Nadav and Avihu are sometimes regarded as terrible sinners who died because they usurped their father and desecrated the Tabernacle through improper offering. However, there are also texts that regard the brothers as righteous men whose personal sacrifice was necessary for the initiation of the sacrificial rites. The Zohar, in particular, loves Nadav and Avihu and has an extraordinary description of them "bringing atonement for the sins of Israel" (Zohar III 57b). Great stuff.
As part of the conclusion of our study, our fabulous teacher, Dr. Melila Hellner-Eshed, had us create our own interpretations and midrashim on the story. Here is mine:
NADAV AND AVIHU
There had to be two of them.
Like Eldad and Medad, who would follow them,
The pairing was a necessity
To reflect the two sides of their story.
They needed to be restrained and bound.
They needed to be recognized as prophets.
In them, the faults of Israel were revealed.
In them, the redemption of Israel was achieved.
And neither side could be true without the other.
The fiery brothers who burned
With zealous piety and selfish conceit
Are the twin offspring
Of a people bred to kiss the divine
With the kisses of their mouth
Their lips scorched and tongue howling.
They would be reborn, those two,
As the goats brought before their father
Just after their death.
Before he drew the lots,
Aaron looked into the oblong pupils and wondered,
"Is that you, Avihu? Is that you, Nadav?
My beautiful and cursed boys?
Must you always be marked for holy death?
In you, Israel finds atonement.
In you, broken bones and scorched soul
Will remind them
Of the price for reaching beyond the bounds."
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Acharei Mot: Facing the Direction of Azazel