"And Moshe said to Aharon: This is what Hashem spoke . . .
"I will be sanctified through those who draw near Me, and
before all the people shall I be glorified."
Rashi comments: "Moshe said to Aharon: Aharon, my brother, I
knew that the House [Mishkon] would be sanctified
through someone close to Hashem. I thought it would be either
you or me, since it is written, `And it will be sanctified
with My glory.' Do not read bichvodi but
bimechubodai.' Now I see that they [Nodov and Avihu]
are greater than either you or I."
Very enigmatic. Moshe Rabbenu knew that there was a master
design that called for the sudden, stormy demise of one of
the figures who were in the forefront, one of the leaders of
the people. We naively think that Nodov and Avihu brought
`Foreign Fire' to the mizbeiach which, in apposition
to all the activity of the joyous event of the Mishkon's
dedication, injected sadness into the celebration. In
other words, that the punishment came as a total surprise.
Rashi teaches us from the Midrash that the eish zoroh
was merely a pretext, and that these two were specifically
chosen to execute the master plan which had been already
defined: "I shall be sanctified through those close to
The question arises why this injection of sadness was
particularly necessary at such a momentous, dramatic event as
the erection of the Mishkon which riveted the attention and
the focus of all Israel.
According to Moshe Rabbenu, he was to have been the object of
this turn of events. Moshe, who was closest to Hashem, would
become the focus. An awesome thought, for it was Moshe who
led the people, step by step, beginning from the plagues and
the exodus and continuing through the Giving of the Torah and
the subsequent reposition of the Shechina and the
atonement for the sin of the Eigel. The moment of
climax, "the day of his wedding, the day when his heart
rejoiced," when the "one small compartment" which Hashem had
requested that His sons build Him, was fully completed and
ready to be the abode of the Shechina, of the King
— at that momentous occasion when the faithful shepherd
could finally rejoice with the accomplishment — was
this the time when the rejoicing would be turned to
lamentation? Our mortal minds are too puny to embrace this
On the other hand, Aharon was also a chosen servant of
Hashem. He was also a candidate for "Bikrovai
ekodesh," sanctifying Hashem's Name as a trusted servant.
He had been selected to stand and attend before Hashem in the
great and holy sanctuary that was now being inaugurated. Was
he then, the person designated to be removed from this world
at the very occasion of the dedication? It was either Moshe
or Aharon, in Moshe's eyes. But Providence instead focused on
Nodov and Avihu as the figures to be the object of this
destiny and designation.
A most enigmatic event, but a parallel can be drawn to it in
the chapter of the giving of the Torah. The fact that they
are so similar eases the comparison and highlights their
common denominators, enabling us to more clearly understand
Right before the Giving of the Torah, Moshe was told to
convey stringent warnings to the people. "Descend and charge
the people lest they break through to Hashem to gaze, and
many of them perish. And let the priests also, who come near
to Hashem, sanctify themselves lest Hashem break forth upon
them" (Shemos 19:21). Hashem was approaching nearer
and nearer, but at the same time He had to warn the people
from losing themselves and straining to draw near. The danger
was that "lest many of them perish."
Amazingly, the Giving of the Torah might easily be
accompanied by a mass destruction or disaster. Even the
kohanim, those who were closest to the source of
holiness, had to be warned not to make a single move beyond
what was permitted. They too could perish from trying to come
too close. It was a relentless warning of dire consequences.
Closeness to Hashem and love for Him can in no way compromise
or diminish the fear of Heaven.
We would assume then that, primarily and necessarily, it was
the greater proximity which called for the establishment of
boundaries, safeguards. Up till here, and no more. Do not
dare presume to come on a more equal footing, like
"chavrusa-partners with Heaven."
Closeness to Hashem requires an even more stringent caution,
heed, reverence — a fear that increases with growing
closeness. One can never feel heimish or buddy-buddy:
an awe of respectful distance was a prerequisite, and the
closer one got, the more `distance of awe' was required.
And thus it was with the dedication of the Mishkon.
"And I will dwell in their midst." This alone is a
necessary reason for the need of, "I shall be sanctified
through those who come near Me." This is essential so that,
"Before the entire nation will I be honored." For "when
Hashem dispenses justice with the righteous, He becomes more
greatly feared. And if this is so regarding the righteous,
how much more so in connection with the wicked." This is a
necessary reminder, a warning preceding the momentous
occasion of the reposing of the Shechina in the midst
"And I shall walk in your midst and I shall be unto you as
your G-d." I shall walk with you in Gan Eden like one of you.
Is it possible that you will not be afraid of Me? Therefore
is it said, "And I shall be unto you as your G-d". (Rashi,
Bechukosai: "I shall stroll with you in Gan Eden: this
is the ultimate degree of Divine proximity, where the
righteous sit and bask blissfully in the aura of the
Shechina. Is it possible that you will no longer fear
Me? Perhaps the closeness and love will be at the expense of
G-d-fear? Therefore is it written: `And I shall be unto you
as your G-d.'"
The Rogatchover asks in Shem MiShmuel: "I asked my
father regarding the words of the prayer: `And all [the
angels] accept upon themselves the yoke of Heaven, one from
the other' — but how can we ascribe a yoke to angels?
Their Divine service is pleasant and desirable to them; they
yearn for it. And he replied: Their yoke or restraint
constitutes the requirement not to go beyond their bounds,
despite their great yearning to do so" (Ki Siso).
Our Sages noted that the commandment of ve'ohavto,
loving Hashem our G-d, is written preceded with the word
ess, to denote an addition — the commandment
includes Torah scholars. We find the same idea as we have
been developing also with regard to closeness to Torah
scholars. The Rambam comments on: "`And warm yourselves by
the light of the scholars.' When you draw close to the Sages
and men of elite character, draw near only when they befriend
you, but do not overstep the familiarity towards them beyond
what they allow . . . This can be likened to one who warms
himself by a fire. If he keeps his distance, he will benefit
from the heat but if he draws too close, he will be burned!
All closeness obligates holiness, separation, and fearful