One problem with instant celebrity is that there is no adjustment period. It’s, well, instant. How can we possibly expect anyone who has gained power and influence overnight to wield it appropriately? With the speed of communication and spread of ideas we now enjoy, one day an amateur musician might record herself to share a song with friends on YouTube, and the next day find herself inundated with contract offers and demanding fans. The consequence of being thrust into the public eye is that suddenly no experience, no moment, is private. For however long that fame lasts, all eyes are on you, and all your actions are being viewed and judged.
Aaron’s sons, as we learn in parshat Shmini, are a little like the Justin Biebers of their day – their transformation to priesthood gives them instant celebrity. The text begins with the anointing and first acts of Nadav and Avihu as they make their entrance into the “celebrity” of the priesthood, and then it continues with specific details about how they should act in giving an offering.
From the very first moments with their new status, we see a pattern that might seem familiar if you follow pop culture at all. Nadav and Avihu instantly let the celebrity go to their heads and instead of following the laws of leadership and service to God, they make their own rules concerning sacrifice. And in an instant, they change the state of their leadership from responsible to power-hungry.
Chapter 10, verse 3 of sefer Vayikra reads:
Then Moses said to Aaron, “This is what the Lord meant when He said: ‘Through those near to Me I show Myself holy, and gain glory before all the people.’ Aaron was silent.”
We interpret this to mean that those who stand out as leaders will be given privilege not to be above the law, but to teach and preach the law and to preside with justice and civility. Sadly, Nadav and Avihu mistake their privilege for a kind of God-like invincibility, and that is their ultimate end.
Given the right combination of fuel, kindling, and spark, ideas and opinions spread like wildfire in our digital universe. We easily forget that having thousands of Twitter followers doesn’t give you permission, it gives you accountability. Parshat Shmini is a stark reminder that it is our responsibility to carry this influence beyond personal gain to the betterment of our world.