The Testing of our Faith and the Sacred Name, פרשת שמיני, Parashat Shemini, Bits of Torah Truths


In this week’s Torah portion we read about the priests Nadav and Avihu dying before the Lord, the Masoretic Text states the following, Vayikra / Leviticus 10:1-3, א וַיִּקְחוּ בְנֵי-אַהֲרֹן נָדָב וַאֲבִיהוּא אִישׁ מַחְתָּתוֹ וַיִּתְּנוּ בָהֵן אֵשׁ וַיָּשִֹימוּ עָלֶיהָ קְטֹרֶת וַיַּקְרִיבוּ לִפְנֵי יְהוָֹה אֵשׁ זָרָה אֲשֶׁר לֹא צִוָּה אֹתָם: ב וַתֵּצֵא אֵשׁ מִלִּפְנֵי יְהוָֹה וַתֹּאכַל אוֹתָם וַיָּמֻתוּ לִפְנֵי יְהוָֹה: ג וַיֹּאמֶר מֹשֶׁה אֶל-אַהֲרֹן הוּא אֲשֶׁר-דִּבֶּר יְהוָֹה | לֵאמֹר בִּקְרֹבַי אֶקָּדֵשׁ וְעַל-פְּנֵי כָל-הָעָם אֶכָּבֵד וַיִּדֹּם אַהֲרֹן: 10:1 Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took their respective firepans, and after putting fire in them, placed incense on it and offered strange fire before the Lord, which He had not commanded them. 10:2 And fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord. 10:3 Then Moses said to Aaron, ‘It is what the Lord spoke, saying, ‘By those who come near Me I will be treated as holy, And before all the people I will be honored.’‘ So Aaron, therefore, kept silent. (NASB) Here the Lord God states, הוּא אֲשֶׁר-דִּבֶּר יְהוָֹה | לֵאמֹר בִּקְרֹבַי אֶקָּדֵשׁ “this is what the Lord said I will be sanctified through those who draw near to me.” This is a significant statement for us today in light of the Lord God dwelling in our midst and in our hearts! In Parashat Yitro (Shemot / Exodus 29:43) the Lord God said וְנֹעַדְתִּי שָׁמָּה לִבְנֵי יִשְֹרָאֵל וְנִקְדַּשׁ בִּכְבֹדִי “this is where I will make Myself known to the Children of Israel, and where My glory will be sanctified.” The sanctification of the Name of God is brought in the context to those who draw near to the Lord. Notice how the rabbis describe these events according to the commentary by Or HaChaim.

Or HaChaim on Vayikra / Leviticus 10:3:2
Our sages in Torat Kohanim on our verse describe Aaron as in despair accusing both himself and his sons as having sinned and having been punished for it. When Moses heard this, he entered Aaron’s tent and tried to put his mind at ease by telling him that God had told him when he was on Mount Sinai that in the future He, God, would sanctify the Tabernacle by means of persons of great stature. At the time, Moses said, he had thought that God referred either to himself or to Aaron. Now, in view of what had just occurred, it had become clear to him that both Nadav and Avihu were of greater stature than either he or Aaron seeing God had selected those two to sanctify His Tabernacle. Thus far Torat Kohanim. Another approach may be this: while it is true that Moses had been told about this concept at Sinai, he had not understood in which context this lesson would assume practical significance. Only now, when Nadav and Avihu had died under peculiar circumstances did he, Moses, realize what God had meant to tell him at that time when He said to him: בקרובי אקדש, “I will be sanctified by means of those who are close to Me.” Moses told Aaron: “the only reason your sons had to die was to glorify the name of the Lord.” This is how he suddenly understood the words in Exodus 29,43: ונועדתי שמה לבני ישראל ונקדש בכבודי, “there I will meet with the children of Israel and there My glory shall be sanctified.” As soon as Aaron heard that the two sons of his who had died were ידועי השם, based on Exodus 29,43, he remained silent and did not utter a lament.

Notice how the rabbis point to the portion of the Hebrew text which states, בקרובי אקדש, “I will be sanctified by means of those who are close to Me.” Particularly, the death of Nadav and Avihu was meant to glorify the Name of God. This is a very important concept in light of what Paul tells us when he said, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). Paul also wrote saying, “For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” (Colossians 3:3-5) Paul speaks of something that is very Torah centric, when we die to ourselves, putting away sin, and living according to the Spirit, when we become a “new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17) in the Messiah, we, the death of the body glorifies the Lord. This week’s Torah portion draws a parallel to these truths. In addition to this, Paul also tells us the Holy Spirit of God (see 1 Corinthians 12:13, Romans 8:9, Ephesians 1:13-14), that we are given by faith in Yeshua, helps us each day to live this way (dying to the flesh). This concept of dying to self is the continual denial of the flesh that occurs over a believer’s lifetime, and demonstrates the continual work of God. It is the Lord God Almighty who lives in us who causes us to choose daily to die to self, to selfish desires and the selfish will. The one who does not put to death the desires of the flesh cannot obey God, nor does he want to. (see Ephesians 4:17-32, Romans 7) We are all born with this desire of selfishness and pride, which leads to sin in our lives which then leads to the curse (Romans 5:12-14) which Yeshua sets us free from. These things are not automatic, we must submit our lives to the Lord, and in doing so the Lord will help us to overcome the world.

The account of the death of Aaron’s sons, Nadav and Avihu, reminds us how our attitude and approach is of the greatest importance to God and to us as worshippers. Having a purity of heart (unblemished motivation, תמים) that is rooted in a desire to walk in God’s ways is illustrated here in this event of the death of Nadav and Avihu. Faith accepts the goodness of God and trusts in His care. Isaiah the prophet said מִ֤י בָכֶם֙ יְרֵ֣א יְהוָ֔ה שֹׁמֵ֖עַ בְּק֣וֹל עַבְדּ֑וֹ אֲשֶׁ֣ר ׀ הָלַ֣ךְ חֲשֵׁכִ֗ים וְאֵ֥ין נֹ֙גַהּ֙ ל֔וֹ יִבְטַח֙ בְּשֵׁ֣ם יְהוָ֔ה וְיִשָּׁעֵ֖ן בֵּאלֹהָֽיו׃ 50:10 Who among you reveres the LORD And heeds the voice of His servant?— Though he walk in darkness And have no light, Let him trust in the name of the LORD And rely upon his God. (Isaiah 50:10) We find these very same concepts here in the Apostolic Writings, James 4:7 Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 4:8 Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. (NASB) and 1 Peter 3:15 but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; (NASB) Notice how James speaks of resisting the devil and cleansing our hands from sin and purifying the heart meaning we are not to practice sin. Peter peaks of sanctifying the Lord in our hearts. This is very similar to Shemot / Exodus 29:43 הוּא אֲשֶׁר-דִּבֶּר יְהוָֹה | לֵאמֹר בִּקְרֹבַי אֶקָּדֵשׁ “this is what the Lord said I will be sanctified through those who draw near to me.” Peter connects this sanctification of God’s glory in our hearts to always thinking upon God’s word which allows us to give an answer when asked for the hope that we have. Nadav and Avihu remind us that we are to sanctify the Name of the Lord that indeed it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the Lord God. (Hebrews 10:31) Always keeping God’s Word in our hearts is a Torah centric principle from Devarim / Deuteronomy 6:6-7, ו וְהָיוּ הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי מְצַוְּךָ הַיּוֹם עַל-לְבָבֶךָ: ז וְשִׁנַּנְתָּם לְבָנֶיךָ וְדִבַּרְתָּ בָּם בְּשִׁבְתְּךָ בְּבֵיתֶךָ וּבְלֶכְתְּךָ בַדֶּרֶךְ וּבְשָׁכְבְּךָ וּבְקוּמֶךָ: 6:6 These words I am commanding you today are to be upon your hearts. 6:7 And you shall teach them diligently to your children and speak of them when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. (BSB) Here Nadav and Avihu are said to have offered strange fire, offering fire when the Lord had not commanded. The giving of an offering before the glory of God in the Holy of Holies was the most sacred of korbanot (sacrifices), and they had transgressed by presumptuously going before the Lord without consent, meaning, they went by their own will and without the blood of the sacrifice for their sins. As a result, Moshe instructed Aaron and his sons how the Lord commanded to come before His presence in the Holy of Holies, it was to be done by the special avodah (service) of Yom Kippur.

The rabbis comment on the way the Torah (see Rabbeinu Bahya, Vayikra 10:1) is written Nadav and Avihu וַיָּשִֹימוּ עָלֶיהָ, “they placed on it” the strange fire instead of writing וישימו עליהם, “they placed on them.” (Note how there were two censers, each brother having his own censer.) The comparison is to the 250 men who offered incense (Parashat Korach, Bamidbar / Numbers 16:18) in the case of the 250 men the Torah writes, “they placed it on them,” (upon the censers, plural). The instructions on the correct procedure in the Torah (Bamidbar / Numbers 16:17) Moshe had told these men ונתתם עליהם קְטֹרֶת “place on them incense.” (No mention had been made of fire although the 250 men added their own fire.) We see the use of the word עָלֶיהָ as distinct from עֲלֵיהֶם and the rabbis say this is an allusion to the attribute of Justice. The Torah is giving us an insight into the thinking of Nadav and Avihu at that time. They knew that incense was intended to counter, to stop the attribute of Justice in its tracks. This is interpreted from what Moshe did in Devarim / Deuteronomy 33:10 “they place incense to placate Your anger.” The word קְטֹרֶת itself means הִתְקַשְּׁרוּת רוח במדות, “establishing a spiritual affinity.” The Aramaic translation of the word ותקשור, (Bereshit / Genesis 38:25) “she tied” is וקְטֹרֶת. This spiritual affinity established by means of the incense is meant to draw down an abundance of heavenly blessings by means of the attribute of Justice, which in turn will confer these blessings on the person burning up the incense. What these things are teaching us is how the Holy of Holies is the antithesis of profane in the sense that this is the sacred place where God Himself would be manifest. This is where the shechina (glory) of God would appear, the keruvim (Cherubim) over the Ark of the Covenant, and the Kapporet (Seat of Atonement). This place was sacred and represented the throne room of God in the midst of Israel, this represented the holiness of the house in which God dwells, and the importance of sanctifying the Name of God by those who draw near. Consider What Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 3.

1 Corinthians 3:1-17
3:1 But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. 3:2 I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, 3:3 for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way? 3:4 For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not being merely human? 3:5 What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. 3:6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. 3:7 So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. 3:8 He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. 3:9 For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building. 3:10 According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. 3:11 For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 3:12 Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— 3:13 each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. 3:14 If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. 3:15 If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire. 3:16 Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? 3:17 If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple. (ESV)

Note the parallels here to the things we have been studying from the Torah on Nadav and Avihu? Paul speaks of the spiritual immaturity of the people in Corinth, and we find the spiritual immaturity of Nadav and Avihu presumptuously going before God and then dying because of their sins. Paul speaks of the person of faith becoming ground upon which the Lord plants seed and our lives bear fruit. Faith in Yeshua the Messiah causes us to become God’s garden and His structure or building (1 Corinthians 3:9). Paul goes on to describe how one builds upon a foundation, and doing so with precious metals, and other things. He draws in a Torah context of purification stating that all things will be tested by fire and that which is burned up a man will suffer loss. He then says that we are God’s Temple, and the Spirit of God dwells within us. (1 Corinthians 3:17 If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple. ESV) Note also how Jewish tradition claims Nadav and Avihu were burned from the inside out. We are told how Moshe’s cousins (Mishael and Eltzafan) carried their bodies outside of the camp to be buried. This again symbolizes the internal condition of sanctifying the Name of the Lord in our hearts. And this interpretation is substantiated by Moshe reminding Aaron that the sanctity of the Lord was the issue. The parallel may also be drawn to what the rabbis discuss regarding the word קְטֹרֶת meaning הִתְקַשְּׁרוּת רוח במדות, “establishing a spiritual affinity.” This spiritual affinity established by means of the incense is meant to draw down an abundance of heavenly blessings which in turn will confer these blessings on the person burning up the incense. These things draw a parallel to the intentions of our heart, of purity and holiness within as being the house of God in which the God of Israel dwells. This brings a wonderful context to our sanctifying the Name of God in our hearts and in our lives because we are those who draw near according to the NT.

Many believe we are in the last days before the return of Yeshua the Messiah. This is a time of testing of faith. There will come a time also when we may have to lay down our lives for the Lord in opposition to denying our faith. The Scripture from our Torah portion reads, “You shall not profane my holy name, that I may be made sacred among the people of Israel.” (Vayikra / Leviticus 22:32, וְלֹא תְחַלְּלוּ אֶת-שֵׁם קָדְשִׁי וְנִקְדַּשְׁתִּי בְּתוֹךְ בְּנֵי יִשְֹרָאֵל אֲנִי יְהוָֹה מְקַדִּשְׁכֶם:), which the early sages say provides the basis for “kiddush HaShem” (קִדּוּשׁ הַשֵּׁם), a phrase that means honoring God’s truth even if that means one must give up his or her life to do so. This again draws in the concept of sanctifying the Name of God in our hearts. Sanctifying God’s Name in our hearts means we are regard our relationship with the God of Israel as an end in itself. This means that our duty is to heaven and not to this life as Yeshua said, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness” (Matthew 6:33). This is what this week’s Torah portion is drawing out, our lives are temporary, fleeting, and our ultimate destiny is to stand before the Lord God of Israel. This world is filled with idolatry, pride, and the desires for self (selfishness). We were created to bring glory to God, and we exist only because of God who sustains and holds all things together. When we choose to live according to God’s word, His truth, we are taking a stand against the idolatry of our culture by obeying the Lord and turning from the godless ideology of this world. Our faith will ultimately lead to opposition to this world as the Scriptures say, “We ought to obey God rather than men.” (Acts 5:29) We see even today, political leaders are blaming Christians for the current crisis with covid-19. This illustrates how the Scriptures are truth when a person of genuine moral conviction may be labeled an “enemy of the state,” or called a “terrorist,” and be put into prison. There are many examples of Kiddush HaShem (sanctifying the Name) in the Scriptures where one honors the truth of God even at the cost of losing his or her own life. We read in the Apostolic Writings that he (Yeshua) is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them. (Hebrews 7:25) This week’s Torah portion reveals to us that ultimately we must surrender our lives to the Lord, that God alone is our good, and we must accept the greatness and glory and of His Name and His truth. The truth of God is above all things, and the God of Israel and His Messiah is to take precedent in our lives each day!