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    The right initiative – Sh’mini

    When tragedy struck Aaron with the deaths of his sons Nadav and Avihu, how did Aaron respond? Vayyidom Aharon – “And Aaron was silent” (Lev. 10:3).

    Since this occurred on the eighth day, it was not improbable that the Midrash would link the episode with the rule that a boy is to be circumcised on the eighth day of his life.

    “Why didn’t God create every male already circumcised?”, asks the Midrash. The answer, say the rabbis, is to enable human beings to perform an act – b’rit milah – which would complete the creation of the human body and symbolise dedication to God’s wishes.

    Back to the parashah. Why did Aaron’s sons bring “strange fire” to the altar? Most explanations are uncomplimentary. Those that redound to the credit of Nadav and Avihu include the thought that they wanted to take an initiative to show their dedication to the Divine will. Over and above what God had commanded, they wanted to do their own thing.

    If then their intention was honest and sincere, did they really deserve the fate that befell them?

    Why did their father not stand up for them? He could well have come to God in tears, in anger – or both. But no. What did he actually do? He was silent, which symbolises his recognition that personal initiatives in religion are all very well, but they must be the right initiatives, at the right time and in the right place.

    If these conditions are not met, an initiative is “strange fire”.

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