The week’s Torah portion is rather special, containing in the main reading the death of Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu, who brought “strange fire” to God and died for their pains, and then the extra reading of Parah – the red heifer. Neither the death of Aaron’s sons, nor the heifer, is explained. The former is assumed by many to be a punishment – either for exceeding their responsibility, or for being drunk in the service of God, while the latter is cited in rabbinic sources as the classic example of a chok, a mitzvah with no rational reason.
Rashi says the Torah calls it a statute “…Because Satan and the nations of the world taunt Israel saying, ‘What is this commandment? What is the reason for it?’ Therefore the Torah referred to it as a chok, a statute: ‘I have decreed it (says God) and you are not permitted to question it.’” It is, according to this interpretation, beyond human understanding.
Some see this as a test. Such commandments allow us to show our purity of service and love for God, that we do not question such laws.
Rabbi Avraham Chayyim of Zlotchev says the Nations and Satan always seek flaws in us Jews and it is possible the purification of the heifer is linked to the sin of the golden calf.
Similarly we might argue any rationalisation of the death of Aaron’s sons is pointless; they died, we learnt something from it, and it should not now be held against anyone. We can conjecture all we wish, but it is not really a fruitful pursuit. Sometimes, very rarely, nothing is to be gained by investigating.
- Zvi Solomons is rabbi of JCoB.org, the Living Orthodox community in the Thames Valley