In two stories in Torah we are told of unauthorized personnel burning incense in the Tabernacle. In the first case, in Vayikra 9-10, two sons of Aharon, Nadav and Avihu, enter the Tabernacle to burn incense before Hashem, but they are devoured by a heavenly fire. In the second case, in Bemidbar 16-17, during Korach's rebellion, two hundred and fifty of his supporters attempted to bring incense to the tabernacle, but they too were consumed by heavenly fire.
- In both stories, a group of people bring censers ("וַיִּקְחוּ אִישׁ מַחְתָּתוֹ"), fill them with fire ("וַיִּתְּנוּ... אֵשׁ") and incense ("וַיָּשִׂימוּ עָלֶיהָ קְטֹרֶת") and bring them to the Tabernacle ("וַיַּקְרִיבוּ לִפְנֵי י"י"). These are two of only five stories in Tanakh where we are told of a specific person burning incense, and the only two where a מחתה is used.1
- In both stories, following the bringing of incense, a heavenly fire reaches out ("וַתֵּצֵא אֵשׁ מִלִּפְנֵי י"י") and consumes the trespassers ("וַתֹּאכַל אוֹתָם").
- Following this, Moshe orders some of Aharon's relatives to clean up the debris left by the fire.
There are a number of linguistic similarities between the two stories:
- In both Hashem appears to the nation using the language "וַיֵּרָא כְבוֹד י"י אֶל כׇּל הָעָם" or "כׇּל הָעֵדָה" (Vayikra 9:23 and Bemidbar 16:19). These are the only two places where such terminology is used.
- In both, in response to Hashem's appearance, people fall over: "וַיִּפְּלוּ עַל פְּנֵיהֶם" (Vayikra 9:24, Bemidbar 16:22, and 17:10).
- In both, the terms "קרוב" and "קדוש" appear next to each other: "בִּקְרֹבַי אֶקָּדֵשׁ" (Vayikra 10:3) and "הַקָּדוֹשׁ וְהִקְרִיב" (Bemidbar 16:5).
- In both, Moshe states that Hashem may be angry at the whole nation, using the phrase "וְעַל כׇּל הָעֵדָה יִקְצֹף" or "תִּקְצֹף" (Vayikra 10:6 and Bemidbar 16:22). These are the only places where such language is used.
- In both, the results of the heavenly fire are referred to as "הַשְּׂרֵפָה" (Vayikra 10:6 and Bemidbar 17:2).
- Degree of similarity –
- Distinctive phrases –
Points of Contrast
- Purpose of bringing the incense – while it is clear that the two hundred and fifty brought their incense as an act of defiance against Moshe and Aharon and their control of the Tabernacle, it is unclear what Nadav and Avihu were attempting.2