And Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took each of them his censer, and put fire therein, and laid incense thereon, and offered strange fire before the LORD, which He had not commanded them.
And there came forth fire from before the LORD, and devoured them, and they died before the LORD. (From this week’s Torah portion, Shemini, Leviticus 10: 1-2)
And when they came to the threshing-floor of Nacon, Uzzah put forth his hand to the ark of God, and took hold of it; for the oxen stumbled.
And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Uzzah; and God smote him there for his error; and there he died by the ark of God. (From this week’s haftarah, Samuel B, 6:6-7)
It turns out that the holy service of G-d is a very exacting undertaking. Even if you are completely righteous and have only good intentions, it is best to strictly adhere to instructions – and then, after a lot of study and experience – to approach holiness.
The sons of Aaron brought a foreign offering, which G-d did not command them to do. But why did they have to die? Isn’t there more than one way to be a Jew?
And Uzzah? King David also couldn’t understand why he was killed. All that he wanted to do was to save the Ark of the Covenant from falling after the oxen stumbled. He paid for it with his life.
The holy service of G-d is not about personal whims – even if they stem from positive intentions. Today, a person who decides to serve G-d in a way that was not commanded (in other words, to serve himself) has nothing to worry about. No fire will descend from the heavens to burn him. G-d will not suddenly appear and smite him. But the fact that G-d is concealed does not mean that He does not exist. We must always remember that we work for Him, and He does not work for us.