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Sound Advice

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 10:1

The Torah portion for this week is Shemini, which means “eighth,” from Leviticus 9:1–11:47, and the Haftorah is from 2 Samuel 6:1–7:17..

When it comes to advice, most people are fairly quick to give it, but not so fast to take it. What a better place the world would be if the opposite were true!

In our Torah portion this week, we read about the tragic deaths of Nadab and Abihu. What made their deaths so tragic was not just that they occurred on a day that was meant to be celebratory or because they were the righteous sons of Aaron. What made their deaths so disturbing is that they were totally unnecessary. The two brothers erred and brought death upon themselves.

But what exactly was their error?

Nadab and Abihu acted out of love for God. They were so inspired by the priestly service they had just witnessed that they decided to bring their own offerings. And that was the problem. They decided to bring their offerings. Scripture reads, “they offered unauthorized fire before the LORD.” The brothers did not have the authority to do so. They did not seek permission from God, nor did they consult with their elders, Moses and Aaron. They acted on their own volition, without any consideration of what those above them might have said.

According to the Sages, Nadab and Abihu didn’t even stop to ask advice from each other. In Hebrew, the verse literally reads, “Nadab and Abihu each took his fire pan . . . ” The Sages explain that each made his own decision to bring the offering without consulting the other. Had they talked their plans through, they never would have made their fatal mistake.

We need not repeat the same mistake that Aaron’s sons made. It says in the Talmud, Judaism’s oral tradition, “Let your house be a meeting place for the sages, cleave to the dust of their feet, and drink thirstily their words.” In other words, invite the wisdom of others into your life. Cling to the guidance of those who know more than you. Drink up wisdom like the thirsty drink water because wise advice can be just as life-giving and life-saving as food and water.

Are you facing a big decision right now? Remember to seek advice from others. Take advantage of the older people in your life – those who have so much to share from their rich life experiences. Seek out wise teachers and spiritual leaders and take their words to heart. Finally, don’t underestimate the counsel of a friend or family member. Sometimes the best advice comes from those who are willing to hear us out and help us come to our own conclusions. From wherever good advice comes, let us be humble enough to hear it and wise enough to listen.

With prayers for shalom, peace,

Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President

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