As the Parsha relates the joyous time when the Jews finally started the long-awaited service in the Mishkan, Parshat Shemini abruptly interrupts that with the disturbing death of Aaron’s 2 oldest sons (Nadav and Avihu). Their sin was that they wanted to show their love for G-d SO much that they took it upon themselves to take incense and burn it on their own. The Torah then relates that a fire “came out from before Hashem and consumed them”. It seems strange that the same fire that 2 Pessukim (verses) ago came down to burn the offerings was the same fire that came down to kill Aaron’s 2 sons. Why did they specifically die with fire, which is the very method they tried to use to serve G-d?

The Rashbam helps us understand the reason why the sons were wrong by explaining that they weren’t authorized to bring the offering, and that their bringing it minimized the miracle of the fire  coming down from the sky. However, although they died, the verse says they died “before G-d”, which commentaries explain to mean that they at least tried to do a good thing, and were worthy of dying before G-d. Trying to preempt G-d’s commandments by burning things themselves minimizes the very essence of those commandments. We too have to follow the guidelines of the Torah, not because they make sense to us and we’d do them anyway, but because G-d wants us to do things a certain way. The point of the fire was to show us that G-d would use fire for us, unless we make Him use that very fire on us by altering the “plan”. The critical lesson from all of this is that we need to observe the commandments correctly, so that we strengthen the fire within us, which in turn will further strengthen our bond.