the years, commentators have used textual and contextual clues to determine what their mistake that cost them their lives may have been. The text states that they brought an “alien fire (Lev. 10:1)” which God had not commanded them to bring, but whether this fire is literal or a metaphor for some unworthy motivation is not clear. Some commentators have speculated that they were drunk, based on the fact that after these deaths, Moses instructs Aaron and his remaining sons not to be intoxicated when they enter the Tent of Meeting, lest they, too, perish (10:9).   Other commentators have speculated that they were egotistical or possibly lacked faith in God. Still others have said that they disrespected either Moses, Aaron, or both, either verbally or by presuming to perform their duties in their stead.


As hard as it is to accept, we may never know exactly what they did wrong. Whatever the issue was, this difficult story reminds us that we don’t always have the answers in life, and sometimes we just have to guess at what our mistake was and take precautions to ensure that we don’t repeat it.

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