Shemini: Dedication of the Mikdash

The Mikdash/Mishkan is the site where the Nation of Israel meets G-d. Its function is dual: it is the place where G-d comes to us, revealing Himself to us as a Nation, and the place where we come to G-d, serving Him there as His People. (see Parashat Tzav. Rambam, Hilchot Beit Ha-Bechira 1:1).

The first aspect of this revelation is exalted, abstract and objective. When the Divine Presence "descends" to this world, it undergoes extreme humiliation and diminution (Orot HaTeshuva 11:4). Our service may be viewed as a construction of "tools" which enable us to experience the Divine Presence, and to raise "this-worldliness" back up to the level of G-dliness. It is as if the Divine Light is "primary," and human light is "reflected". The Holy One lowers a ladder from Heaven to Earth, and we climb it and meet Him as He descends that same ladder.

We achieve this revelation through the Mikdash: through the service of the Shewbread and the Menora – which represent our national economy and culture (see Rabbi Yehuda Ha-Levi, Kuzari 2:26). The service in the Mikdash encompasses all spheres of human endeavor. The workers are the Cohanim, who both represent and are part of the Nation of Israel. This may be compared to a hand that both works for and is a part of one's body. Credit for work done is bestowed on the person, not to the hand.

In this week's Parashah, after all of the preparations described in the preceding Torah portions, we are finally ready to dedicate the Mishkan. The dedication takes the form of seven days of service by the Cohanim, which lead up to the revelation of the Divine Presence. The Hebrew word for dedication - Chanuka - comes from the same root as that for education - Chinuch. The way to educate the Nation to serve G-d is through performing the service.

And then, suddenly, as the Mishkan is being dedicated, something happens: Nadav and Avihu, sons of Aharon, are killed. The world is only straight and simple to a drunk; we who are sober see that one crisis follows another (see Mishlei 23:31 and Yoma 75a). Birth itself is the first crisis for each individual (see Nidda 31a).

Indeed, the prototype of all crises is the Creation of the world, which begins "without form and void, and darkness was on the face of the deep." (Bereshit 1:2) All succeeding crises in this world are a result of the terrible descent from eternity and infinity to "formlessness and void."

The world is gradually heading towards perfection, and each crisis it undergoes constitutes an essential, integral part of reality. Of course, each individual is responsible for his own personal sins and imperfections, but in a world that is imperfect, such crises are unavoidable: "There is no saint in the world who does only good and never sins." (see Orot Ha-Teshuva 5:6)

According to the Gemara in Eiruvin (63a), Nadav and Avihu sinned by introducing humanly lit fire into the Sanctuary, "a strange fire which He had not commanded them." (Vayikra 10:1) Fire represents energy - the power behind all human spiritual and physical action. Although their motivation was to serve G-d, their energy was not directed into the correct channels. The way that they chose to connect to G-d was not one that G-d had commanded. Therefore, it was doomed to failure. The crisis of Nadav and Avihu thus teaches us how to relate to sanctity: Knowledge of the Absolute can only be achieved by our absolute faithfulness to the ways of the Torah.

The tragedy of Nadav and Avihu also teaches us how to react to crises. The philosophy of Judaism is not one of despair, but of hope. It is incumbent upon Man to overcome crises, and to utilize them as the mechanism that enables him to rise to higher spiritual levels. The fact that no words could explain what was made so vividly clear by their tragedy is reflected in Aharon’s reaction. "And Aharon was silent." (Vayikra 10:3) By internalizing this lesson, Aaron was uplifted, and was privileged to experience prophecy on a higher level than previously (Rashi ibid.).