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Home » Numbers 16:17 – Approaching G-d through a Prohibition?

Numbers 16:17 – Approaching G-d through a Prohibition?

וּקְח֣וּ ׀ אִ֣ישׁ מַחְתָּת֗וֹ וּנְתַתֶּ֤ם עֲלֵיהֶם֙ קְטֹ֔רֶת וְהִקְרַבְתֶּ֞ם לִפְנֵ֤י ד’ אִ֣ישׁ מַחְתָּת֔וֹ חֲמִשִּׁ֥ים וּמָאתַ֖יִם מַחְתֹּ֑ת וְאַתָּ֥ה וְאַהֲרֹ֖ן אִ֥ישׁ מַחְתָּתֽוֹ׃

Each of you take your fire pan and lay incense on it, and each of you bring that fire pan before יהוה, two hundred and fifty fire pans; you and Aaron also [bring] your fire pans.”

It was very clear that only Aaron – and his successors – were allowed to bring the incense into the Temple. After the death of his two sons, Nadab and Abihu, you would think people would have learned the serious consequences of bringing “strange” fire to the Eternal. In Leviticus 10:1-2 we read:

Now Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu each took his fire pan, put fire in it, and laid incense on it; and they offered before Hashem alien fire, which had not been enjoined upon them. And fire came forth from Hashem and consumed them; thus, they died at the instance of Hashem.

But there is a striking difference between the sons of Aaron and Korach and his followers. With Aaron’s sons, the emphasis is placed on “false fire” with Korah and his followers on the “incense pans”.
However, if they had waited their time, they could have one day offered the incense sacrifice, just as Aaron was allowed to do. They were impatient.

The fault of Korach and his followers was not that they were impatient, but that they were not eligible for the position at all. They would never be allowed to offer this sacrifice.

Even if their motives were sincere – and there are commentaries that say so – it is absurd to think that by doing something that G-d forbids you can draw near to Him and strengthen your relationship and bond with Him.
Aaron’s sons remind me of people who want to convert to Judaism and start performing acts they are not yet ready to do.

Korach and his followers remind me of non-Jewish people who want to perform mitzvot and Jewish acts to which they are not called and indeed are forbidden to do. Consider, for example, the prohibition against wearing tefillin/ phylacteries or writing a scroll of the Torah or wearing tzitzit/ ritual fringes.[1]

The excuse then sometimes heard is that they want to get closer to G-d by doing so, that they need those acts spiritually.

How can anyone want to approach G-d in a way that He does not desire.

Let us always think carefully about what He wants and strive to do it in the best way possible.

By Angelique Sijbolts


[1] The Divine Code by Rabbi Moshe Weiner 4e edition p. 61

Daily Wisdom Inspiring insights on the Torah portion from the Lubavitscher Rebbe, V. 1 p 307


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