וידבר ה' אל משה אחרי מות שני בני אהרן בקרבתם לפני ה' וימותו.
“And Hashem spoke to Moshe after the death of the two sons of Aharon, when they approached before Hashem and they died.” (Vayikra 16:1)
Why indeed did Aharon’s sons die when they approached Hashem?
The two great tzaddikim (righteous men) Nadav and Avihu lived their lives with the singular goal of connecting to Hashem and becoming ever closer to Him. It says in Tehillim (36:5): “Fortunate is the man for whom Hashem doesn’t reckon any sins.” The Baal Shem Tov interpreted these words in a literal sense to mean: “Fortunate is the man who considers it a sin if a moment passed in which he didn’t reckon about Hashem.” Nadav and Avihu were tzaddikim of this caliber who were completely connected to Hashem every moment of their lives. They said to Hashem that if they would forget about Him even for a moment, their lives would be worthless.
When Hashem saw how deeply they desired His closeness, He fulfilled their wish and took their lives, keeping their souls forever close to Him.
Although this level of greatness is beyond our grasp and is not required of us, we can at least learn from this to strive for closeness to Hashem as much as possible and to serve Hashem with a pure heart, without any ulterior motives.
The holy Ropshitzer Rav would quote the verse: “And help us speedily (lit. closely) for the sake of Your Name.” He would explain: “A Jew must strive to do everything for the sake of Heaven, without any ulterior motives. The tzaddikim of old were able to accomplish this goal, but for us today this is very difficult. We therefore pray to Hashem that he should ‘help us come close to doing things for the sake of Your Name.’ If we cannot do mitzvos completely for Hashem’s sake, at least we should come as close to that as possible.”
Our tzaddikim lived their lives with this in mind, and this propelled them to reach such great heights. A story is told of Rebbe Shalom of Kaminka, that he once traveled to the grave of the Ropshitzer Rav on the day of his yartzeit (anniversary of his death). When he arrived there, he met the Ropshitzer Rav’s son Rebbe Eliezer of Dzikov, along with the Sanzer Rav and a number of other Chassidim. They were all weeping openly, shedding bitter tears. Reb Shalom became frightened and asked: “What tragedy befell you that you are crying so desperately at the Rebbe’s grave?” They replied: “We remember how the Rebbe guided us to reach greater heights each day anew, but since the Rebbe left us we have been unable to keep up that level of spirituality. We are mourning what we lost, and we are overcome with regret for causing our Rebbe distress when he sees that we have strayed from his teachings.” When Reb Shalom heard these words, he too broke down and cried.
Such were the aspirations of our Torah leaders, and this is how they lived their lives.
The two weekly sidros Acharei Mos and Kedoshim go together. When the names of these sidros are combined, the words mean: “After the death of the holy ones.” We must look back to our holy tzaddikim and realize how much we’ve lost by their deaths. As long as we had great, righteous leaders among us, we were able to learn from them and follow in their ways. But now that we have been left without such tzaddikim, we must struggle on our own to reach the level of kedoshim – becoming holy, as the verse says: “You shall be holy because I, Hashem, am holy.” We must pray for Divine assistance to be able to reach holiness.
Hashem gave us the gift of Shabbos, which can help us become holy, because on Shabbos we have some peace from the evil inclination.
The tzaddik Rebbe Itzik of Radvil once said during the Shalosh Seudos meal on Shabbos: “We say in our Shabbos prayers: ‘A day of rest and holiness You gave to Your nation.’ Usually, when a master gives his servant a break and allows him to rest, it is not so much for the servant’s benefit as for his own advantage. He wants the servant to be well rested in order to return with renewed energy to continue serving him. But Hashem gave us a day of rest for our benefit alone. Hashem wants us to enjoy our day of rest. The purpose of Shabbos is to elevate us completely so that we should reach a state of constant inner peace. Shabbos doesn’t only recharge us to continue working during the week, but it recharges us spiritually. This shows us that Shabbos has been given to us as a special gift for our own benefit. And indeed, that is exactly what we say in our prayers: ‘A complete rest according to what You desire, so that Your children should realize and know that from You comes their rest.’”
A person cannot acquire inner peace or holiness without Hashem’s help. We must realize this and understand this fully, and we must pray that “on their rest they shall sanctify Your Name.”
In our generation there are so many distractions and diversions that undermine our inner peace and our potential for holiness. The yetzer hara invents new communication devices and other electronic gadgets that pull us away from Hashem. Once a person gets trapped into his net, it is difficult for him to get out. No one should think that he is immune to these threats. Every person must be on guard and protect himself from adverse influences, and pray to Hashem that He should help him be holy and pure. Let us pray together that Hashem should enable us to reach holiness, “because I Hashem am holy!”
If we will do so, we will merit the yeshuos and refuos we need, and we will merit greeting Moshiach speedily in our days, Amein.