In this week’s Torah portion of Shemini, the Torah relates that on the inaugural day of the Mishkan (tabernacle), the traveling temporary home the Jewish people built for G-d in the desert, the two older sons of Aharon the high priest, Nadav and Avihu, brought an offering for G-d. The only problem is that it was not requested of them and therefore, the Torah calls it foreign fire. Their punishment: being consumed by a heavenly fire. What could be wrong with wanting to become closer to G-d through bringing a sacrifice?
One of my favorite Chassidic melodies is called “Yeridas Haneshomo Lmata,” the descent of the soul to this world. It’s a moving melody that describes the soul’s bitterness with needing to leave heaven and embark on a journey in a body to work and refine the person it will become. The melody is based on the Chassidic thought that a person is created of two parts: a body and a soul. While giving life to the body, the soul must overcome all the mundane and worldly challenges in order to accomplish Torah and mitzvot and gets rewarded with greater closeness to and revelations from G-d in heaven upon completion of its task.