As if we did not hear enough about Aharon’s sons, Nadav and Avihu – and their sad demise, Perashat Bemidbar makes yet another mention of them. We are told once again how they died for bringing a “strange fire” to G-d, but this time, the Torah tacks on “And they did not have any sons”.
Ostensibly, this unit, which aims at tracing the geneology of each tribe, is simply telling us that Nadav and Avihu fathered no children prior to their death. If the Torah had intended to continue discussing this family line, though, then why, when mentioning Aharon’s two remaining sons, Elazar and Itamar, did the Torah not discuss their children?
Rabbi Avraham Sofer (“the Ketav Sofer”) offers a unique explanation of this passage: He suggests that not having sons itself is the unacceptable offering, the “strange fire” brought by the two: In their religious zeal, their desire for a pristine, hassle-free life, they chose not to have children. Fearing that their children may well go “off the Derech” – and not live a life faithful to the ideals of Torah, they both decide not to bring children into the world. G-d’s rejection of this approach is signalled by the premature, joint death, of Nadav and Avihu.
In his commentary, Ketav Sofer cross-references the Talmud, Tractate Berachot 10a: There, Yeshaya Hanavi (the prophet Isaiah) comes to reprimand Hizkiyahu Hamelech (King Hezekiah) and informs him that not only will the latter die in this world, but is not destined for life in the World-to-Come. The reason? Like Nadav and Avihu, Hizkiyahu refrained from engaging in the mitzvah of procreation. The King’s defense, “I saw in my Ruach Hakodesh (Divine Inspiration) that any son I produced would be evil” – does not impress the prophet.
Yeshaya, instead, rebukes him: “What business do you have engaging in calculations of Divine secrets? You do what you have to do!”
In other words, adhere to the mitzvot, and the let the proverbial chips fall where they may!
Hizkiyahu counters: “Why don’t you offer your daughter’s hand to me in marriage – and the merit of both of us will produce righteous children!”
According to various manuscripts of the Talmud, and recorded in Eyn Ya’akov, Yeshaya responds by marrying off his daughter to Hizkiyahu.
One day, the King is carrying his two young sons, Menashe and Ravshaka, to the Bet Midrash, (House of study). Perched atop their father’s shoulders, one remarks to the other, “Father’s head is perfect to fry fish on!” The other son disagrees, “No, I think it’s better as the surface of an altar to bring a sacrifice to Avoda Zara (idolatry)!”
Infuriated, Hizkiyahu hurls both boys to the ground, killing Ravshaka. Menashe lives.
What a bizarre story! What are we supposed to learn from it?
As parents, we understand the importance of a solid education for our children. As committed Jews, we invest our whole selves in ensuring that our kids receive an intensive and meaningful Jewish education. Its role in fostering meaningful individual and communal lives cannot be understated.
Hizkiyahu was hoping that the combined merit of himself and Yeshaya, along with his strategy of exposing the boys to the Bet Hamidrash at an early age, would secure their fidelity to Jewish values and Jewish life. He was exasperated to discover that all his efforts were in vain: One son chooses a life of physical indulgence, while the other abandons Jewish values in favor of another system. Hizkiyahu’s “head” in the story represents the thoughts, the strategy of a devoted father.
The verse says:
רבות מחשבות בלב איש
Man has many thoughts and plans
ועצת ה’ היא תקום
But G-d’s counsel is that which will prevail in the end.
We certainly must do our part, but it is only G-d who decides whether our efforts will be rewarded. At a certain point, even devoted parents have to “let go” and understand that, however essential, we are only part of the process; ultimately, our success is ensured only by a Divine blessing, a nod from above.
This theme paves the way for Sefer Bemidbar: the Jewish people travel through the wilderness, and it’s only their trust in G-d’s benevolence that spurs them on.
לכתך אחרי במדבר בארץ לא זרועה
You followed me in the desert, in a land that was not sown…..