An alien fire

The story of Nadab and Abihu, intensely terrifying, has been discussed and analyzed by the generations of commentators. The rabbis emphasize the recklessness of the sons of Aharon, who disregarded the Divine commandments and decided to act on their own, falsely believing that the family connection and the fact that they “meant well” will protect them from the Divine punishment.

The word “strange” in “strange fire”, as Leviticus 10:1 calls their offering, has the connotation of something alien, dangerous, and potentially destructive, as later the idolatrous worship in the Talmudic tractate. The aggressive war is certainly this “strange fire”. Whatever reasons might be used to justify it, they all are null and void. There can never be any excuse for the aggression.

The Torah is very unequivocal about the punishment for those trying to undermine the Divine authority and bring discord to the children of Israel. Nadab and Abihu are immediately burned down to ashes in front of their father. The retribution for the aggression is swift and direct, but Aaron, as states Leviticus 10:3, is silent.

Abarbanel gives a poignant vignette, where he describes both the mental state of the father, who has just lost his sons, and the way so many people feel now.

“His heart became like an inanimate rock, and he did not raise his voice in crying or eulogy, as would a father for his children; he also did not accept condolences from Moses. For he had no breath left in him, nor did he have any speech…”

About the Author
Nelly Shulman is a journalist and writer currently based in Berlin. She is an author of four popular historical novels in the Russian language. She is working on the fifth novel in this series and on her first English-language novel, a historical thriller set during the Siege of Leningrad. She a Hawthornden Fellow and an alumna of the Nachum Goldmann Fellowship.
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