This parashah starts with Aaron, who has been undergoing sanctification for the office of Cohen HaGadol for the past 8 days, beginning his duties as High Priest. Also his two oldest sons, Nadab and Abihu, were to start assisting him.
The problem is that the boys had been drinking (implied by what is commanded in 4:8-11) and offered up incense and fire that was not authorized, and which they had no right to do.
It cost them their lives, as God sent fire from heaven to kill them.
Aaron was told not to mourn, and to continue his duties so that more anger from God was not brought down on him, too.
Chapter 11 is the chapter for Kashrut, the Kosher laws and regulations regarding cleanliness. It makes sense to me that the cleanliness laws would come after the laws about sacrifice- after all, once you have presented your sacrifice and been cleansed, the next thing you need to know is how to stay clean.
What we need to understand from this parashah is how important the position of leadership is within the Jewish world, and even more so, in God’s sight. The devastating punishment that Abihu and Nadab suffered for their insult to God and disregard for His laws was commensurate with their position within the community as leaders and representatives of God to the community. In James 3:1 we are told….no, actually we are warned….that being a teacher is a position not to be taken lightly:
Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.
This warning from Yacov can be traced back directly to this parashah. Moses told Aaron not to show any signs of remorse or mourning because Aaron was God’s representative, and as such to even imply he was unhappy about God’s judgment in this case would be a form of denying what God did as just. And since Aaron not only represents God before the people, but also acts as a representative of the people before God, if he was upset and unhappy with God’s judgment then the people would follow suit. And, as we have seen (and will see often during their 40 years in the desert) the people suffered for their distrust and rejection of God’s commands and judgments.
Performing ministry is a form of teaching; indeed, it is teaching the most important thing there is to know: who Messiah is and how to attain salvation and eternal peace. Therefore, ministry workers must be above-board and always represent themselves well. If you talk to people about God, then you represent God. If you tell people about being a Believer, then you represent all Believers.
And the non-believers will throw that up in your face every time you so much as sneeze without covering your mouth!
We will stumble, we will misrepresent God, and we will screw things up, royally. We may represent God’s goodness and love, but we are still human and, as such, will do stupid things. That is no reason to stop trying. A good lesson to teach anyone is that when you fall, brush yourself off, get back up, and keep walking. Maybe the best lesson we can teach about God is not all the wonderful things He has done, but to show how He strengthens us in the midst of our weakness. Just like Shaul said in 2 Corinthians 12:9:
Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me.
We are, each of us, a member of the body of Messiah and we must do what God has placed us here to do. Seek out your gift from God and when you find it, use it. Invest the talents He has given you so that when you meet Him you can give Him back more than what He gave you (read the parable about the Talents in the Gospels.)
Be careful, be aware, but don’t be frightened or put off by the extra responsibility you have as a teacher or leader in the community- it is a great way to grow and have your spirit matured within you. Being in charge is a terrible, and terrific, responsibility, yet if you perform your duties with love, compassion, respect and humility you may be surprised to find yourself being supported by those that you are to support! When I was a Platoon Commander in the Marine Corps, I would lead the PT (Physical Training) and we would run, as a platoon of 30 men, for miles and miles. I was always in the lead, setting the pace. I had been asked more than once how I can carry all those men with me, and I would reply that I wasn’t pulling them, they were pushing me.
Leadership in God’s community and teaching others about God is a position that is held in high regard by those you teach, is a position in which you are held doubly responsible by God for what and how you teach and live, and makes you a target to be constantly attacked by those who refuse to believe. Standing on the horizon your shadow extends farther than those who are in the valley. Be aware, be careful, and be strengthened by knowing God is not just watching you more carefully, He is strengthening you more completely.
As you do more and more for God, and humbly allow Him to work through you, the responsibility of your position will become heavier and heavier, yet at the same time His strength in your weakness will make that burden easier and easier to bear.