Leviticus 10:3 – Then Moses said to Aaron, “This is what the Lord spoke, [when He said], ‘I will be sanctified through those near to Me, and before all the people I will be glorified.’ “And Aaron was silent.
Gemora Zevachim 115b: And Aaron was silent: Moshe said to Aaron – Aaron, my brother, the only reason your sons died was to sanctify God’s name. Since Aaron knew that his sons were amongst those who knew God, he was quiet and he was rewarded for his silence, as we see from the posuk, “And Aaron was silent.”
Torah Temimah Colloquial Translation on Note #3:
It is explained in the Gemora that Moshe knew beforehand that when the Devine Presence would rest on the tabernacle, that it would be sanctified in this manner. This teaching of the Gemora relies on the posuk in Parshat Ki Tetzei when it is telling about the building of the tabernacle, it says “’and I will be sanctified through my honored ones’. Don’t read the word ‘my honored ones’ but rather read it as though it stated ‘those who were honored through Me’”. [Validate this translation!} And it was not conveyed to Moshe the identity of those who “would be honored through Me” until Nadav and Avihu died. This is what is meant by the phrase here “the only reason your sons died was to sanctify God’s name”. Furthermore, it is clear from the phrase in our posuk “This is what the Lord spoke, [when He said], ‘I will be sanctified through those near to Me” that we don’t find this exact phrase in the Chumash because it is referencing the above mentioned posuk in Parshat Ki Tetzei. ודו״ק
However, [even so] this whole teaching needs to be explored further. [What does it mean that Aaron’s sons died to sanctify God’s name?] Doesn’t in say in the previous drasha that they died because they committed the sin of [having the audacity] to teach [others] right in front of Moshe? Note also that in the Gemora and Midrashim other possible reasons are given for their death and all of them attribute their death to some sin that they did. If this is the case, then how can one possibly say that they died for the [holy] purpose of sanctifying God’s name? [Perhaps] the answer that one needs to give is that if it had not been for the purpose of sanctifying God’s name, they would not have died during these days of dedication of the Temple, which were [supposed to be] days of joy. They would not have died during this time, so as not to interrupt the joyous celebration. Additionally, they would not have died precisely inside of the tabernacle, as is shown by the posuk “and they died before HaShem”. Rather, it was precisely to sanctify God’s name that they died during this time and in this exact place [inside the tabernacle.]
Still, though, this issue is still very amazing [hard to understand]. What could have been God’s intent and purpose in dedicating the tabernacle through the death of holy individuals? This question is made stronger by the statement from the Gemora that Moshe knew ahead of time this event would occur. Further, what could it mean that [Moshe] said to Aaron that your sons did not die except to sanctify God’s name? What is the [meaning or] benefit of a sanctification of His name in this manner?
It appears appropriate to attribute a midrashic explanation for this as follows: Everybody knows from Scripture and from Talmud that the purpose of the tabernacle and the dwelling of God’s presence in it, and the bringing of [animal] sacrifices, was to atone for the sins of the Jewish people. Therefore, in order to prevent common people from thinking that since there is a temple [and all the atonement processes] we don’t have to worry anymore about being careful not to transgress and commit sins. [Behold we can attain atonement in the temple/tabernacle!]
Therefore, HaShem pro-ordained the event with Nadav and Avihu in order to prevent the common people from thinking this [and acting this way] that there is no longer a need to be careful about one’s behavior. The death of Nadav and Avihu teaches that the tabernacle does not atone for people who transgress on purpose. [The atonement of the tablernacle] only applies if one transgresses accidently or incidently or in a way that could not be prevented, etc.
Even though Nadav and Avihu were righteous and beloved before HaShem, nevertheless when they transgressed a commandment on purpose (and taught halacha right in front of Moshe, their teacher) the holiness of the tabernacle was not there for the purposes of protecting them. Furthermore, they were inside the tabernacle itself for the purposes of establishing the Awe of God in the tabernacle; and Moshe who knew all of the secrets of the ways of the Holy One, did know ahead of time what God would do to teach all inhabitants of the world that they should be careful and avoid transgressions. Moshe only did not know with which individual(s) this event would occur. Then, retroactively, with the death of Nadav and Avihu he saw how what God had planned had, indeed, come about.
With this explanation, all of the aggadas [midrashim] become clearly explained. Also, even though I already explained this in Parshat Ki Tetzei, due to the importance [נחיצת] of this topic in our way of thinking, I did not hesitate to mention it again here.
Note further that what we have explained here that a mourner who silently accepts, in love, what has occurred and does not publicly criticize the ways of HaShem receives a reward. This can explain what is mentioned in Gemora Berachos 6b: “R. Papa says: The merit of attending a house of mourning lies in the silence observed.” Many commentaries here explain that the meaning of this statement is that those who come to comfort the mourner will receive a reward [if they don’t talk too much] and allow for silence. That explanation is not clear, though. What reward should be due to the comforters if they keep silent? Rather, according to our midrash above, we should explain the Gemora Berachos 6b as referring to the one who is in mourning. [Thus the meaning would be:] when the comforters gather together to comfort the mourner and he does not complain about the circumstances and the events that have happened to him, but rather he just sits quietly and accepts freely God’s decree, he will receive a reward for this.
Editor’s note: I appreciated the Torah Temimah’s constant questioning here of the classic explanations for some midrashim and statements in the Gemora. He keeps inquiring and applying his knowledge to derive new explanations that are based on is broad knowledge of other texts.