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A Consuming Fire

WEEKLY SCRIPTURE READING

Torah Portion: Parashat Shemini ("Eighth")

Shabbat: April 15, 2023 Nisan 24, 5783

Prophets: 2 Sam. 6:1-7:17

New Covenant: Heb. 8:1-6


TODAY’S PRAYER OF AGREEMENT

Priestly Blessing

“The Lord bless you and keep you; The Lord make His face shine upon you, and be gracious to you; The Lord lift up His countenance upon you, and give you peace.” Numbers 6:24-26

 

From our Torah portion this week (i.e., Shemini) we read: "Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it and laid incense on it and offered strange fire (אֵשׁ זָרָה) before the LORD, that He had not commanded them" (Lev. 10:1). The sages interpret "strange fire" (i.e., esh zarah:אֵשׁ זָרָה) as alien passion or illicit zeal stimulated by artificial means (in this case, drinking wine before their service). The experience of intoxication may seem to elevate the soul, but in reality it muddles the ability to discern spiritual realities: "Drink no wine or strong drink ... when you go into the tent of meeting, lest you die. You are to distinguish between the holy and the common, and between the unclean and the clean" (Lev. 10:9-10). Nadab and Abihu were highly honored in Israel, the first priests of God, and if they drank wine before entering the sanctuary it was surely not for crass purposes, but rather to "sanctify" their experience, or so they thought... They were severely judged, however, because they presumptuously sought to sanctify themselves by means of an artificial influence, and this made them "strange" before God. Likewise many people today seek "spiritual highs" and "signs" without undergoing the discipline of Torah study, prayer, meditation, and so on. God wants our hearts in service, but our hearts must be honest and soberly reverent before Him (1 Pet. 5:8; Eph. 5:15-18).


"Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron ... brought strange fire ... and they died before the LORD" (Lev. 10:1-2). It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the Living God who is called esh okhlah, El kanna (אֵשׁ אכְלָה אֵל קַנָּא) - "a Consuming Fire, a jealous God (Deut. 4:24). Indeed, though atonement was provided under the law for every kind of sin and transgression, there was one exception: "But the soul that sins presumptuously (בְּיָד רָמָה) shall be out off from the midst of my people" (Num. 15:30). We must be careful not to casually regard God's truth with undue familiarity, lest we find ourselves under the influence of strange passions that lead to presumption....


Let us be sober and vigilant, friends. "Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come" (1 Cor. 10:11). It is astounding that during the very time that the Tabernacle was inaugurated, tragedy struck and Aaron's two sons were killed. This should warn those teachers who speak casually of God from the pulpit, since they act profanely and encroach upon the Divine Presence. Let us be admonished, friends and honor the Living God. As the sages have wisely said: Da lifne mi attah omed: "Know before Whom you stand!"

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