In the name of the parsha


Shemini - Extraordinary 

Within the tenets of Judaism, not only do names possess significant meaning, but numbers as well. The number seven holds a foundational role. The structure of time is organized in cycles of seven. A week comprises seven days, a Shemittah cycle consists of seven years, and there is even a prevailing viewpoint that the world's existence will span seven millennia. In numerous respects, the number seven signifies the inherent order found in nature. (טבע). The way of the world, the ordinary. According to the Maharal, the number seven represents the entirety of the natural world. All the directions in our three-dimensional world - north, south, east, west, up and down – add up to six.  Add to that, the physical realm of this world and we have seven. The number eight therefore represents that which is above natural order (למעלה מן הטבע). Eight represents the supernatural or extraordinary. An illustrative example of this concept in Judaism is the practice of circumcision performed on a male infant on the eighth day of his life. At birth, a male child is naturally uncircumcised. However, through the act of circumcision, we establish his connection with the divine (Hashem) and signify that the child is spiritually connected to a higher realm.

The inception of our parsha is marked by a discourse pertaining to the eighth day of the inauguration of the Mishkan. This day stood out as singular and replete with activity. Several events deviating from the norm transpired on this day. Notably, the Gemarah in Megillah 10b signifies that this day was experienced by Hashem with the same jubilation as the day of heaven and earth's creation. The parsha offers early indications that this day would be exceptional. In the fourth pasuk we see that after Moshe tells everyone what offerings to sacrifice he tells them the reason is כי היום ה נראה אליכם - “for today the Lord will appear to you.” Rashi explains this to mean להשרות שכינתו במעשה ידיכם - “to rest His Shechinoh on the work of your hands''. Stated differently, it served as a means to incorporate the supernatural into the natural world. The primary purpose of the Mishkan was to function as a dwelling place for the Divine Presence. Clearly, the Divine Presence does not require a physical resting place, but the Mishkan symbolized the Divine Presence's descent into our earthly realm.

Within the parsha, there were numerous occurrences that were out of the ordinary. When Aharon brought his first sacrifice on the altar the pasuk tells us that: ואת־הבשר ואת־העור שרף באש מחוץ למחנה - “And the flesh and the hide he burnt with fire outside the camp” Rashi points out that  לא מצינו חטאת חיצונה נשרפת אלא זו ושל מלואים, וכלן על פי הדבור - “We do not find an “outer” sin-offering that is burned except this [one] and that of the installation, and all of them by Divine command.” This sacrifice, like many other things in this week's parsha, was not an ordinary one. 

In subsequent verses, we analyzed the nation's Mincha offering. The pasuk informs us that Aharon executed the קמיצה ritual. This, too, was quite out of the ordinary.  The customary national Mincha offering is the Minchas Nisachim, which is performed alongside the daily Tamid sacrifice. Notably, the Minchas Nisachim does not include the קמיצה ritual, as all of it is burned. 

A few pesukim later, we encountered another out of the ordinary occurrence. While talking about the national Shelamim sacrifice the pasuk tells us that Aharon performed תנופה - or waving. For the usual Shelamim, the owner participates in the תנופה procedure but for this particular one, is was performed by Aharon alone. That’s not even the most unusual part. The most unusual part is the language the pasuk uses. The pasuk says that Aharon did this כאשר צוה משה - “as Moshe commanded.”, as opposed to the more common phrase used: כאשר צוה ה את־משה - “as the Lord commanded Moshe”. This is the only occurrence of this exact phrase. (The reason for this is beyond the scope of this particular paper). 

Within this parsha, there are several instances of supernatural or unexpected fires. Fire, it should be noted, was itself an extraordinary creation. In the Gemarah of Pesachim 54a, it is stated that fire was created after the original Shabbos, indicating that it was not created during the six days in which "everything" was created. Another view, cited in the Shemos Rabbah 15:22, states that the creation of fire preceded the creation of the world itself. Clearly, fire is an extraordinary creation. The first mention of a heavenly fire in this parsha occurs after the first set of sacrifices. Moshe and Aharon return from a somewhat mysterious meeting in the Ohel Moed, and, quite suddenly:

ותצא אש מלפני ה ותאכל על־המזבח את־העלה ואת־החלבים וירא כל־העם וירנו ויפלו על־פניהם - “And there came a fire out from before the Lord, and consumed upon the altar the burnt offering and the fat: which, when all the people saw, they shouted, and fell on their faces.”

This was the apex of this monumental day. Finally after all the sacrifices offered and after listening to everything Hashem had commanded them to do, a supernatural fire came down from heaven. The people were so astonished that they simply fell on their faces. It was an extraordinary event indeed. 

Unfortunately, this wouldn't be the only supernatural fire in this parsha. Just a few pesukim later the Torah tells us that two of Aharon’s sons - Nadav and Avihu - brought an אש זרה אשר לא צוה אתם - “strange fire, which He commanded them not.” Immediately the pasuk tell us: 

ותצא אש מלפני יהוה ותאכל אותם וימתו לפני ה - “And a fire went out from the Lord, and devoured them, and they died before the Lord.”

The reason for this fire consuming them is discussed at length by many commentaries and is beyond the scope of this paper, but what is clear is that this was another super natural event. 

After Aharon’s incredible grace in the face of this tragedy the parsha does move on with Aharon and his two remaining sons, Elazar and Isamar, continuing to perform the priestly duties. The very first pasuk tells us that there would be more extraordinary occurrences. Moshe tells Aharon and his sons: 

קחו את־המנחה הנותרת מאשי ה ואכלוה מצות אצל המזבח כי קדש קדשים הוא - “Take the meal offering that remains of the offerings of the Lord made by fire, and eat it without leaven beside the altar: for it is most holy”

Rashi tell us אף על פי שאתם אוננין וקדשים אסורים לאונן - “Even though you are אוֹנֵן and holy things are forbidden to an אוֹנֵן .” (An אוֹנֵן is bereaved person in the period between the death and the burial of a close relative) This is an important exception decreed by Hashem on this day. An אוֹנֵן may not eat a korban. Even a Kohen Gadol who is allowed to serve while he is an אוֹנֵן is forbidden from eating the korban. Yet Moshe directed them to eat despite their אוֹנֵן state.

Subsequently, fire once again assumes a prominent position, resulting in an exceptional formulation in the pasuk.

ואת  שעיר החטאת דרש דרש משה והנה שרף ויקצף על־אלעזר ועל־איתמר בני אהרן הנותרם - “And Moshe diligently sought the goat of the sin offering, and, behold, it was burnt: and he was angry with El῾azar and Itamar, the sons of Aharon that were left alive”

The formulation of the words דרש דרש משה has been the subject of numerous discussions. The entire incident is of great intrigue. Moshe's bewilderment at the situation originated from the following circumstances. As previously mentioned, the untimely and unexpected burning of Nadav and Avihu had occurred. Subsequently, in an equally unforeseen event, a sacrifice was consumed by fire. Moshe conducted an investigation into the matter and ultimately resolved the issue through a dialogue with Aharon. The confusion arose as a result of several extraordinary occurrences. There is much to be said about this incident;  however, for the purpose of our discussion, we shall focus on the exceptional events that contributed to the state of confusion. All of the sacrifices offered that day were unique with the exception of the daily Tamid sheep and, as this was Rosh Chodesh, the Mussaf / Rosh Chodesh goat. It is this Rosh Chodesh goat that is the subject of this pasuk. All sacrifices were completed as planned except for this one. Instead of being eaten, it was burned in the courtyard, away from the Mizbeach as is the rule for any sacrifice that becomes disqualified. Usually disqualified sacrifices are not burned on the same day but rather we wait until the next day. But in this case, Moshe received a special decree from Hashem ruling that this law was suspended for this special day. It was therefore burned immediately. This day was filled with many extraordinary decrees indeed. 

Following the resolution of this ambiguity, the Torah proceeds to instruct us on the distinctions between pure and impure animals that are permissible and forbidden for consumption. These distinctions extend to broader notions of purity and impurity. These laws transcend the realm of physical cleanliness, delving into the realm of spiritual purity. For most of us, the concepts of purity and impurity remain elusive and intangible. This section builds upon the theme of the parsha, presenting concepts that extend beyond our immediate grasp and the confines of the natural world. The concept of purity is intangible and imperceptible to the human eye, though it may be intellectually understood. Having enumerated these laws, the Torah imparts the rationale behind the prohibition of self-induced impurity:

כי אני יהוה אלהיכם והתקדשתם והייתם קדשים כי קדוש אני - “For I am the Lord your God: you shall therefore sanctify yourselves, and you shall be holy; for I am holy”

In the context of this parsha, the more common translation of the word קדוש as "holy" can be considered satisfactory. However, a more precise and nuanced translation may be "separate." This interpretation suggests that Hashem is conveying to us that we are not ordinary, but rather distinct and set apart. Our extraordinariness stems from our emulation of Hashem, who is inherently extraordinary.