And fire went forth from before Hashem and consumed them (Nadav and Avihu, the sons of Aharon), and they died before Hashem. (Vayikra 10/2)
On the possuk After the death of Aharon’s two children…” the Medrash comments, “(It is written in another possuk (Bamidbar 3/3)) ‘and they (Nodov and Avihu the sons of Aharon) didn’t have children’ (we can deduce from this that ) if they would have had children then those children would have been chosen before Eliezer and Itamar (to become Cohanim). (We learn from this, the Medrash continues) that whoever is first in line to inherit is also first in line to take over the deceased’s position of honor (on condition,) that he fulfills the place of the deceased (i.e. he keeps the mitzvos like his father did).
Zera Shimshon asks how does the Medrash deduce from the above possuk the condition that only an heir who fulfills the place of the deceased inherits his position of honor? Seemingly, we only see in the possuk that any son inherits his father position!
He answers this question in light of another seemingly difficult Medrash. Rebbi Yochanon in the name of Rebbi Levi said “Nadav and Avihu died because they didn’t have any children. Abba Channan said, ‘Because they weren’t married’.
Zera Shimshon posits that Rebbi Yochanon cannot mean that being childless was the direct cause for their punishment. How can they be held responsible for something that is not in their hands?
Rather Rebbi Yochanon means that their being childless when they were alive was a result of their dying and that their dying was not a punishment at all! How is this?
The Medrash says that Dovid HaMelech prayed to Hashem that if his children will not go in the ways of Hashem and they will do things that will make Hashem angry, then Hashem should make him childless. In other words, Dovid’s love of Hashem was so great that he did not want to bring into this world children who would anger the Master of the World. From this Medrash we learn that Hashem does a chessed with tzaddikim and, when Hashem sees that they will have “bad” children, then He makes them childless.
Therefore, Zera Shimshon explains, the direct cause of their death was, as Rashi explains in our parsha, in order to sanctify Hashem’s name. Hashem chose Nadav and Avihu to be the agents for this because of their greatness and not as a punishment. (Rashi explains that Moshe held that they were even greater than him and Aharon!)
Moshe therefore reasoned that since Nadav and Avihu were such tzaddikim it must be that the reason that they were childless was because Hashem knew that their children would not go in their righteous way. From this we can deduce that if they would have had children then these children would have been tzaddikim and they would have inherited Aharon’s position.
The Medrash therefore deduces from this that only children who are great like their fathers inherit their position (e.g. the children of Nadav and Avihu if they would have children). However children who are not great like their father do not.
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