There’s a limit how much spirituality a man can endure, as it states, "Man cannot see Me and live" (Shemos 33:20). Nadav and Avihu surpassed that limit and their neshamos departed. This is the meaning of the words 'they died before Hashem,' they died because they became so close to Hashem.
At the giving of the Torah, the entire Jewish nation was very attached to Hashem, and this caused them to fear that they would die. After hearing the first two of the Commandments the nation said, “and now, why should we die...? If we hear Hashem’s voice again, we will die” (Devarim 5:22). Hashem praised them for their fear of G-d, and Moshe was appointed to relay the final eight commandments. Reb Yechezkel of Kozmir zt’l asked, why was the nation afraid to die? Isn’t this the most wondrous experience; to be so attached to Hashem until the soul departs? He answered, the nation didn’t mind dying in this manner. Their fear was for Hashem’s sake. Because Hashem desires us to live; that we should have a body and tests, and that we overcome all tests and challenges that come our way. If they would die, the primary purpose of life would be lost.
My grandfather, Rebbe Moshe Mordechai of Lelov zt'l had another explanation for why Nadav and Avihu died. His explanation also expresses Nadav and Avihu's greatness. He taught his lesson with the following story: A milkman once said to Rebbe Dovid of Lelov zt’l, "I don’t understand why people buy milk from my competition and not from me.” Rebbe Dovid of Lelov asked him how much water he adds to the milk (because most farmers add some water, so they could earn some more money). The milkman was very honest, and he replied that he doesn’t add a drop of water. Rebbe Dovid Lelover told him, "That's the problem. We’re living in a world of falsehood, and it’s impossible to be successful here with one hundred percent honesty. I advise you to add some water into the milk — just a drop, because a lot of water would be stealing — and you’ll see that people will buy from you too." Rebbe Moshe Mordechai of Lelov zt’l, repeated this story, and added that this explains why Nadav and Avihu died when they brought the incense. They were so truthful that they simply couldn’t survive in this false world. They had a fire that was so true and so foreign to this world, that they couldn’t exist here.
Reb Meir Yechiel of Ostraftza zt’l explains that there are four levels of elements: man, animals, plants, and inanimate objects.
Reb Yehoshua ben Levi once asked Eliyahu HaNavi whether they could travel together. Eliyahu HaNavi agreed, but there was one condition, “If you want to travel with me, you mustn’t ask any questions. Even if you see me doing something that doesn’t make sense to you, you cannot ask me about it.” Reb Yehoshua ben Levi agreed to the condition, and they set out on their travels. As soon as they left the city, they arrived at their first destination. It was the home of an elderly couple. They knocked on the door, and said that they were travelers and needed a place to be. The couple graciously received them, honored them immensely, and gave them all their needs. They did this without knowing that they were hosting Eliyahu HaNavi and Reb Yehoshua ben Levi. Before they left, Eliyahu HaNavi prayed, “The couple’s cow should die…” Reb Yehoshua ben Levi was shocked. The cow was the elderly couple’s source of parnassah. Why did Eliyahu HaNavi want to punish them, after they had treated them so well. But he didn’t ask any questions, as he promised. On the following day, they came to the home of a miser, who grudgingly allowed them to sleep in his home, but he refused to give them food. After their stay, Reb Yehoshua ben Levi once again saw Eliyahu Hanavi praying. He heard him say, “The wall surrounding the house should stay strong. It shouldn’t collapse.” Once again, Reb Yehoshua ben Levi was surprised. Why was Eliyahu HaNavi praying for the welfare of a person who treated them so unkindly? But Reb Yehoshua ben Levi kept his promise, and didn’t ask questions. They continued on, and came to a city where the people were very cold to them. They didn’t want to take them in. Eliyahu HaNavi blessed them that everyone in the city should become a leader. Then they came to a city where the people treated them properly. Eliyahu blessed them, “One of you should become a leader.” Reb Yehoshua ben Levi realized that he didn’t understand anything, so he told Eliyahu HaNavi that he changed his mind, and doesn’t want to travel with him any longer. “But please,” he pleaded, “Explain to me what I saw.” Eliyahu Hanavi explained, “The elderly couple honored us properly, and they deserve reward. But I saw that the woman of the home would soon die. I had mercy on them, so I prayed that their cow should die instead. “At the miser's home, I prayed that the wall surrounding the miser's home shouldn’t collapse because beneath the wall lies a great treasure. In this way, he will never dig around the wall and will not find the hidden treasure. “When we came to the city where everyone treated us coldly, I blessed them that they should all become leaders, because when there are too many leaders, the result is chaos. However when we came to the city that treated us respectably, I blessed them that only one of them should become the city's leader.” We learn from this story that things aren’t the way they appear to be. Things could look bad and they are really good. Similarly we must know that whatever happens to us is for the good. It's Hashem's kindness, even when we don’t understand how and why.
Avraham didn’t love anything, other than Hashem's mitzvos. Everything else paled in importance, in comparison. Therefore, he allowed Eliezer to be in charge of all his assets and wealth, but for mitzvos [such as to seek a shidduch for Yitzchak] he didn’t trust him..."
Being careful with kashrus also means being careful with bugs and worms that can be in food. As it states, "don’t contaminate your soul with all insects that crawl…" (Vayikra 11:43). The Or HaChaim elaborates, "A person must be extremely careful not to eat anything that might be infested with worms. Especially in recent generations, when both the atmosphere and the earth have become [spiritually] polluted, and everything that grows has worms and bugs. Therefore, the cautious people should be aware."
Avoiding non-kosher foods isn't entirely in our hands. However, if a person is careful to the best of his ability, Hashem will help him succeed. The Or HaChaim says that this is indicated in the words (11:44) be holy and cautious from non-kosher food, and then Hashem will protect you from sin. The Or HaChaim writes, "Put safeguards and precautions that you shouldn’t become impure [with non-kosher food] and I guarantee you that you will be holy [and protected from eating non-kosher]."
Being careful with kashrut is also conducive to be protected from the gentile nations. Therefore, the verse concludes, "You will not become impure… by the insects…" and the Or HaChaim writes, "The verse is hinting that by keeping this mitzvah, the nations of the world will not rule over [or harm] the Jewish nation..."
Whenever one begins something new or anew, it’s important to make the beginning good, with a lot of passion, excitement, and joy, as that gives the momentum for everything that follows. This applies to a new learning session, a new day, a new project, and so on.
Most people pour piping hot water into their coffee, although no one actually drinks it at that temperature. This is a reminder that one should begin with a lot and energy, even if he won't remain at that temperature. However, if he will start off lukewarm, his interest will turn cold and he will become disinterested very soon.
At the end of this week's parashah it states, "make yourself holy, and you will be holy" (11:44). The Chasam Sofer zt'l explains that the verse is urging people to pretend that they are holy and then they’ll become holy. pretend you are special, and you will indeed become holy. Consequently, pretend that you’re excited about Torah study – even if it isn't yet actually so. Put on a smile; even your body movements should express joy and excitement; say the words of Torah out-loud and with a special tune, and you will begin to love the Torah. If you don’t understand something, struggle to understand it, or ask someone else. Act as though you are sincerely interested, and then it won't be long before it will be real. The tzaddikim of Slonim would say that despite the importance of truth, of doing all one's deeds truthfully, one may pretend that he is happy. It isn't true, his actions aren't truth, but it’s permitted, as this will bring him to genuine joy. Similarly, a person can pretend that he’s excited to pray Shacharis. The actions and speech aren't real at first, but as you get into the prayer, the enthusiasm will become real.
It is also recommended to make the first fifteen minutes of each learning session good, with perseverance, as this will influence the entire learning session. If a person isn't careful, a lot of time might go to waste, before he is ready to begin studying. Therefore, it is advised to make a speech fast for the first fifteen minutes of the learning session, and to only speak Torah. Make the beginning good, and the rest of the learning time will continue in that spirit.
The holy sefarim discuss the importance of making the beginning of the day good. First say אני מודה ,wash negel vasser, and make certain that your first thoughts, speech, and deeds should be in avodas Hashem. That sets the tone for the entire day.
When a person doesn’t have time to study Torah, he is encouraged to dedicate at least one hour of his day for Torah. Doing so elevates the entire day. Tzaddikim of Slonim would say: Each hour of the day without Torah is like a zero. But if there is one hour of Torah, you can place a “one” before all the zeros and it becomes a million. But if this one hour isn’t there, then all you are left with is a bunch of zeros.
The father of the Shlah Hakodesh, Reb Sheftel Ish Levi zt'l teaches: The obligation to study Gemara, Rashi and Tosfos each day is no less than our obligation to wear tefillin every day. If we would take his words seriously, we would never let a day pass without a significant amount of time used for Torah study.
Sometimes, people feel that they don’t have time to learn Torah. They think they need every minute of their day to earn money. We remind them the Gemara (Avodah Zarah 19) which states, “Whoever studies Torah, Hakadosh Baruch Hu fulfills his desires….Whoever studies Torah, his property prospers.” Torah brings success. Torah is mesugal for wealth.
As everyone knows, a person can work for many hours, and not earn anything at all. One loss or mistake can decimate hours of work. And at times a person can work for a short while, and earn a lot of money. Time isn’t the only factor involved in making money. One needs Hashem’s blessings. Therefore, have bitachon, trust in Hashem, and make sure to have time for Torah. The time spent learning Torah will bring Hashem’s blessing, and therefore, not only won't it disturb your parnassah, it will actually increase it. It’s an financially wise investment to dedicate time for Torah study.
A chassid once wrote a kvittel to Rebbe Yochanan of Rachmestrifka zy’a stating that he wants a blessing for “hatzlachah in everything I do.” Rebbe Yochanan Rachmestrifke told him: Dovid HaMelech was also a great Rebbe. His counsel for hatzlachah was to study Torah. As it states,"He only desires Hashem's Torah… and whatever he does, will succeed…" (Tehillim 1). This is more than a blessing, it's a guarantee. If you study Torah, you will succeed in everything you do.
The Gemara debates whether the Torah was given on the sixth day of Sivan, or on the seventh. But all opinions agree that the Torah was given on Shabbos. This tells us that the times that are set aside for learning should be as sacred to us as Shabbos. No one, with proper Fear of Heaven, would consider desecrating Shabbos to earn money. We should have this same devotion for Torah. No financial gains should draw us away from the times set for Torah study.
The Ramchal zy’a says that when one studies Torah, he should consider it as if he’s in the middle of Shemonah Esrei and cannot interrupt. Similarly, others should consider someone studying Torah as someone saying Shemonah Esrei, and not interrupt him.
Rebbe Moshe Mordechai of Lelov zy’a is renowned for his love and passion for Gemara. He would say: “Someone who doesn’t study Gemara, is "not a Jew, and not even a human being." He explained that this is the reason the blessing השיבנו in Shemonah Esrei begins with a request for Torah, because without Torah, one is "not a Jew, and not even a human being."
As we say in the morning, "make us accustomed to Your Torah," because to a large extent, perseverance in Torah is a matter of becoming accustomed.