This week’s parasha begins on the eighth and final day of the ceremony ordaining Aaron and his sons as holy priests. The occasion begins joyously, but ends with the tragic deaths of Aaron’s two eldest sons, Nadab and Abihu. After the sacrifices on the altar have been properly burned in God’s presence, Nadab and Abihu bring a “strange fire” to the altar. The two are destroyed by the flames, apparently because they acted on their own and not in conformity with their priestly obligations.
God instructs Aaron and his remaining sons not to drink any intoxicating drink before entering the Tent of Meeting so that they may always be able to distinguish between the “sacred and the profane” and the “pure and impure.” The parasha provides a lengthy description of dietary laws and laws regarding ritual purity.