Vol 3.38 - Acharei                             Spanish French Audio  Video

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The sin of the sons of Aaron -  "ratzu" (advance)  without a “shuv” (retreat).
And in Avodah - the main thing is the “shuv” (retreat)


1 Liable to the death penalty: From a deeper perspective, Aaron’s sons did not sin, nor was their death a punishment. It was not only in full accordance with G-d’s will that they offer up their incense before Moses could command it, it was a vital conclusion to the consecration rites.

The innate consciousness of our Divine soul is its awareness of being bound to G-d, being one with Him. Normally, this awareness is obfuscated by the self-awareness of our human/animal souls, but we have seen7 how drinking wine can, under the proper circumstances, allow the Divine soul to overtake our consciousness. In the words of the Talmudic sages: “When wine enters, secrets emerge”8—the ultimate “secret” being our unity with G-d. Wine is also a metaphor for the inner dimension of the Torah, the study of which also aids the Divine soul in manifesting itself in our consciousness.

This is why Aaron’s sons drank wine—in order to open their minds and reveal their Divine souls. At the same time they drank wine literally, they also drank “wine” metaphorically: by allowing their Divine souls to overtake their consciousness, their minds became simultaneously flooded with profound insights into the Torah’s inner dimension, increasing their sense of oneness with G-d.

When this sense of oneness with G-d overtakes our conscious mind sufficiently, we gain an intuitive knowledge of G-d’s will. At this level of consciousness, there is no need for G-d to articulate His commandments to us explicitly, since we already know what He wants of us.

(There are advantages both in waiting to fulfill G-d’s will until He expresses it and in intuiting His will before it is expressed—or fulfilling it beyond how it is expressed. On the one hand, submitting to G-d’s express will evinces our devotion to it, our willingness to override our own agendas in favor of His. Thus, the sages teach us that “one who performs a Divine commandment having been commanded to do so is greater than one who performs such a deed though not having been commanded to do so.”9 On the other hand, intuiting His will before it is expressed and/or fulfilling it before we are required to—or when we are not required to—evinces our identification with His will, the substitution of His agenda for ours. The first is a greater sacrifice; the second a greater achievement of Divine consciousness.)

It was to this level of Divine consciousness that Nadav and Avihu ascended on the eighth day of the installation rites. Thus, their incense offering was one “that He had not commanded,” for they intuited its necessity even before G-d disclosed it.

Moreover, their incense offering was an expression of their conscious unification with G-d. Incense is offered up on the Inner Altar, which parallels the inner dimension of the heart—i.e., our Divine soul, which is constantly bound to its Divine source—and serves to reveal and intensify this bond. In contrast, the sacrifices offered up on the Outer Altar are designed to elevate the outer dimension of the heart—our human/animal soul—to Divinity. Thus, the Hebrew word for “sacrifice” (קרבן) means “to come close,” implying that the offerer is not yet close, and that through the sacrifice he comes close but does not necessarily become one with G-d. In contrast, the Hebrew word for “incense” (קטרת) means “bound,”10 implying that through the incense, the offerer binds himself with his Divine source, becoming one with it.

Aaron’s son’s incense offering therefore completed the rites performed by Moses and Aaron and sanctified the Tabernacle. Although the Divine Presence had already descended upon the Tabernacle, it did not permeate it; the Tabernacle and the Divine Presence remained separate entities. This dichotomy mirrored the Divine consciousness that Aaron had evinced in performing his rites: he had done all that he was commanded, but had stopped short of ascending to the level where commandments become superfluous.

Therefore, the Tabernacle’s sanctification, the achievement of oneness with G-d, required an “alien fire,” one that was different than any rite that had yet been performed, by virtue of having originated in consummate Divine consciousness. Nadav and Avihu’s incense satisfied this requirement, and therefore elicited a fire from G-d that surpassed the fire that descended through Aaron’s sacrificial service, permeating the Tabernacle with holiness rather than just manifesting holiness in it.

Nadav and Avihu’s elevated Divine consciousness led them to lose all sense of their physicality, until their souls left their bodies. As Rabbi Chaim ibn Attar explains,11 in their intense desire to cleave to G-d, they continued to rise through spiritual heights even as they felt their souls leaving them. From this perspective, their death was not a punishment; they died in the same way that Moses and Aaron would later die: by the Divine kiss.12

Nevertheless, their behavior was acceptable only as an ad hoc measure required for the purposes of that special day. Therefore, we are not intended to emulate their example; on the contrary, we are expressly forbidden to pursue such suicidal spiritual rapture. Although it is necessary to seek inspiration and renew it constantly, the purpose of reaching increasingly higher planes of Divine consciousness is to bring the acquired consciousness down into the world, thereby making the world increasingly more conscious of G-d and transforming it into His home.

This duality of seeking inspiration by transcending the limitations of the physical world and then applying the inspiration gained to elevating the physical world is but one reflection of the oscillation that characterizes all life. In the words of the prophet Ezekiel, “the living beings were running and returning,”13 which is interpreted to mean that “all life exhibits running and returning motion.” Physically, this oscillation is manifest in the inhalation and exhalation of the lungs as well as in the systole and diastole of the heart. In spiritual terms, the health of the soul requires periodic oscillation between world-forsaking flights of inspiration and world-affirming dedication to our Divine mission.

Inasmuch as the purpose of creation is to make the physical world into G-d’s home, we are bidden to undertake our “runs,” our temporary departure from worldly pursuits to renew our inspiration, expressly for the purpose of enhancing our “returns.” By so doing, we ensure that we will sense the preeminence of the “return” over the “run,” and thereby be protected from the sort of unchecked “run” that results in total departure from this world.

In this context, Nadav and Avihu’s “sin” consisted of emphasizing the “run” at the expense of the “return,” and pursuing the “run” for its own sake, rather than as a prelude to the subsequent “return.”

Therefore, after this incident, G-d forbade drinking wine to intoxication, i.e., “drinking” the inner dimensions of the Torah in a way that leads to the rapturous expiration of the soul and the abandonment of our Divine mission.14


.7.See on Genesis 9:21, 27:25, 45:23, 49:11, Exodus 25:31-32, Numbers 6:5, Deuteronomy 8:7-8.
8.Eiruvin 65a.
9.Bava Kama 38a.
10.    See Genesis 25:1 and Rashi ad loc.; Ezekiel 46:22 and commentary of R. David Kimchi ad loc.
11.    Or HaChaim on 16:1, below.
12.    Likutei Sichot, vol. 31, pp. 178-180; Likutei Sichot, vol. 32, pp. 100-103.
13.    Ezekiel 1:14.
14.    Likutei Sichot, vol. 3, pp. 987-991.


1. The first Verse of Parshas Acharei Mos says “Vah’yi’da’bear Hashem El Moshe Acharei Mos Shnei B’nay Aharon B’kar’va’sam Leefnay Hashem Va’ya’moo’soo - And Hashem spoke to Moshe after the death of two sons of Aharon who brought an (unauthorized) offering before Hashem and they died”. 

2. The Rebbe now questions the need for the last word in this verse:

Question: If the Verse already told us that Hashem is speaking to Moshe Rabbeinu (Moshe our teacher) after the death of two of Aharons children, why does the Verse conclude by repeating that the 2 children of Aharon died?

The Rebbe says:

1. The first Verse of Parshas Acharei Mos says “Vah’yi’da’bear Hashem El Moshe Acharei Mos Shnei B’nay Aharon B’kar’va’sam Leefnay Hashem Va’ya’moo’soo – And Hashem spoke to Moshe after the death of two sons of Aharon who brought an (unauthorized) offering before Hashem and they died”.

2. The Rebbe now questions the need for the last word in this verse:

Question: If the Verse already told us that Hashem is speaking to Moshe Rabbeinu (Moshe our teacher) after the death of two of Aharons children, why does the Verse conclude by repeating that the 2 children of Aharon died?

3. The Rebbe now asks another question:

The Midrash tells us that the children of Aharon (Nadav and Aviwho) were punished because of 4 things: 
1) “They came right in front of me”. Meaning they went into the Kodesh Hakadashim (the Holy of Holies).
2) “They were missing garments”. Meaning they were not wearing the garments that a Kohen (Priest) must wear when he performs the Service.
3) “They didn’t have children”. The law is that a Kohen must have children to be able to perform the Service in the Holy of Holies, and they didn’t have children.
4) “They didn’t have a wife”. The law is that a Kohen must have a wife to perform the Service, and they didn’t have a wife.

Question #2: In the Verse which tells us about the death of Nadav and Aviwho (Aharons two sons) there must be some sort of hint as to why they were killed, so how does the Verse hint to us these 4 reasons why they were killed?

4. The Rebbe now asks a general question:

Question #3: How is it possible that the 2 children of Aharon Hakohen -Nadav and Aviwho- could come to sin? Nadav and Aviwho were on such a special level that Moshe Rabbeinu (their uncle) said of them (to his brother Aharon) “Aharon my brother, I had known that the Temple would be sanctified with those who are loved by Hashem and are intimate with Him, and I thought that this would be me or you, but now I see that they (Nadav and Aviwho) are greater then you and I”(see Rashi to Verse 3, Chapter 10, Leviticus)! So if they were so special that they were greater then Moshe Rabeinu and Aharon Hakohen, how could they come to sin (and die for it)??

4. The Rebbe now explains how Chassidus looks at the sin of Nadav and Aviwho:

Chassidus explains that the sin of Nadav and Aviwho was not just a simple case of someone sinning against Hashem (Heaven Forbid).

Their sin was this: They hoped that their very strong connection to Hashem would eventually lead to their Souls leaving their bodies and becoming one with Hashem. 
And this is the meaning of the words (in our Verse here) “B’kar’va’sam Leefnay Hashem Va’ya’moo’soo” which we explained to simply mean “they brought an offering before Hashem and they died”: The word “B’kar’va’sam” also means “they came close”, so the Verse is saying “Because they came so close to Hashem it brought to their death”.

Q: Why is this a sin? What is wrong with them wanting to leave this world and be one with Hashem?
A: Our Sages tell us that “we live against our will” (see Pirkei Avos at the end of Chapter 4). This means that even though we would love to leave this world with all its tests and battles and cleave to Hashem, we must stay down here in this world because Hashem wants it this way. Hashem desired a dwelling place in this physical world and we must fulfill his desire (see Midrash Tanchuma, Parshas Nasso, 16).

5. The Rebbe now explains how we have the answer to our first and third questions:

Answer to our third question: Nadav and Aviwho were definitely very close to Hashem and very dear to Hashem, but they thought that the ultimate service to Hashem is to become one with Him and leave this corse physical reality. But this is not what Hashem wanted, Hashem wanted them to stay here and make a dwelling place for Him in this world specifically.

Answer to our first question: The Verse repeats the word “Va’ya’moo’soo – and they died” to explain why the two sons of Aharon died: Since the sons of Aharon came close to Hashem without realizing that they must stay here in this physical world (“B’kar’va’sam Leefnay Hashem Va’ya’moo’soo – they came close to Hashem hoping to become one with him”) they were killed.

6. The Rebbe now explains how we have an answer to our second question (how we see in our Verse the 4 reasons that the Midrash gave for their death):

The common denominator of all the 4 reasons is that they served Hashem by trying to leave this physical world. How do we see this?:

The first reason that the Midrash said was “They came right in front of me”. Meaning: They went higher and higher until they were right in front of me without thinking of going back.

The second reason was “They were missing garments”. Meaning: We know that fulfilling Mitzvos (commandments of Hashem) gives the person “garments” of Holiness, every time a Jew does a Mitzvah Hashem’s light covers over him (see Tanya, Chapter 5). So when the Midrash says that Nadav and Aviwho were “missing garments” it is saying that they did not care to fulfill the commandments of Hashem which are done with physical things.

The third reason was “They didn’t have children” and the fourth reason was “They didn’t have a wife”. Meaning: They did not bother with the commandment of “be fruitful and multiply” to bring down souls into bodies. Their whole service to Hashem was in a way of leaving the body, definitely not to bring more Souls into bodies.

Now since all these 4 reasons are (in a deeper sense) referring to the Service of trying to leave this physical world, it is hinted at in the Verse when the Verse says “B’kar’va’sam Leefnay Hashem Va’ya’moo’soo – they came close to Hashem in the hopes of becoming one with Him and they died”.

7. The lesson for each of us in our lives:

“We live against our will”. Some times we may feel that we would much rather be enjoying Hashem and basking in His infinite light instead of dealing with the hustle bustle of the physical world. But the Torah tells us that what Hashem wants even more then our desire to become one with Him is to make a dwelling place for him in this physical world.

Translated and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Goldberg. Taken from Likutei Sichos Chelek Gimmel.

Synopsis 3:

Advance and Retreat
The Torah portion of Acharei begins with the words:1 “G‑d spoke to Moshe after the death of Aharon’s two sons, Nadav and Avihu upon drawing close to G‑d and they died.”

Why does the verse conclude “and they died” when it had already stated “after the death of Aharon’s two sons”?

According to the Midrash,2 the deaths of Nadav and Avihu came about for a number of reasons: they entered the Holy of Holies; they were lacking the proper number of priestly vestments while performing the service; they had no children; they did not marry.

Where are the above reasons hinted at in the Torah?

Our Sages tell us3 that after their passing, Moshe told his brother Aharon that he had known the Mishkan would be sanctified by those who are beloved by G‑d, and close to Him. Now he realizes that Nadav and Avihu were even greater than he and his brother Aharon.

This being so, how was it possible for them to sin so grievously that they died?

Chassidus explains4 that the sin of Nadav and Avihu is not to be understood as a sin in the simple sense; it consisted in letting their intense closeness to G‑d actually draw their souls out of their bodies; they drew so close to G‑d that they died.

Nevertheless, their action was still considered a sin. Although a Jew should strive to attain a level of service that enables him to break free of the physical, he is at the same time commanded to “return” and perform the service of a living Jew — the service of a soul within a body.

The Divine intent is not that the soul flee the body and the physical world, but rather that it transform the world itself into a dwelling fit for G‑d.5

Since Nadav and Avihu merely fled the world and corporeality but did not “return” to it, they are considered to have sinned.

This is why the verse concludes “and they died.” The seeming redundancy comes to explain that it was their intense cleaving to G‑d that caused their souls to leave their bodies.

Accordingly, we can now understand how the verse hints at the various reasons mentioned in the Midrash as to why Nadav and Avihu were punished; their passion for G‑d was not accompanied by a return to this world:


“They entered the Holy of Holies” indicates that they kept reaching for ever higher levels, without giving thought to “returning” to the physical world. The term “garments” alludes to the Jews’ garments of mitzvos,6 which are clothed in physical matters. “Lacking garments” thus means that they lacked the proper devotion to mitzvos and sought to escape this world rather than purify it.

“They had no children; they did not marry” means they did not fulfill the commandment to “be fruitful and multiply,” bringing souls into physical bodies; their approach was to separate the soul from the body.

Every story in the Torah carries a lesson for all Jews, as “Torah” means “lesson.”7 But how does the story of Nadav and Avihu apply to all Jews, when the lesson derived from this tale seems to apply to only the very few who reach such an exalted spiritual state that their souls are in danger of leaving their bodies?

There are times when all Jews are in a state of spiritual arousal — when their souls flee their bodies, as it were. This is especially so during the more spiritual days of the year, such as Shabbos, the Yomim Tovim, the Days of Awe, and particularly on Yom Kippur. During those times, Jews rise above their everyday routines and attain new spiritual heights.

The lesson here is that we should not divorce our spiritual “highs” from our regular activities; we should endeavor to “return” this spiritual exaltation, making it part of our daily lives, so that all our days and all our physical activities become imbued with holiness.

Based on Likkutei Sichos Vol. III, pp. 987-992

1.    Vayikra 16:1.
2.    See Toras Kohanim beginning of Acharei; Vayikra Rabbah 20:8; Bamidbar Rabbah 2:23; Tanchuma, Acharei 6.
3.    Rashi on Vayikra 10:3, quoting from Toras Kohanim, Shemini; Zevachim 115b.
4.    See Maamar Acharei Mos 5649; cf. commentary of Or HaChayim.
5.    Tanchuma, Naso 16. See there Bechukosai 3; Bereishis Rabbah conclusion of ch. 3; Bamidbar Rabbah 13:6; Tanya ch. 36.
6.    See Tanya ch. 5; Iggeres HaKodesh, Epistle 29.
7.    Zohar, Vol. III, p. 53b.
8.    Vayikra 16:1-3. See also commentary of Rashi.

Synopsis 4:

The Morning after Yom Kippur
What should we feel on the day after Yom Kippur? On Yom Kippur, we naturally feel spiritually awakened, but what happens the following day? Can we sustain the heightened awareness of Yom Kippur throughout the year?

We find an answer to these questions in the Torah reading of Yom Kippur, which describes the sacrifices offered by the Kohen Gadol in the Beis HaMikdash on that holy day. The reading is introduced by the verse,1 “And G‑d spoke to Moshe after the death of the two sons of Aharon when they had come close to G‑d and died.” This verse teaches us a les­son regarding Yom Kippur — the importance of what hap­pens afterwards.

Yom Kippur is a time when every Jew “comes close to G‑d.” That experience, however, must not be self-contained; it must be connected to the days and weeks that follow.

A Historical Precedent
In order to teach us how to approach this experience, the Torah recounts how Aharon’s sons, Nadav and Avihu, made a fundamental error in the way they “came close to G‑d” after the revelation of the Divine Presence at the consecration of the Sanctuary:2 “Each took his fire pan, placed fire in them, and placed incense upon it; they offered before G‑d an alien fire which He had not commanded them to bring. Fire came forth from before G‑d and consumed them.”

Although our Sages3 enumerate several flaws in the con­duct of Aharon’s sons which led to their deaths, these inter­pretations raise a number of difficulties. Nadav and Avihu had been chosen by G‑d to serve as priests. Moreover, as Rashi explains in his commentary on the Torah,4 they had attained a higher spiritual level than Moshe Rabbeinu him­self. How, then, could they have erred so seriously in their service of G‑d?

Several Torah commentaries5 explain that the death of Nadav and Avihu was not a punishment, but a natural conse­quence of their having soared to such spiritual heights that their souls could no longer remain in their bodies. Having experienced the rapture of cleaving to G‑d in dveikus, they could not return to life on this material plane.

Spiritual Experience Should Not Be Insular

Even according to this interpretation, however, the con­duct of Nadav and Avihu remains problematic because it was motivated by self-concern: they died because their souls wanted to cleave to G‑d, to remain in a state of absolute unity with Him. In this desire, they lost sight of G‑d’s ultimate intention in creation. Like all the other beings in the physical and spiritual worlds, they too had been created so that G‑d could have “a dwelling place in the lower worlds.”6 By leaving the world, even for the purpose of cleaving to G‑d, they were thus in conflict with the intention with which G‑d had cre­ated them and the world.

The deepest yearnings of our souls and the loftiest heights of our religious experience should be connected to the reali­ties of our material existence. Spirituality is not an added dimension, separate from our everyday experience, but a medium through which to elevate our ordinary lives. By fus­ing our material and spiritual realities, we refine the world, infuse it with holiness, and transform it into a dwelling for G‑d’s Presence.

Entering in Peace to Depart in Peace
The goal of fusing the material and spiritual realms is clearly illustrated in the Talmud.7 Four Sages “entered the Pardes” (lit., “Orchard”); i.e., they strolled amidst the lush profusion hidden in the depths of the Torah and experienced overwhelming mystical revelations. One of them “peered within and died”; another “peered within and lost his mind”; a third “cut down the saplings” (i.e., distorted by misinterpre­tation). Rabbi Akiva alone “entered in peace and departed in peace.”

Rabbi Akiva was the only one who departed unharmed because he alone “entered in peace.” He was not merely seeking mystical experiences. He did not enter the Pardes in order to satisfy a yearning to cleave to G‑d, but in order to achieve a heightened spiritual awareness with which he could enhance his total service of G‑d. His colleagues, by contrast, sought personal mystical experiences. They wanted to “come close to G‑d,” but did not understand how to relate that experience to the full scope of their lives.

Extending Yom Kippur
The same potential problem exists with regard to our divine service on Yom Kippur. At the very time when we “draw close to G‑d,” we should not lose sight of our service of G‑d throughout the year. Yom Kippur should not be viewed as an isolated experience, but as a means to enhance our relationship with G‑d on a day-to-day level.8

The necessity of connecting Yom Kippur to the realities of the rest of the year is illustrated by the service of the High Priest on Yom Kippur. On this day he would enter the Holy of Holies where he was alone with the Shechinah, the revealed Divine Presence. No deeper religious experience is imagin­able.

Immediately, however, he would offer a short and simple prayer, requesting blessings for an untroubled livelihood on behalf of the Jewish people.9 Fresh from his ascent to great spiritual heights, he would immediately thrust himself into concern for the Jewish people on a day-to-day level.

Significantly, a prerequisite for serving as High Priest on Yom Kippur was marriage.10 If the High Priest was unmarried, i.e., if he lacked this basic commitment to living within the practical realities of this world, he was considered unfit to intercede on behalf of his brethren.11

Fusing Spiritual Awareness with Material Prosperity

We, perhaps, do not experience the same heights as Aharon’s sons or the High Priest in the Holy of Holies, but we do have spiritual peaks, times when we feel more in touch with our souls and with G‑d. Surely this applies to Yom Kippur, a day on which we are removed from all worldly concerns. We cannot allow such moments to remain uncon­nected to our ordinary lives; rather, the spiritual power of these special days should be used to recharge our everyday service of G‑d.12

This course of action also calls down blessings upon our material affairs. Yom Kippur is a day of judgment. When G‑d sees that an individual focuses his intention on elevating the world around him and keeps that intention in mind even at the highest peaks of his spiritual experience, He rewards him with success both in his divine service and in his material affairs. G‑d blesses him with health, wealth, and children. The individual, in turn, uses those blessings to elevate and refine the world, to transform it into a dwelling place for G‑d.

This approach to the service of G‑d leads to the ultimate fusion of material prosperity and spiritual growth which will take place in the Era of the Redemption. At that time,13 “good things will flow in abundance and all the delights will be freely available as dust.” Simultaneously, “the occupation of the entire world will be solely to know G‑d.... ‘For the world will be filled with the knowledge of G‑d as the waters cover the ocean bed.’”14

Adapted from Likkutei Sichos,Vol. III,Parshas Acharei

1.Vayikra 16:1.
2.    Ibid. 10:1-2.
3.    Toras Kohanim on Vayikra 16:1; Vayikra Rabbah 20:8.
4.    In his comment on Vayikra 10:3, based on Zevachim 115b.
5.    Among them Or HaChayim on Vayikra 16:1. See also the maamar beginning Acharei in Sefer HaMaamarim 5649, p. 237 ff.
6.    Midrash Tanchuma, Parshas Bechukosai, sec. 3.
7.    Chagigah 14b. See also the maamar beginning Acharei, cited above.
8.    A similar concept is also alluded to in the Torah reading chosen for the afternoon service of Yom Kippur. By this time, for almost an entire day, we have — to borrow the expression of the Sages as cited in the Shulchan Aruch HaRav 410:9, 419:17 — conducted ourselves like angels. And what passage is read from the Torah at this time? — The passage (Vayikra, ch. 18) which warns us not to “imitate the ways of the land of Egypt, nor... the ways of the land of Canaan,” and which proceeds to enumerate all the possible prohibitions against promiscuity. Of what relevance are these prohibitions to people whose conduct resembles that of angels?
The answer lies in their possible relevance after Yom Kippur: observing this holy day is intended to influence our conduct throughout the coming new year.
9.    Yoma 53b.
10.    Ibid. 2a.
11.    Here we also see a connection to the death of Aharon’s sons. One of the reasons given by our Sages (Vayikra Rabbah 20:9) for their death was their refusal to marry and have children. This also reflected their desire for transcendence at the expense of involvement in the day-to-day realities of worldly experience.
12.    As noted in the series of discourses entitled VeKachah 5637, ch. 96, our divine service immediately after Yom Kippur begins a new phase that can be described by the verse (Bereishis 32:2), “And Yaakov went on his way.” As we complete our wor­ship on Yom Kippur, we are reminded that the heightened awareness achieved should not be left behind as we proceed “on our way” into the humdrum daily world.
13.    Rambam, Hilchos Melachim 12:5. In his Hadran on the Mishneh Torah in 5735 adapted in English in the essay entitled “The Ultimate Good of the Era of the Redemption,” which appears in I Await His Coming Every Day (Kehot, N.Y., 5751), the Rebbe, of righteous memory, explains the interrelation between the material prosperity which will be present in the Era of the Redemption and the desire for the “knowledge of G‑d” which will characterize that age.
14.    Yeshayahu 11:9.




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