Bringing Divinity into our daily lives
TorahParshat Shemini

Bringing Divinity into our daily lives

Leviticus 9:1 – 11:47

This week’s Torah portion is Shemini, which in Hebrew means “eighth.” It refers to the eighth and final day of consecrating the Mishkan, the Holy Tabernacle in the desert. The section concludes with the dramatic words, “And Moshe and Aharon entered the Tent of Meeting, came out, and blessed the people. Fire appeared from before Hashem and consumed the burnt offering and fat on the altar. When the people saw, they shouted and fell on their faces.”

It was a supreme moment of joy. The Jews had constructed a “dwelling place” for Hashem. Hours later, however, the nation’s joy turned to sadness. Aharon’s sons Nadav and Avihu tried putting their own incense on the altar. A spiritual flame consumed their souls, leaving their bodies (and even their priestly garments) intact.

Aharon completed sacrificial offerings of the dedication ceremony in mourning.

Abruptly, the Torah’s narrative shifts to a totally different topic: “And the Lord spoke to Moshe and Aharon, speak to the children of Israel, saying, ‘These are the living things which you may eat.’” The rest of the Torah portion describes the signs of kosher animals, including cattle, sheep, fish, birds and insects. The Torah also lists animals that are not kosher, such as rodents, wild beats, birds of prey, etc.

At first glance, the Torah portion of Shemini seems like puzzle pieces that don’t fit together. Since the word “Torah” is related to the Hebrew word “Haorah,” meaning instruction, the Torah must be teaching something that applies even now. What are we supposed to learn from the eighth day of dedication, the passing of Aharon’s sons and the list of kosher animals?

The question becomes even stronger when one examines the number 8 in Jewish tradition. The numbers 1 through 7 are associated with time and nature. Think of the days of the week, for example. Even though the number 7 is associated with Shabbos, it still maintains a relationship
with the previous six days. The Torah declares (Shmos 22:2): “Six days shall work be done, and the seventh day will be a holy day to you.” A person does what he/she must, and, in response, Hashem blesses that work. In other words, an arousal from below (our efforts) brings about a revelation from Above.

The number 8 is beyond the normal patterns of time. A circumcision occurs on the eighth day. The Chanukah menorah has eight branches corresponding to the Temple’s oil lasting for eight days. The harp in the Third Holy Temple will have eight strings, instead of the seven strings used today. In each case, the revelation from Above transcends human efforts, and more importantly, human understanding.

This level of spirituality is higher than intellect, as Isaiah 55:8-9 points out: “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways,” says the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts [higher] than your thoughts.”

Now one can understand the link between various sections of Shemini. The eighth day of dedication reflects a level far above even the most exalted intellect.

Yet G-d wanted this level of holiness brought into the world through the daily service in the Mishkan. Nadav and Avihu, by contrast, wanted to experience the Divine as it exists in its source Above, and they were punished.

To underscore the obligation to bring Divinity into our daily lives, the Torah declares which animals are kosher. In essence, these instructions are no different those that the Kohanim were given to perform in the Mishkan. Like Aharon, we must put aside our intellect and desire, and do what Hashem wants with every fiber of our being. In turn, Hashem will bless His people Israel from the very Essence of His Being with the coming of Moshiach now.  PJC

Rabbi Yossi Rosenblum is CEO of Yeshiva Schools of Pittsburgh and rabbi of Congregation Kesser Torah. This column is a service of the Vaad Harabonim of Greater Pittsburgh.

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