ויאמר משה אל אהרן הוא אשר דבר ה’ לאמר בקרבי אקדש ועל פני כל העם אכבד
Then Moses said to Aaron, This is what the Lord spoke, saying, I will be sanctified in them that come near to me, and before all the people I will be glorified.
Our master explained that this verse teaches that the moral perfection of a person is achieved only by simultaneously loving and fearing the Eternal, increasing his love and his fear of the Eternal in equal measure. As the Psalmist says (Psalms 2:11): “עבדו את ה’ ביראה וגילו ברעדה” (serve the Lord with fear and rejoice with trembling). Thus, any commandment not performed with both trepidation and love lacks the two wings with which one can ascend on high. And should a burning love inflame a person to transgress an ordinance (חוק) to approach the Eternal too closely, it is his fear that must restrain him. Indeed, many have fallen because their love for the Eternal caused them to approach Him too closely.
The sin of Nadav and Avihu was thus that they, too, came too close to the Eternal’s inner sanctum. As the commentators have written, it was because of the intense love of Nadav and Avihu for the Eternal, that they ascended before Him bareheaded, removing the veil of fear from their faces, thereby causing their own death. From this incident, the great and wise of the nation, those closest to God, learned that they must not ascend to the Eternal lest they, like these two pious and righteous ones, be consumed by fire. But the simple people of the nation, not really understanding what love of the Eternal entails, took the opposite lesson: to serve God with joy and a good heart, to love Him and to cling to Him, because they saw how precious it is, in the eyes of the Eternal, to worship Him, not with indifference, but with love. For had it not been for the indifference of these righteous ones, surely (the simple people suppose) they would not have been struck down.
Thus, holiness causes fear — fear of exaltation and anxiety at holiness — as it is written (Leviticus 19:30) “ומקדשי תיראו” (and fear my sanctuary). But honor and glory are a sign of love, because one gives honor to that which he loves, as the Sages say in the Talmud, explaining why the commandment to honor one’s father and mother gives precedence to one’s father over one’s mother. [Since one’s natural inclination is to love one’s mother more than one’s father, it was necessary to underscore the duty to honor one’s father by mentioning the father first.] It is therefore written “הוא אשר דבר ה’ בקרבי אקדש” (this is what the Eternal spoke I will be sanctified in them that come near to me). Thus, because of this incident, those that are close to the Eternal and cling to Him will learn to become sanctified and reverential in fearing Him. However, “ועל פני כל העם אכבד” (and before all the people I will be glorified). In other words, because the ordinary people (those not so close to the Eternal) will learn from the incident to love Me, I will be honored in their midst. (שביבי אש)
And Aaron held his peace
The Midrash Rabbah asks what could Aaron have said in response? The answer given by the Midrash is “וביום השמיני ימול בשר ערלתו” (on the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised).
This remark seems mysterious. But our master offered an explanation in the name of his father the gaon (R. Abraham Glasner, 1826-1877) The law is that if a woman’s first two sons died after being circumcised, the third son may not be circumcised, because the death of the first two sons gives rise to a presumption that a circumcision could endanger the life of any subsequent sons that are born. Thus, after two sons of Aaron were killed because they approached the Eternal to perform a service, his life and those of Aaron’s remaining sons could have been presumed to be endangered, so that Aaron could have released himself and his sons from their obligation to serve is as Priests in the Tabernacle because of the danger of serving in the Tabernacle. Because he could have supported his position by citing the law of circumcision, but remained quiet instead, he was rewarded. (שביבי אש)
ויקצף על אלעזר ועל אִיתמר
And he was angry with Eleazar and Ithamar
The Midrash (Leviticus Rabbah 13:1) comments: There are three instances when Moses lost his temper and, as a result, forgot a halakhah: concerning the Sabbath (Exodus 16:20), concerning metal utensils (Numbers 31:14), and of an onen (i.e., this verse concerning the sin-offering of Aaron and whether it could be eaten by an onen).
Many have objected that here in the incident of the sin-offering of Aaron, the order was reversed, because Moses became angry only because he erred in his halakhic ruling. See the Sifra which records an opinion that disputes the premise that Moses erred because of his anger and asserts rather that Moses became angry because he erred.
However, our master explained that the Midrash is unobjectionable, because a wise and understanding person is not quick to respond, and will not say anything until he has weighed carefully whether it is correct. Should an incorrect idea occur to such a person, he would therefore certainly reconsider it before saying it out loud. Scientists have, in this manner, broken down every thought that leads to some action into four components: conception (מחשבה פשוטה), reflection (התבוננות), affirmation (הסכמה), and finally speech or action. Thus, as soon as Moses conceived the thought (מחשבה פשוטה) that Aaron had acted improperly, he became angry, which caused his reflection (התבוננות) and affirmation (הסכמה) to be in error. The Midrash therefore correctly attributed his mistake to anger, because it was only because of anger that he mentally affirmed the initial idea that he had wrongly conceived. (שביבי אש)