Friday, April 5, 2024

Parshat Shemini - Nadav and Avihu: Lacking a Settled Mind


Parshat Shemini addresses the sudden demise of Nadav and Avihu, the sons of Aaron HaKohen. The passage unequivocally states that they presented a foreign fire, Esh Zarah, when offering the Ketoret without Divine command. Rashi adds that they were unmarried. Another aspect is their intoxication. Furthermore, they purportedly issued halakhic rulings in the presence of Moshe Rabbeinu. All these factors are attributed to the fate of Nadav and Avihu. While their bodies remained intact, their souls were consumed by holy fire, leaving them lifeless.

Reb Noson delves deeply into the significance of the death of Nadav and Avihu and its broader implications. First, regarding their unmarried status, Reb Noson explains that marriage serves to balance a man. The inherent tendency of individuals, particularly those knowledgeable, is to constantly pursue, advance, and seek deeper understanding. However, Rebbe Nachman teaches in Lesson 24 that true knowledge is attained through halting, pausing, and settling the mind. This settled state allows one to become a vessel for perceiving the Infinite Light, the pinnacle of wisdom attainable. Yet, if one is constantly in a state of pursuit, it becomes impossible to achieve this profound perception.

In marriage, the role of the woman, referred to as “Eshet Chayil Ateret Ba’ala (A woman of valor is a crown to her husband)”, from the verse in Proverbs, is crucial. Ateret, meaning crown, corresponds to the sephira Keter, acting as the intermediary between humanity and the Infinite Light. Keter has the function of halting those whose minds are continuously seeking to perceive and advance, providing the necessary pause for mental settling. Once the mind is settled, one can perceive the Infinite Light. Therefore, a woman of valor plays the pivotal role of putting her husband on pause, facilitating the mental settling required for perceiving deeper wisdom. This underscores the sacredness of the role of a wife and the institution of marriage.

Nadav and Avihu, lacking this marital balance, were perpetually in pursuit mode, striving to advance continuously. While this pursuit is admirable, it remains incomplete. True wisdom lies in acknowledging the extent of one’s ignorance. The ultimate aim of wisdom is recognizing the vast expanse of what is yet to be known. Embracing this state of not knowing elevates one to higher levels of understanding, marking a never-ending journey of knowing, not knowing, and striving for deeper comprehension. Nadav and Avihu’s deficiency stemmed from their lack of the pause and balance that marriage provides.

Secondly, the sages suggest that Nadav and Avihu were in a state of Shtuyei Yayin, meaning they were intoxicated or tipsy. This condition implies an unsettled mind, which is incompatible with perceiving the Infinite Light. Their minds were operating in a mode of constant pursuit, lacking the necessary brakes for mental balance. Despite their elevated spiritual status as tzaddikim, their behavior resembled that of drunkenness. The imbalance induced by drunkenness mirrors the lack of restraint in a mind consumed by endless pursuit of knowledge. However, without the necessary pause or brakes, such a relentless pursuit poses a danger, akin to a potential mental crash, akin to the state of a drunken mind.

Thirdly, they are faulted for presumptuously ruling on halakhic matters in the presence of their Rav – Moshe Rabeinu. Such audacity suggests a severe imbalance in their minds. This imbalance arises when an individual erroneously believes they possess complete understanding, leading them to assert themselves in matters of Jewish law before their teacher. This behavior constitutes a blemish, an impairment, indicating a fundamental flaw. Despite their elevated status as tzaddikim, the Torah holds Nadav and Avihu accountable for these shortcomings.

Reb Noson underscores the importance of achieving Yishuv HaDa’at, a settled mind, noting that even the greatest tzaddikim can stumble in this regard. He cites the example of Shimon and Levi, the brothers of Joseph the Righteous, renowned tzaddikim in their own right. Yet, their perception was distorted, leading them to wrongly conclude that Joseph deserved death. This erroneous judgment resulted from a subtle but significant blemish in their perspective. From this flaw, subsequent generations suffered, as evidenced by the descendants of Shimon and Levi, namely Zimri and Korach.

Zimri, despite his scholarly status, sought to permit public immorality, while Korach coveted personal honor and openly challenged the authority of Moses and Aaron. Their actions reveal a profound lack of Yishuv HaDa’at, a settled mind, despite their scholarly attainments. Reb Noson emphasizes that this imbalance carries significant consequences in life. Thus, he advocates for striving towards Yishuv HaDa’at, achieved through a balance of pursuit and restraint. This balance was notably absent in Nadav and Avihu, highlighting the importance of achieving a settled mind.

Furthermore, they offered Ketoret. Rebbe Nachman extols Ketoret as profoundly significant, as it has the power to evoke joy. Joy, Rebbe Nachman teaches, is essential for achieving a settled mind. This settled state necessitates balance, restraint, and acceptance of setbacks and pauses in a proper manner, all of which are facilitated by joy. Ketoret serves as the catalyst for activating this joy.

One might question why, if Nadav and Avihu offered Ketoret, they weren’t protected from harm. The answer lies in understanding the limitations of Ketoret. When offered at the right time and for the right reasons – by the Kohen at the prescribed times or in our modern context, during the shacharit and mincha prayers – Ketoret can indeed generate positivity and open the door to the Infinite Light. However, in the case of Nadav and Avihu, their actions revealed a lack of commitment to joy. Their unmarried status and relentless pursuit of knowledge indicated a disregard for joy, which stems from appreciation, acknowledgment of setbacks, and humility.

Despite their elevated status as tzaddikim, their actions exhibited a subtle yet significant blemish – a refusal to submit to the authority of Moshe Rabbeinu. In essence, they displayed a form of arrogance or stubbornness by proceeding without permission. In such a state, the Ketoret could not provide protection. Ketoret is effective when performed according to the instructions and guidance of the tzaddikim, who emphasize its role in activating joy. When carried out in this manner, Ketoret fulfills its intended purpose. Whether through recitation today or in the time of the Beit HaMikdash when the Kohanim conducted the ritual, Ketoret is effective only when aligned with Divine commandments, as opposed to personal intentions, as was the case with Nadav and Avihu.

In conclusion, achieving balance is paramount in every stage of life. This equilibrium is particularly challenging for Jews undergoing teshuva or converts, who often yearn to embrace the light and flee from darkness. While this impulse is understandable, true completion lies in cultivating a settled mind, which is essential for perceiving Godliness in life. Life itself, with its myriad setbacks, teaches the value of patience and waiting, enabling one to prepare their mind to receive Divine guidance and clarity from the Infinite Light.

Let us learn from the example of Nadav and Avihu, emphasizing patience and the importance of handling matters properly. Additionally, let us recognize the value of marriage, where the role of the wife in applying brakes to the husband’s pursuits is crucial. Furthermore, let us heed Rebbe Nachman’s caution against excessive drinking. While Purim and certain ritual occasions permit it, optional drinking for mere merriment is discouraged. Instead, Rebbe Nachman advocates for cultivating happiness through personal effort, and not that found in a “bottled” version.

May we internalize these lessons and proceed with caution, advancing in life with the guidance of God.

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Meir Elkabas
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