Acharei Mos – How Much Hashem Cares for Our Wellbeing 

At the beginning of this week’s Torah portion of Acharei Mos, we conclude the tragedy of the deaths of Nadav and Avihu, two of Aharon’s sons. “Hashem spoke to Moshe after the death of Aharon’s sons, when they approached before Hashem, and they died” (Vayikra 16:1). Rabbeinu Bachye on this pasuk explains, on a simple level, that this pasuk is alluding to two sins that Nadav and Avihu committed. One was a sin committed in thought, for which they were decreed to die. The second was a sin of action, when they actually died. Their thought-based-sin happened by Mount Sinai where they got too close to the mountain to perceive Hashem, when Moshe had warned them against doing that. Hashem decreed then to put them to death but did not want to ruin the celebration surrounding the receiving of the Torah. The sin of action, by the dedication of the mishkan, was for bringing a strange fire, meaning they brought a fire without the incense, and they died on the 1st of Nissan. (Click here for Hebrew text.)

The Rabbeinu Bachye is based on a Medrish Tanchuma in Acharei Mos (6). “‘Nadav and Avihu died before Hashem [when they offered an alien fire before Hashem in the Wilderness of Sinai…’ (Bamidbar 3:4). Rebbe Yochanan said, ‘Did they really die before Hashem? (The Etz Yosef points out that he holds they did not die in the Kodesh but rather they stumbled out into an area where the Leviim were able to retrieve their bodies after they died.) Rather it’s teaching that it’s very rough on Hashem when children of the righteous pass away in their lifetime.’ Rebbe Nachman asked a question in front of Rebbe Pinchas bar Chama bar Simon, ‘Here it says before Hashem, before Hashem twice. And later it says ‘[Nadav and Avihu] died in front of their father…’ (Divrei Hayamim Alef 24:2). This was only once. We learn from here that it (their loss) was doubly harsher for Hashem than for their father. (The Etz Yosef explains the medrish in more detail; One time it says “before Hashem” in parshas Shemini, and once in this pasuk in Bamidbar. And another time in Divrei Hayamim Alef it says “they died before their father,” but no other time does it mention that they died before their father. This is because it is enough to mention it once. It would have been enough to mention that they died before Hashem once, however it mentions it twice to emphasize the double hardship [Hashem felt.] One was over Nadav and Avihu themselves, as it says: ‘Difficult is in the eyes of Hashem, the death of His righteous’ [Tehillim 116:15]. The second was over the pain of Aharon whose children passed away in his lifetime.) ‘In the Desert of Sinai,’ Rebbe Meir said, did they die in the Desert of Sinai? Rather its coming to teach, that it was harsh before Hashem, that ever since Mount Sinai they deserved a decree of death. This is a parable to a king who married off his daughter and found amongst the guests disloyalty. The king said, ‘tomorrow is my time of joy and I will kill him then. It’s better during my joy instead of my daughter’s joy.’ So too Hashem said, ‘If I kill them now, I will withhold the joy over the Torah, that is what it means, ‘On the day of His wedding and on the day of His heart’s joy’ (Shir HaShirim 3:11′.) The day of His wedding is at Sinai, by the day of the giving of the Torah, and the day of His heart’s joy is by the Ohel Moed.” The Etz Yosef elaborates more and explains that “the day of His wedding refers to Mount Sinai” for there He married the Jews through the Torah, for the Torah is like a daughter married to them as mentioned in Shemos Rabba, parshas Teruma. “And the day of His heart’s joy is the Ohel Moed,” it is called His heart’s joy for there, the Shechina, Hashem’s Holy Presence, rested upon the Jews and it was a tremendous joy before Hashem and the Jews. (Click here for Hebrew text.)
  If you think about it, this is quite astonishing! First off, we must say that whatever sin Nadav and Avihu committed must not have been a major sin but a minuscule flaw, on a very minute level, because they were still righteous, chasidim, in the eyes of Hashem. That being said, they still made some kind of mistake, and Hashem is an honest and strict judge. Particularly for the more righteous, Hashem is more scrupulous in judging the person; so if they deserved to be put to death why does Hashem feel so bad? Why is it double then the physical father who doesn’t know how or why this is happening to him and his family? At least Hashem, the judge of everything, knows and sees that this is deserving; so shouldn’t the father and mother feel worse?

Yet, somehow, this seems to be a comfort to the family. Hashem is sending a message: ‘I am with you in your sorrow. I understand exactly what you are going through and feel extremely bad that this must happen. It is being done for a reason and it’s a calculated reason.’ The proof, in this case, is that Hashem understood He could have made everyone feel a lot worse and could have caused the tragedy at a more deserving time, at an even more personal time of joy and happiness but in His benevolent mercy He chose to bring it on when it was more of a personal joy to Himself. The joy of a wedding is tremendous and very special for the girl but it’s only for a single day. The joy of building a home, being able to constantly live in close proximity with each other on a consistent basis, is the ultimate joy, which Hashem marred in its inauguration.

Hashem’s message was that I am with you in your sorrow and pain. Not only am I with you but I feel it rougher than you do, I put the brunt of the pain upon Myself. Knowing that this is the way Hashem conducts Himself should bring comfort to His children when they are facing tragedy.