Nobody Likes Surprises
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 Nadab and Abihu died before the Lord when they offered strange fire before the Lord in the wilderness of Sinai.
— Numbers 3:4
The dark before dawn. Two young men, Nadab and Abihu, squat in the sand. Nadab fills a small pan with oil. Abihu sets it alight with the flame from a small lamp.
Abihu: You’re sure this is right?
Nadab: Of course. How many times have we watched Uncle Moishe do it? It’s not like it’s that difficult.
Abihu: No, I mean, “Are you sure this is right.” Should we be doing it.
Nadab: What are we doing? Showing a little initiative, is all. Look, what if — heaven forbid — something happened to Papa? Who’s supposed to take over? We are. Am I right, or am I right?
Abihu: Yes, but —
Nadab: So this will simply put everyone’s mind at ease. They’ll know we can handle it.
Nadab sprinkles a finger of gray powder onto the burning oil. Smoke rises. Nadab leans in and inhales deeply.
Nadab: Ah! Yeah, that’s it. Go ahead. Smell.
Abihu: I can’t tell. Incense is incense.
Nadab: And fire is fire. My point exactly. How difficult can it be?
Abihu: But you know Uncle Moishe. He wants everything done just so.
Nadab: Which is how we’ll do it. Two censers. A few sticks of incense. We make the offering. Just the way he does. Just the way Papa would do it. What is your problem?
Abihu: It’s just that nobody told us to do this. And they’re so uptight about this stuff.
Nadab: But He loves sacrifices. Did you see how fire devoured that burnt offering this morning, fat and all? Totally cool.
Abihu: But —
Nadab: And then the people, rolling around and shouting and singing in praise. Tell me you don’t want to see that again.
Abihu: But shouldn’t we ask Papa or Uncle Moishe?
Nadab: And ruin the surprise?
Abihu: I’m not so sure He like surprises.
Nadab: Uncle wasn’t surprised by the Burning Bush, the Pillar of Smoke? Come on, he loves surprises.
Abihu: I didn’t mean Uncle Moishe. I meant Him.
Nadab: Don’t be silly. He can’t be surprised. He knows everything. Besides this is to His greater glory. I don’t see how He can complain about that.
Nadab picks up the two pans of fire and smoke and walks back and forth, head erect, back straight.
Nadab: See? You try it.
Abihu doesn’t take the proffered pans.
Nadab: Maybe Eleazar and Ithamar want to do it.
Reluctantly, Abihu takes the pans. His walk is uncertain, graceless.
Nadab: You look great. Feels good, doesn’t it?
Abihu’s walk becomes a little straighter. His shoulders go back. He grins. He pretends to juggle the censers.
Nadab: That’s the ticket. First imitate, then innovate!
Abihu: I like that.
Nadab: Still, let’s not run it by Papa. Creativity is not his middle name.
Abihu: What should we sacrifice?
Abihu: They always do lamb. What about something a little different? Camel, wild ass?
Nadab: One step at a time. We’ll start with lamb.
Nadab: What? Cold feet again? Why don’t I just go with Eleazar?
Abihu: No. I just thought of something. Uncle Moishe always gets his fire from the altar. This isn’t from the altar.
Nadab: What are you, a fire expert? Fire is fire. Besides, we aren’t allowed up on the altar. That’d really tick them off. As it is written, “The common man that draweth nigh shall be put to death” (Numbers, 3:10). We’ll go with the lamp.
Abihu: But it’s our job. We can go up there.
Nadab: Not until after the consecration.
Abihu: Oh. Right.
Nadab takes a small flask from the folds of his robes. Takes a quick nip. Offers it to Abihu.
Nadab: I’ve got a good feeling about this.
Abihu: Yeah. Me too.
Jeffrey Fiskin is a writer who lives in Hollywood with his wife and children.