of the Weekly Reading: Shmini, Shabbat HaChodesh
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.
said to Aharon, "Come near to the altar." (9:7)
A MYSTICAL CHASSIDIC DISCOURSE (M:26-63 Shmini)
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.
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.
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.
(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)
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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