Parshat Shmini


First Portion

• THE INAUGURATION!!! Much has been written in the Torah about G-d’s Temple, the sacrifices, the utensils, and the individuals who perform the heavenly work. In this week’s Parsha, the majestic temple will finally begin to operate; opening day at the Mishkan. It will be a liaison between G-d’s chosen people and their master. The Temple was a tremendous opportunity for the Jews to get close to G-d. No time in our history have we had a spiritual closeness than in the period of the Temple and its sacrifices. Apparently, one can logically assume, it’s a major source of celebration. However, the Parsha begins with the word ‘Vayehi’ – and it was; every time a sentence begins with that word, it signifies that trouble lies ahead.

• One of the punishments of Adam and Chava (Eve) for their sin for eating from the tree of knowledge, was that any happiness that mankind will incur will be marred by a percentage of bad. Perhaps this is one of the reasons we break the glass at the chupah at a wedding; we remind ourselves of the destruction of the Temple; one should have a little sad feeling at the celebration. We are hoping that by breaking the glass, representing the uneasy memory of the destruction of theTemple, will replace the possibility of a negative occurrence which might take place, and may be harsher. Unfortunately, here, we have one of the most spiritual celebrations of the Jewish people, and tragedy will occur.

Second Portion

• For the first time, the kohanim performed the task of presenting sacrifices to G-d; until now, the firstborn were in charge. However, after the sin of the golden calf, the firstborn, who were responsible as spiritual leaders, were stripped of this high position.

• Aharon, the high priest and Moshe’s brother, was a charismatic fiure. Evidence of his charm is the fact he was the broker of peace to many. Whether it be between husbands and wives or businessmen trying to settle a dispute; he had a way with people; they sensed his sincerity and reacted favorably and did what he said. Aharon’s response to the people was always with enthusiasm. He was so excited to show his love to his nation on the day of the inauguration, that he instinctively raised his hands to bless the people. As a reward for the affection he had for the people, every kohen since, has the opportunity to bless the people daily (Ashkenazim three times a year). This ritual is started by the kohanim raising their hands as Aharon did that very first time. The kohanim mention Aharon and the word be’ahava – with love in their blessing as a tribute to the affection he had.

Third Portion

Tragedy strikes the Israelites as Nadav and Avihu, Aharon’s two oldest sons and the heir  – apparent to the leadership, are killed, consumed by fire from their unauthorized sacrifices which they performed. Many reasons are given why they perished. We will mention a few:

• They were not married; therefore, it was difficult to control ‘the fire within’ them. Therefore, they were not focused on their task.

• They performed their duties intoxicated. The celebration of the inauguration spilled over to a part of the day which being sober was a must. From here we learn, don’t pray drunk.

• They were a bit haughty; they couldn’t wait to take the position of leadership from Moshe and Aharon.

Rashi (main commentary on the Torah) says Moshe thought they were greater than he and his brother Aharon. A good number of commentaries say, on the contrary, there was no negativity attached to their sacrifice; they were on a mission to go where no man has entered which is as close to G-d as possible, and unfortunately they went beyond the point of return. Regardless, it was a tragic loss for the Jewish people.

Fourth Portion

The kohanim have to observe special laws of purity which forbid them to touch a corpse. However, there are exceptions such as a death of a close relative for whom a kohen has to mourn and whose burial he has to attend. A high priest, on the other hand, is never permitted to leave the avoda (Kohen’s task) even if his own parents die. On the eighth day of the inauguration, G-d applied the laws of the high priest not just to the kohen gadol Aharon, but to his remaining sons. They were forbidden to exhibit any signs of mourning for their brother’s death, but were commanded to continue the service. Interruption of the services of the mishkan would spoil the joy of the newly constructed tabernacle.

Fifth Portion

Moshe gets angry. Our sages teach us a general rule: A Torah scholar, who displays anger or arrogance, loses his wisdom; a prophet loses his prophecy. Apparently, Moshe erred and forgot the law as a result of getting angry.

Sixth Portion

• G-d taught Moshe which species of beasts, birds, and fish a Jew may eat and which are forbidden to him. Why did G-d allow the nations of the world to eat any food they desire while he imposed restrictions on us? The reason is that we possess pure souls and therefore we are negatively affected by the consumption of non-kosher foods.

• The Torah describes the signs by which a permitted animal can be distinguished from a forbidden one.

• Beasts – only an animal possessing two of the following characteristics is kosher: 1) Its hooves must be split throughout. Some animals possessing hooves which are partially split but join at the bottom are not kosher; the hooves must be comprised of 2 distinct parts; possessing two nails 2) It is ruminant, that is having swallowed its food, it regurgitates it once again in order to chew it.

• Fish – A fish must possess fins and scales. However, as long as we find scales on the fish, we may consider it kosher since every fish which has scales possesses fins too.

• Birds – The Torah lists 21 non-kosher birds. These are listed instead of the kosher birds; they are fewer in number than the kosher ones.

• Insects – Some locusts are permitted. Nevertheless, since we do not have a reliable tradition, they are all prohibited.

Seventh Portion

Sheretz \creeping animals – It is forbidden to eat any creeping animals on dry land or in water. The reason for the stringency is because of the snake which belongs in this category. Because of the memory of the snake being instrumental in the sin of mankind, any creeping animals similar to it is forbidden. That’s how much G-d is repulsed by the snake for what he did.

Credit to Rabbi Avi Matmon