Weekly Reading Insights

Shmini 5763

Overview of the Weekly Reading: Shmini, Shabbat HaChodesh
To be read on 25 Adar Beit 5763 (March 29)

Torah: Lev. 9:1-11:47, Maftir: Ex. 12:1-20;
Haftorah: Ezekiel 45:16-46:18 (Passover month)
Stats: Shemini 3rd Reading out of 10 in Leviticus and 26th overall, contains 6 positive mitzvot and 11 prohibitive mitzvot. It is written on 157 lines in a parchment Torah scroll, 42nd out of 54 in overall length.

Shmini (Leviticus) begins with a discussion of the service in the Tabernacle on the eighth day, the first day following the seven days of installation. Aharon's eldest sons, Nadav and Avihu, brought an unauthorized fire offering and were consumed by flame from the Holy of Holies. Aharon is instructed that the priests should never come to the Sanctuary in a state of drunkenness. Then the completion of the service is discussed. The balance of the portion is a discussion of the dietary laws, specifically which mammals, fish, birds and insects are spiritually pure or not, and which are appropriate to eat and which not.


FROM THE CHASSIDIC REBBES (V:26-63 Shmini/Chodesh)

"Moshe said to Aharon, "Come near to the altar." (9:7)

Aharon was hesitant and fearful of approaching the altar. Moshe told him to come near as he had been chosen for this position. The fact that he was reluctant made him the most suitable for the job, for fearing Hashem means being careful in all that one does.

(Degel Machne Efrayim) (from L'Chaim #463)

"And the stork…" (11:19)

"The Hebrew word for "stork" is "chasida," which means kind. It is thus named because the stork shares its food with its friends. Jews are forbidden to eat birds and animals that have adverse character traits. Yet the stork, with its kind, sharing nature is forbidden! A person who, like a stork, only shares with those he likes and ignores the needs of others, is not considered a kind person. We are forbidden to eat the stork to prevent us from acquiring this negative trait.

(Chidushei Harim) (from L'Chaim #463)


A MYSTICAL CHASSIDIC DISCOURSE (M:26-63 Shmini)

FROM THE MASTERS OF KABBALA (K:26-63 Shmini)

Selected with permission and adapted from the three-volume English edition of Shney Luchot HaBrit -- the Sh'lah, as translated, condensed, and annotated by Eliyahu Munk.
Rabbi Isaiah Horowitz (1565-1630), known as the 'Sh'lah' - an acronym of the title, was born in Prague. A scholar of outstanding reputation, he served as chief Rabbi of Cracow, and more famously, of Frankfort (1610-1620). After his first wife passed away, he remarried and moved to Israel in 1621, where he became the first Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi of Jerusalem. He later moved to Tiberias, where he is buried, near the tomb of the Rambam.

Man is composed of body and soul, a visible as well as an invisible part. This is the deeper meaning of Exodus 25,8:, "They shall make for Me a Sanctuary and I shall dwell amongst them." The difficulty here is that the verse speaks about the Tabernacle. Our Rabbis in Shavuot 16 tell us that the expression Tabernacle (mishkan) and Sanctuary (mikdash) may be used interchangeably.

This was not the only difficulty in the verse. Why, if the Sanctuary is a single unit, does the Torah report G-d saying that He will dwell amongst them (plural)? The Torah should have written that he will dwell 'within it'! We have here an allusion to the fact that the cause is fond of the effect, i. e. the hidden longs for the revealed.

Our sages (Pesachim 112) articulated this thought when they said that more than the calf desires to suckle on the teats of its mother, the cow is anxious to nurse its calf. It is all an allusion to the close connection between cause and effect.

We are taught a lesson in reciprocal attachment and unity, i.e. that nothing exists outside of G-d Himself, that He is inextricably involved with all that He has created. It is this lesson the Rabbis wanted to teach us when they said that mikdash and mishkan can be used interchangeably; the exterior, visible part, is called mishkan, whereas the interior, invisible part, is called mikdash.

When G-d said "I will dwell amongst them," He meant inside their essence, something more essential than the mere interior of the Tabernacle, the part called also the Miskan Ha-edout, the Tent of Testimony i.e. the Torah. This is the source of everlasting life.

The altar for the burnt-offering, is the site whence one achieves closeness with G-d. The expression (korban to Hashem) which we invariably find when the offerings to be presented on this altar are mentioned, reflect the purpose of these offerings to achieve closeness with G-d.
The Torah constantly repeats the expression in connection with these korbanot in order to stress the profound value of this spiritual rapprochement and unification with the Celestial Regions by means of these offerings. All this is explained by the Zohar.

(adapted from Torat Moshe - the 16th commentary of Rabbi Moshe Alshech of Zefat on the Torah, as translated and condensed in the English version of Eliyahu Munk)


An essay from Rabbi Shaul Yosef Leiter, director of Ascent

(for a free weekly email subscription, click here)

(W:26-63 Shmini)

After seven days of hard work installing the Tabernacle, on the eighth day the Jewish people merited that G-d's presence was revealed there. What can we learn from this that will improve our relationship with G-d?

The Lubavitcher Rebbe writes that the number 7 corresponds to the world in its fullest sense, comparable to the repeating order of the seven days of the week. Consequently, the number 8, one more than seven, relates to the transcendent - higher than the order of nature.

Taking another step, 7 also relates to G-d limiting His revelation in this world so that physicality can exist. (If G-d did not do so, the natural reality would be overwhelmed with such a great spiritual inundation, and therefore be utterly nullified before it.) On the other hand, 8 is seen as G-dly revelation unlimited by natural laws, as when miracles occur. But just as there can be no value of 8 without the preceding 7, so too, the level of 8 is, in fact, connected to reality.

This is similar to our own relationship to G-d. Even though our efforts are limited by our natural strengths, nevertheless, when we invest ourselves completely in our effort (related to the concept of "seven"), we will cause to shine down on us a level of holiness without limitation and higher than nature (related to "eight"). This is apparent with the Tabernacle in the desert; the efforts made during the seven days of construction were the required preparation for the revelation on the eighth day. What is the bottom line? We have to know that our effort in this dark exile is actually the preparation for the coming redemption. It is only through our effort now, that the divine light will be able to shine then.

In a similar way, "Shabbat Shmini" hints at two levels in G-dly service. Shabbat is the seventh day and completion of the creation process. However, despite being the pinnacle, Shabbat is still part of this natural process. Shmini, from the Hebrew word eight, hints at a level superceding nature and creation. Eight is unbounded by the reality of the world. Shabbat Shmini is thus a combination of these two levels. The lesson for us is that even after serving G-d through all natural means (a feat in itself), one must strive to serve G-d above the natural reality, not letting the world's limitations affect us.

The Shlah reminds us of the famous Talmudic axiom based on a verse in this week's portion, "Make yourselves holy and you will be holy" (Lev. 11:44). The Talmud (Yoma 39a) writes that a person who tries to sanctify him or herself below, even a little, is helped to be sanctified very much more from Above - both in this world and the world to come. "Sanctify a little from below", refers to the relatively insignificant activities of the body. "Sanctify much more" from Above refers to the gift of eternity to the soul.

The Jewish people have an ancient tradition from the time of Moses, to start studying and preparing for a holiday 30 days before it commences. Once Purim has past, our Jewish headset is supposed to be intoned into Pesach. Once on the first night of Pesach, Rebbe Yechiel Michel entered his home to begin the Seder and was confronted with his family's abject poverty. He turned to G-d and said "Master of the Universe, it appears to me that there is not one family - even the poorest - whom You have not graced with some new thing, some bit of clothing to help celebrate the holiday. But to me you have given nothing to clothe my family! Therefore, Master of the Universe, I ask of You that in exchange for this, You should at least give me the merit of some new spiritual idea!" I do not suggest waiting till the last minute like Reb Michel. Though G-d will certainly bless each household with new clothes, if you want some new ideas for the Seder night - start now!

Shabbat Shalom, Shaul Leiter



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