Chapter 10:1-2, tells us that "Aaron's sons Nadab and Abihu
took their censers, put fire in them and added incense; and they offered unauthorized fire before the Lord, contrary to his command.
Leviticus 10 describes the death of Nadab and Abihu
, sons of Aaron.
Following the verse, "Then He said to Moses, 'Come up to the Lord, with Aaron, Nadab and Abihu
, and seventy elders of Israel, and bow low from afar'" (Exod 24:1), Maimonides explains the hierarchy of nearness to Moses during the revelation of the Covenant in which "only those who were fit for it achieved the rank of prophecy, and even those in various degrees." (28) Maimonides then adds "the other people [al-nas]...
No doubt, a multitude of similar, supporting examples can be gleaned from throughout the Hebrew Bible: for example, Aaron's sons Nadab and Abihu
, who offer an unholy sacrifice at the opening of Leviticus 10; inept, spiritually blind Eli and his greedy, villainous sons as depicted throughout the opening chapters of 1 Samuel; even the good priest Samuel's sons themselves, who "did not follow in his ways, but turned aside after gain; they took bribes and perverted justice." (15) Likewise, the Pharisees and the Sadducees of the New Testament--and especially the high priests Annas and Caiaphas--seem to continue in many ways the strong biblical line of bad priests.
Then, however, something goes terribly wrong: "And Aaron's sons, Nadab and Abihu
," the parasha continues, "each took his pan, put fire in them, and placed incense upon it, and they brought before the Lord foreign fire, which He had not commanded them.
Then bring near to you your brother Aaron, and his sons with him, from among the Israelites, to serve me as priests--Aaron and Aaron's sons, Nadab and Abihu
, Eleazar and Ithamar.
A close reading of Leviticus 10 reveals that Nadab and Abihu
, sons of Aaron, had their own "personal" hand-censers from which they attempted to offer incense but "fire went out from the Lord and devoured them, and they died before the Lord." (3) Likewise in Numbers 16, Korah and his band bring their censers to the tent in a trap to offer incense in the wrong manner to further their ambitions and question why some are set above the community, i.e.
These days should have been joyous but concluded in the catastrophic deaths of Nadav and Abihu
. But why?
Thus, to begin, Yahweh commanded Moses: "And take thou unto thee Aaron thy brother, and his sons with him, from among the children of Israel, that he may minister unto me in the priest's office, even Aaron, Nadab and Abihu
, Eleazar and Ithamar, Aaron's sons." (28a)
(2) It explains why no detail is given about what Nadab and Abihu
did or did not do to cause their sudden extermination when fire "came forth from the Lord's presence and consumed them" (Lev 10:2); it sufficed simply to point out that they had done what the Lord (or Moses) had not authorized (10:1).