Midrash מִדְרָשׁ

Midrashim are ideas or stories that explain the Torah. They often come from listening very carefully to what the Torah says and how it says it. Here, we will look for what clues this midrash sees in the Torah's words, and try to understand its messages.
וַיִּקְח֣וּ בְנֵֽי־אַ֠הֲרֹ֠ן נָדָ֨ב וַאֲבִיה֜וּא אִ֣ישׁ מַחְתָּת֗וֹ וַיִּתְּנ֤וּ בָהֵן֙ אֵ֔שׁ
וַיָּשִׂ֥ימוּ עָלֶ֖יהָ קְטֹ֑רֶת וַיַּקְרִ֜יבוּ לִפְנֵ֤י יְהֹוָה֙ אֵ֣שׁ זָרָ֔ה אֲשֶׁ֧ר לֹ֦א צִוָּ֖ה אֹתָֽם׃
וַתֵּ֥צֵא אֵ֛שׁ מִלִּפְנֵ֥י יְהֹוָ֖ה וַתֹּ֣אכַל אוֹתָ֑ם וַיָּמֻ֖תוּ לִפְנֵ֥י יְהֹוָֽה׃
Aharon’s sons, Nadav and Avihu, each took his fire pan, put fire in it, and placed spices on it. They offered before God a strange fire, which God had not commanded them.
Fire came forth from God and consumed them; they died before God.
This is a sad story. It’s also a confusing one because it’s not clear what exactly Nadav and Avihu did wrong. This midrash looks closely at the first words of the pasuk to offer an explanation:
כֵּיוָן שֶׁרָאוּ אֵשׁ חֲדָשָׁה עָמְדוּ לְהוֹסִיף אַהֲבָה עַל אַהֲבָה.
"וַיִּקְחוּ" – אֵין 'קִיחָה' אֶלָּא שִׂמְחָה.
"נָדָב וַאֲבִיהוּ" – מַה תַּלְמוּד לוֹמַר "בְּנֵי אַהֲרֹן"? שֶׁלֹּא חִלְּקוּ כָּבוֹד לְאַהֲרֹן.
"נָדָב וַאֲבִיהוּ" – לֹא נָטְלוּ עֵצָה מִמֹּשֶׁה.
"אִישׁ מַחְתָּתוֹ" – אִישׁ מֵעַצְמוֹ יָצְאוּ וְלֹא נָטְלוּ עֵצָה זֶה מִזֶּה.
When they saw the new fire from God, they got excited and tried to add even more love.
Each took”—the word “taking” indicates joy.
Since it says “Nadav and Avihu,” why does it also say “Aharon’s sons”? To teach us that they did not honor Aharon.
Nadav and Avihu”—these words teach us that they did not ask Moshe’s permission, either.
His fire pan”—these words teach us that each one acted on his own, and they did not even consult each other.
  • According to this midrash, Nadav and Avihu had the right intentions. They were feeling joy and love. But that wasn’t enough; they still acted in the wrong way. Can good intentions sometimes make up for wrong behavior? In what kinds of situations?
  • The midrash seems to be saying that Nadav and Avihu should have shown more respect to their father, Aharon, and done a better job of asking permission from Moshe and even thinking through their decision with each other more carefully. Why do you think respect, permission, and checking with each other were particularly important in this story? When do you need permission or advice, and when can you act without them?