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Regarding the death of Nadav and Avihu, the Torah says it happened when they brought a foreign / unauthorized fire into the Mishkan.

Concerning their death, Rashi brings up Rabbi Eliezer's opinion that they died because they gave halachic decisons in front of their teacher Moses. Rashi also brings Rabbi Ishmael who says they died because they entered the Sanctuary intoxicated by wine.

Obviously Nadav and Avihu were not a couple of drunkards who made a mistake after partying once the Mishkan was inagurated, for later on Rashi tells us how Moshe said that "Now I see that they (Nadav and Avihu) were greater than I or you!” regarding himself and Aaron.

So what really happened here? What is this "foreign fire" that they brought, and what is the significance of Rabbi Eliezer's and Rabbi Ishmael's comments regarding this situation?

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    "Obviously Nadav and Avihu were not a couple of drunkards who made a mistake after partying once the Mishkan was inagurated, for later on Rashi tells us how Moshe said that "Now I see that they (Nadav and Avihu) were greater than I or you!” regarding himself and Aaron." Perhaps not all the Midrashim that Rashi quotes are meant to be consistent. – mevaqesh Aug 30 '15 at 22:09
  • The fact that it was not commanded is what makes it foreign - it wasn't part of the institution of service. Fundamentally, we see from Korach and Elisha that bringing ketores itself was fundamentally dangerous outside normal service. What R'Eliezer and R'Yishmael were pointing out were the deficiencies that prevented them from escaping unharmed in this otherwise dangerous act. – Isaac Kotlicky Mar 2 '16 at 14:06
  • This is a really good blog post that covers parshas Shemini and gives some insight to it. Nadav and Avihu where definitely not drunkards. sixdegreesofkosherbacon.com/2016/03/31/… – 6DegreesofKosherBacon Apr 12 '16 at 17:15
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The prohibition of not drinking wine had not yet been given and so they drank wine hoping to uplift themselves to be able to cleave to Hashem on a higher level. However they became so uplifted and so desired to be with Hashem that their souls could no longer handle being in a body and so they left their bodies known as klos hanefesh. The reason this was wrong is because Hashem create us in this world to be in the world and they in their desire to be close to Hashem did not keep this in mind. R elazer merited to be who he was because of zechus avos and also nadav and avihu learned this strength of love of Hashem from Ahron and so his love must have been even stronger than theirs. so he needed more than just the first doctor saying don't do that but also the second doctor saying don't do that so you won't die like they did. See ohr hachaim on the pasuk and likutei sichos vol 3 on the parsha. About the foreign fire maybe that's a moshel for love which is so intense "fiery". And that they were doing the avodos haketores in the proper time according to the halachos only with the foreign fire in their hearts.

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