Ben-Tzion Spitz
Former Chief Rabbi of Uruguay

Vayikra: Vital Clear Communication

It is still not enough for language to have clarity and content… it must also have a goal and an imperative. Otherwise from language we descend to chatter, from chatter to babble and from babble to confusion. -Rene Daumal

There is a great biblical mystery, that for thousands of years Rabbinic commentators have been unable to agree as to its solution. It has to do with the sudden, Divinely-enacted execution of Nadav and Avihu, the sons of Aaron the High Priest, brother of Moses.

To recap, at the consecration ceremony for the Tabernacle, Nadav and Avihu, of their own initiative, decide to offer what the Torah describes as a “strange” fire. The response is instant and fatal. The verse is short and cryptic: “And a fire came from God and consumed them and they died in front of God.”

The commentators have a spectrum of opinions as to why they were killed. It ranges from them having been drunk, to choosing not to marry, to wishing Aaron and Moses dead already so they can take charge, to the arrogance of bringing an offering nobody commanded.

Rabbeinu Bechaye on Leviticus 1:7 brings a simple yet chilling opinion. He says they were killed because they misunderstood the instructions. God instructs: “And the sons of Aaron the priest shall put fire on the altar.” Nadav and Avihu interpreted that they should bring fire from outside. They didn’t think or bother to ask Moses for clarification (perhaps out of arrogance). That mistake proved fatal.

Based on this Rabbeinu Bechaye elaborates on the Talmudic dictum of being punctiliously careful with the words we say and especially when repeating the words of our sages. If Nadav and Avihu, whom after Moses there was nobody of their stature, could make such a grave error of misunderstanding with such dire consequences, how much more so must we, simple mortals, be careful in the clear transmission of information? He further warns that whoever changes or alters holy words, even one letter or the order of the words, is changing the very intention of God and will be cast off.

Hence, the Talmudic practice of the Rabbis repeating what they heard from their own teachers verbatim and getting into major debates if there were even minute differences in their traditions.

May we bear messages worth transmitting and may we do so clearly.

Shabbat Shalom,



To all the participants and organizers of the Jerusalem Marathon. It was a special treat to join runners, joggers, walkers and strollers from all over the country and the world in this amazing event.

About the Author
Ben-Tzion Spitz is the former Chief Rabbi of Uruguay. He is the author of six books of Biblical Fiction and hundreds of articles and stories dealing with biblical themes. He is the publisher of Torah.Works, a website dedicated to the exploration of classic Jewish texts, as well as TweetYomi, which publishes daily Torah tweets on Parsha, Mishna, Daf, Rambam, Halacha, Tanya and Emuna. Ben-Tzion is a graduate of Yeshiva University and received his Master’s in Mechanical Engineering from Columbia University.
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