From Insights and Inspirations
       Published by the Ra’anana Community Kollel
   Bamidbar 5765
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                                 The Lessons of Life                          

                                                 Rabbi Binyomin Lipson

“And Nadav and Avihu perished before Hashem as they brought forth foreign fire . . . and they did not bear children.” 

(Bamidbar 3:4)

While enumerating the legions of the Jewish people in this week’s parshah, the Torah recalls the tragic deaths of the two sons of Aharon and the reason for which they perished; the unauthorized offering which they presented. However, amazingly, the Gemara (Yevamot 64a) attributes their deaths to that which is mentioned in the latter half of the verse, “and they did not bear children”. The Gemara reasons that from the language of the verse we can infer that had Nadav and Avihu indeed fathered children, they would not have perished. This is quite difficult to understand in light of the fact that while our sages have expounded numerous transgressions which Aharon’s sons committed and were thereby worthy of divine retribution, the fact that they did not have children is never mentioned as one of them. We have been told that Nadav and Avihu 1) entered the sanctuary after having drunken wine, 2) undermined the authority of Moshe by rendering a legal decision in his presence and 3) awaited the demise of Moshe and their father Aharon in order that they could assume the positions of leadership. Is the fact that Nadav and Avihu did not marry and have children yet another item to be added to the list? Does this not conflict with the Gemara’s assertion that if they had  fathered children they would not have perished?

From the answer to these questions we can gain a beautiful insight into the essence of parenting and the important role that serving as a parent plays in our lifelong process of personal growth and development. It is very unlikely that a person will be capable of understanding the subtleties of honoring  parents until he has experienced the shame and discomfort of not being appropriately honored by his own children. Thus, as an outgrowth of his own personal experience as a parent, a person is bound to grow in his appreciation of his own father and mother and all of the toil that they invested in raising him.

Just as one’s experience as a parent undoubtedly increases his reverence for his parents, it also helps to deepen his respect and awe of his teachers, and above all of the Creator Himself. A noted educator once commented that he has never met a child who was experiencing serious doubts in his religious beliefs who maintained a warm and loving relationship with his parents. This is due to the fact that the parent-child relationship serves as a living model for one’s future relationships. Already during infancy, a child begins to develop the bonds of trust with his parent which he will later in life extend to his teachers and ultimately to his relationship with God. Thus, the fact that Nadav and Avihu did not have children was not just another transgression to add to the list, but rather, it was the deep, underlying cause of all the others. As they neglected the obligation to marry and thus lacked the experience of parenting themselves, they stumbled in the three additional transgressions of not affording the proper respect to 1) their father Aharon, 2) their teacher Moshe, and 3) Hashem Himself and the holiness of His sanctuary. This is what the Gemara means when it tells us that had Nadav and Avihu fathered children they never would have died. This is because the personal growth that they would have experienced through parenting would have saved them from all of the numerous transgressions which they committed.

In addition to the above, there is another way that we can explain the Gemara’s statement that Nadav and Avihu’s lack of children was the cause of their demise. Often, even a person who lacks personal merit will be permitted to continue living solely for the sake of the future generations which are destined to emerge from him. The Gemara (Bava Kama 38a) relates a fascinating interaction, “Moshe reasoned, ‘If it is permitted to attack the nation of Midyan who merely came to assist Mo’av, then certainly it is permitted to attack Mo’av themselves who were the primary aggressors!’ However, Hashem told him, ‘Your conclusion is not consistent with Mine, for there are two dear songbirds which I wish to take out from them; Rut the Mo’aviah and Na’omi the Amonit.’ Thus, for the sake of Rut and Na’omi Hashem had mercy on two entire nations and did not destroy them.” This can be compared to a pocket-watch to which one fastens a chain in order that it will not get lost. Obviously, the item of sole importance in such a case is the watch and not the chain, and certainly one single link of the chain bears no intrinsic importance. However, if one of the links of the chain would break, the watch would be lost. Thus, every link holds great significance inasmuch as it serves the ultimate purpose. Likewise, Hashem promised our forefather Avraham that his progeny would bring the world to its ultimate perfection. However, from Avraham until the generation of our redemption there would certainly be many generations, all of them connected to each other like the links of a giant chain. Thus, even if in the midst of those generations there exists a person who has no merit of his own on which he can continue to survive, he may nevertheless be saved by virtue of his role as a link in the chain. For, were the chain to be severed, Hashem’s promise to Avraham would remain unfulfilled. With this we can understand the statement concerning Nadav and Avihu’s lack of children. Had they fathered children, or more specifically, had they married and gained the potential to have children, then they would have been saved in the merit of their future progeny. However, without the potential for children, there was nothing to shield them from divine retribution of their transgressions. 

(Adapted from Torah Leda’at, p. 177-8 and Michtav MiEliyahu Vol. 1, p. 15)
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