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Natural Balance, Respecting Boundaries
Explaining the Biblical Narrative of the Deaths of Nadav and Avihu

by Ariel Bar Tzadok
Copyright © 2015 by Ariel Bar Tzadok. All rights reserved.

On the day that the desert Tabernacle became active, what is described as the Glory (Kavod) of YHWH became visibly manifest. From this “glory” came forth a “fire” from YHWH that consumed everything upon the Altar (Lev. 9:24). In Lev. 10:1-2, we read that Nadav and Avihu, the two sons of Aharon the Priest, possibly out of sheer emotional excitement, righteously and zealously came forward to make an offering before YHWH. What could be wrong with this? The narrative, however, describes their offering as a “strange fire,” resulting in a fire issuing forth from YHWH, which struck the two of them dead on the spot.

Many interpret this story in a way to extract from it a moralistic, or ethical message. But there is more to this story than a mere moral tale. In order to properly understand this narrative, one must first remember one of the foundational rules of Torah study, and that is that “God speaks in the language of man.” In other words, the narrative describes events in a way that made sense to the people of that time and place. Yet, as we have matured in learning and knowledge, God (and Torah) must thus speak the language of man, as we speak it today. Today, we can see beyond the small scope that limited human perceptions over three thousand years ago. Today, we can look at the Nadav and Avihu narrative, and see within it lessons, and instruction that the ancient mind would not have understood.

The text states that a fire went forth from YHWH, killing Nadav and Avihu for offering some peculiar “strange fire.” Yet, as our knowledge of God has grown over the centuries, through the revelations of the prophets, sages, and mystics, we now know that this act of YHWH was not an act of Divine wrath. The deaths of Nadav and Avihu were not some form of Divine retribution or punishment. Although the text may imply that YHWH got mad, no such thing is actually written, and therefore, no such interpretation should be contemplated. YHWH was not mad at Nadav and Avihu.

In reality, God does not get mad at all. God is not a corporeal entity. God does not embrace, share, or express human emotions. All Biblical references to YHWH's emotions are similar to the references to YHWH's form, they are all completely metaphorical, and symbolic. This symbolic language is used to speak to the minds and understandings of the people in those days, at their then level of intellect. This is what it means that God, (and Torah) speak the language of man. Higher realities are cloaked in a language of metaphor to assist the untrained mind to perceive concepts that the intellect is not yet ready to comprehend.

There is no such thing as Divine anger. There only is our limited perception. God ordained a natural order to things. Nadav and Avihu, in their righteousness and zeal, did not see, or understand that natural order, and accidentally violated it, causing their own deaths.

An ancient tradition states that the “fire of God” that burned Nadav and Avihu to death shot forth in the form of thin strands that entered their nostrils, and burned their bodies from the inside. This is strange language, indeed. This is not a moral or ethical teaching. This description may be an actual, old oral legend passed down from ancient times. If indeed this relates the actual facts of the matter, then it appears that the nature of this “fire of God” might have had electrical properties, and was acting naturally as an electric arc, or bolt of lighting.

The Ark of the Covenant was indeed a strange device. In the 1930's, a modern version of the Ark was reconstructed, and it was discovered that the Ark had the ability to serve as an electrical condenser.1 In other words, it could conduct electricity. This would explain what the ancients thought to be the Glory (Kavod) of YHWH. Maybe God was present in the form of some energy field. If the Ark was an actual electrical capacitor, and it was being activated for the first time, then the discharge of electrical energy coming from a source called the Glory (Kavod) of YHWH would have been enormous. Rightly, and naturally so would everyone have had to step back to maintain their safety.

If Nadav and Avihu, in their religious innocence, were to approach an active arcing electrical field, then it is almost certain that they would have been electrocuted. Maybe this is exactly what had happened. In those ancient days, the people did not understand electronic technology. They would not have understood the natural laws underlying the events that they were witnessing. Instead, they would have interpreted it in a way that would have made sense to them, there and then. Thus we have the myth of the angry God. But there was no angry God here, there was only natural law. Nadav and Avihu were not aware of any of this. All their innocence, and all their righteousness could not save them from the consequences of their actions, in violating the laws of nature itself.

The ultimate moral of the story is that, with all due respect to religious zeal, and emotional excitement, one must still safeguard, and respect the parameters and boundaries ordained by nature and nature's God. Only in doing this does one properly and correctly honor, and serve the Creator.

With these thoughts in mind, we can now proceed to learn from this episode of Nadav and Avihu, the natural Torah way, and how we must live it.

To everything there is a time and purpose under Heaven."

A place for everything and everything in its place.”

Natural law proclaims it. Torah law defines it. Everything has its boundaries. Everything has its borders. Everything is right and good, when in its own place, being what it is meant to be, doing what it is meant to do.

In the beginning, God created everything. God created both light and darkness. Although one always merges into the other, this merging follows the natural Divine order of things. The natural law of day and night has never been violated. God created both good and evil. While right and wrong is often defined subjectively, and is subject to definition in the moment, nevertheless, good and evil are as eternal as light and darkness.

Natural Divine law defines both light and good, and darkness and evil. Nature knows its place, and strictly abides by its laws. Thus we have a natural world, that lives, thrives, and moves, but balance is always sought, and balance is always achieved. This is the way in the natural world, created by God.

But what of the world of man? We too are part of the natural order, and are subject to its strict law. With all of our mighty science, never do we violate natural law, instead, we just grow to understand it better, and to use its marvelous properties better to serve ourselves. In this, there is no harm, nor foul. When we work with nature, nature in turn will work with us. This too is part of the natural Way ordained by our mutual Divine Creator.

When we human beings observe nature, we see how all boundaries are respected, and how each is given its appropriate portion, and its proper place. When we learn the laws of Torah, we are taught boundaries that limit human behavior. We are taught that these things we may do, and these things we may not do. Torah laws are not arbitrary choices devised in the mind of man to limit, to curtail, or to deny one's fellow man anything that is rightfully his. On the contrary, like natural law itself, Torah law was established to set humanity free.

Freedom is defined by the law. Freedom is ordained by the law. We are free! But our freedom is not license to violate the natural boundary, and rightful place of another. We are not free to violate the boundaries of nature. We are not free to violate the boundaries of one another. Freedom ends, when violation of boundaries begin. Freedom is good. Violation of boundaries is bad. Clearly knowing and respecting boundaries is light. Blurring boundary lines, and violating them, either with or without intent, is walking in darkness; this is evil.

God created good and evil, light and darkness, and placed all these in the natural order. God created humanity, and commanded us to chose the good, and the light. Evil is not the healthy and wise choice. There is no freedom to chose evil, to act upon it, and not suffer the natural consequences. One reaps what one sews, regardless of what one thinks about it, and regardless of what one wants. Nature cannot be fooled, and neither can be nature's God.

Boundaries must be respected. Boundaries must be observed. When everything is in it rightful place, doing its rightful thing, being its rightful self, then all is good with the world, and life flourishes. When, however, man chooses to violate Torah law, without realizing it, he is also violating natural law.

When man violates the Divinely ordained laws of the universe, his actions throw nature itself out of balance. Nature will respond as is natural for it to respond. Nature will move to restore balance. If the imbalance is minor, then the force of rebalance will be minor. If the imbalance is major, then the force of rebalance will be major.

Some may say here that the punishment will fit the crime. But nature does not think in terms of crime and punishment. Nature simply seeks to restore balance. There is no judgment in nature, there is only natural movement, and inherent knowledge and respect for the right way of things.

Respecting boundaries means to respect one another. Loving one's neighbor begins with respecting his place, his space, and his boundaries. Loving one's neighbor does not mean that one has to love what one's neighbor does. But one must respect one's neighbor to do as he wishes within the context, and confines of his own personal space.

One is free to do as one chooses as long as one harms no other, and violates not the others space. We learn these laws from nature itself. Torah law merely put into words those things that nature itself teaches. God shows us the Way in nature. God teaches us the Way in Torah. Nature and Torah are thus one. Natural law and Torah law are thus one. One who walks in light sees this, there is no obstacle to this revelation.

Nadav and Avihu mistakenly thought that because they had goodness in their hearts that they could violate the boundaries of YHWH, and offer “acceptable fire” before Him. They were dead wrong. God (and nature) show no respect for the violation of boundaries, and extends no mercy to those, who at their own peril, seek to enter, where they do not belong.

1“According to an article that appeared in the March 5th, 1933 edition of the Chicago Daily Tribune, Frederick Rogers, the Dean of the Department of Engineering at the Lewis Institute of Technology, conducted a careful study of the construction of the Ark as described in the Bible, and concluded that its design matched a perfectly constructed simple electric condenser.”
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