FROM THE TORAH
At the conclusion of the previous Sedra Tsav, Moses presided over the offerings of ordination for Aaron and his sons. He sprinkled some of the anointing oil and some of the blood from the Altar upon Aaron and his vestments and upon his sons and their vestments, thereby sanctifying all of them. Aaron and his sons were instructed to remain at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting for seven days, day and night, the complete period of their ordination. During those seven days of dedication they would repeat what was done on the first day, to seek atonement for themselves. In this Sedra Shemini, upon conclusion of the seven days of dedication, on the “eighth” (shemini) day, the regular service for everyone—Aaron, his sons, and the Children of Israel—begins, but with a fatal error. The implied distinction between permitted and forbidden follows in the dietary rules of permitted and forbidden animals.
Commencement of Service
AARON PERFORMS THE OFFERINGS
Now, on the Eighth (Shemini) Day (the first day following the week of ordination), Moses addresses Aaron, his sons, and the Elders of Israel. He instructs Aaron to offer before the Eternal a calf of the herd for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering, both without blemish. He further prompts Aaron to instruct the Children of Israel to sacrifice before the Eternal a male goat for a sin offering, a calf and a lamb both a year old and without blemish for a burnt offering, and an ox and a ram for a peace offering, along with a meal offering mixed with oil, “for today the Eternal will appear to you!” (Leviticus 9:4)
Thus everyone brings what they were commanded to take to the front of the Tent of Meeting, all the congregation coming forward and standing before the Eternal. As Moses directs, Aaron approaches the Altar and slaughters his calf of sin offering. Aaron receives the blood from his sons, dips his finger in it and puts it upon the horns of the Altar, pouring out the rest of it at the base of the Altar. He makes the fat, the kidneys and the appendage on the liver, smoke upon the Altar, as the Eternal commanded Moses. The meat and the skin he burned with fire outside of the camp.
Then he slaughters the burnt offering. Aaron’s sons present him with the blood, which he dashes around the Altar. They present the burnt offering to him cut up into pieces, along with the head, and he makes them smoke upon the Altar. He washes the entrails and the legs and causes them to smoke upon the Altar along with the burnt offering.
As for the people’s offering, Aaron slaughters the goat of the people’s sin offering and presents it as a sin offering as with the first sin offering. He then treats the burnt offering in accordance with its rule. Of the meal offering he causes a handful of it to smoke upon the Altar, in addition to the burnt offering of the morning (cf. Exodus 29:38-40,42). He slaughters the ox and the ram for the people’s peace offering sacrifice, and his sons present him with the blood, which he dashes around the Altar. They put the fat parts from the ox and from the ram—the tail, the covering, the kidneys, and the appendage of the liver—upon the breasts and cause the fat to smoke upon the Altar. Aaron lifts the breasts and the right thigh as a wave offering before the Eternal as Moses commanded.
Now, with his hands uplifted towards the people, Aaron blesses them. He steps down from performing the offerings and comes with Moses to the Tent of Meeting. When they emerge, they bless the people, and the dense presence of the Eternal is seen by all of the people. A fire goes out from before the Eternal and consumes the burnt offering and the fat parts upon the Altar. All of the people see, they exult, then they fall upon their faces.
NADAB AND ABIHU OFFER SPURIOUS FIRE
Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu, each taking his fire pan, put fire in them and place incense upon it, and offer before the Eternal spurious fire, which He had not commanded them. From before the Eternal a fire goes out and consumes them: they die before the Eternal. Moses says to Aaron: This is what the Eternal meant when He said:
Through those who are near to Me
I shall be sanctified,
and before all of the people
I shall be glorified.
Aaron is silent. In the meantime, Moses orders Mishael and Elzaphan, sons of Uzziel uncle of Aaron, to remove their cousins from before the Sanctuary to a place outside of the camp. They carry them out by their tunics. To Aaron and to his sons Elazar and Ithamar, Moses says: Do not uncover your hair and do not rend your garments, lest you die and He become wroth with all of the community, even though your kinsmen, the rest of the House of Israel, may mourn the burning that the Eternal has caused. Do not leave the entrance of the Tent of Meeting lest you die since the anointing oil of the Eternal is upon you. So they act: in accordance with the word of Moses.
The Eternal imparts the following instruction to Aaron: When you come to the Tent of Meeting, do not drink wine or any other intoxicant—you and your sons—lest you die. This is an everlasting statute throughout your generations, and it is intended to distinguish between what is holy and what is profane, between the impure and the pure, and to instruct the Children of Israel in all the laws which the Eternal has communicated to them through Moses.
To Aaron, and to Elazar and Ithamar his surviving sons, Moses says: Take the meal offering that remains from the fire offerings of the Eternal and eat it unleavened beside the Altar, for it is most holy. You should eat it in a sacred place because it is the due of you and your sons from the fire offerings of the Eternal, for thus I have been commanded.
But you may eat the breast of waving and the thigh of terumah (gift offering), when presented with the fire offerings of the fat parts which are waved before the Eternal—you, your sons and your daughters—in any pure place because it is the due given you from the sacrifices of the peace offerings of the Children of Israel. This is an everlasting statute for you and your sons, as the Eternal has commanded.
Then Moses inquires concerning the goat of the sin offering (cf. Leviticus9:15) and discovers that it had been burned. Angrily, he turns to Elazar and Ithamar, Aaron’s surviving sons, and asks them why they had not eaten the sin offering in a sacred place (as would usually be the case; cf. 9:8-11)! After all, it is most holy, “and He gave it to you to remove the guilt of the community, to seek atonement for them before the Eternal” (Leviticus 10:17)! Even if its blood had not been brought into the Sanctuary, Moses insists, they should have eaten it in the Sanctuary, as he says he commanded (ibid. 18). (He did so command with regard to the meal offering; cf. Leviticus 10:12-13.)
Aaron responds to Moses: Today they brought their sin offering and their burnt offering before the Eternal, then such terrible things happen to me! Had I then eaten a sin offering, would the Eternal have approved? When Moses hears his words, he realizes that Aaron is right.
Permitted and Forbidden Animals
ANIMAL FOODS PERMITTED AND FORBIDDEN
TO THE CHILDREN OF ISRAEL
The Eternal presents Moses and Aaron with rules and items to distinguish between animals permitted and forbidden for food, labeled “clean” and “unclean,” respectively, both as to the animals themselves and to the persons or objects with which they have contact. This instruction is to be communicated to the Children of Israel.
Permitted Land Animals
Permitted land animals are only those that have true hoofs which are cloven and that bring up cud. However, if such an animal has already died, one who touches its carcass shall become unclean until the evening. Anyone who eats of its carcass or carries its carcass shall wash his clothes and be unclean until the evening.
Forbidden Land Animals
Land animals which bring up cud but do not have true hoofs, like the camel or the rock-badger or the hare, are not permitted; they are unclean for you. The swine, which has true hoofs which are cloven but does not bring up cud, is also forbidden; it is unclean for you. You may not eat of their flesh, and whoever touches their flesh shall be unclean. You shall not touch their carcass, and whoever touches their carcass shall be unclean until the evening. Whoever carries their carcass shall wash his clothes and be unclean until the evening.
Among those land animals that walk on all fours, animals that walk on their paws are unclean for you. Whoever touches their carcass shall be unclean until the evening. Whoever carries their carcass shall wash his clothes and be unclean until the evening.
Any animal that swarms upon the earth is an abomination: it shall not be eaten. Do not eat that which crawls upon its belly or that which walks on four or more legs, for they are an abomination. Do not make yourselves abominable by any swarming thing, and do not pollute yourselves by them so that you become unclean through them. For I, the Eternal, am your God. Sanctify yourselves and be holy, as I am holy, and do not pollute yourselves through any swarming thing that creeps upon the earth. For I am the Eternal, who brought you up from the land of Egypt to be your God. You shall be holy as I am holy.
Among those land animals that swarm on the earth, there are eight named animals that are unclean for you, among them the mole, the mouse and various reptiles. Whoever touches their carcass shall be unclean until the evening. Any object which receives upon it their carcass shall be unclean. If the object is a wooden utensil or a garment of skin or cloth—anything that is used for work—when immersed in water, it is unclean until the evening, when it becomes clean. Any drinkable liquid that was inside the object becomes unclean. If it falls into an earthen vessel, anything else that is inside it becomes unclean, and you must break the vessel itself. If it falls upon an oven or stove, it becomes unclean and must be smashed. If it falls upon food that had come into contact with water, the food shall be unclean. However, a spring or a cistern shall remain clean, but whoever touches the carcass that fell into it becomes unclean. Seed that is intended for sowing remains clean, but if water was put upon the seed before contact with any part of the carcass, then the seed is unclean for you.
Permitted and Forbidden Water Animals
Of water animals, whether in seas or in streams, only those are permitted that have both fins and scales. This applies to swarming things and to other living creatures in the water. If they do not possess both fins and scales, they shall be an abomination for you: you shall not eat of their flesh, and their carcass shall be an abomination to you.
Of birds, there are twenty named items to be treated as abominations, not to be eaten, such as the eagle, the vulture, the raven, the ostrich, and the bat. Some of the items, like falcons and hawks, are abominations in all of their varieties.
Permitted and Forbidden Winged Swarming Things
Of winged swarming things, the following are permitted that walk on all fours but have jointed legs above their feet, in order to leap with them upon the ground: all varieties of locusts, crickets and grasshoppers. All other winged swarming things that walk on all fours are an abomination for you.
Such is the instruction regarding the animals and the birds and every living creature that moves in the water and that swarms upon the earth, with the purpose of distinguishing between the unclean and the clean, between the creature that may be eaten and the creature which is not to be eaten.
FROM THE PROPHETS
Haftarah for Shabbat Shemini
II Samuel 6:1-7:17
David’s Struggle to House the Ark
DAVID BRINGS UP THE ARK OF GOD
David again assembles a total of thirty thousand young men in Israel, and he sets out with them to bring up from Ba’aley Yehudah the Ark of God, over which is called the Name of the Eternal of Hosts dwelling at the Cherubim. They place the Ark of God upon a new wagon, bringing it up from the house of Avinadav in the hill, as Uzza and Achio, sons of Avinadav, guide the new wagon. David and the rest of the House of Israel play before the Eternal on various wooden, string and percussion instruments.
THE ETERNAL STRIKES DOWN UZZA
When they come to the threshing floor of Nachon, Uzza holds on to the Ark of God as the oxen pull away. For that the Eternal is incensed at Uzza and strikes him dead there by the Ark of God. David is angry over the Eternal’s burst of anger against Uzza and names that place Burst Against Uzza to this day. David fears the Eternal that day, saying “How shall the Ark of the Eternal come to me?!” He was not willing to bring it to him in the City of David, so he removes it to the house of Oved Edom the Gittite for three months. The Eternal blesses Oved Edom and all of his household.
DAVID INSTALLS THE ARK IN THE CITY OF DAVID
When David hears of the Eternal’s blessing by reason of the Ark of God, he goes to bring up the Ark with festivity to the City of David. The bearers of the Ark take six steps, then he sacrifices a bull and a fatling. David dances around with all of his strength before the Eternal, girded with a linen ephod. David and all of the House of Israel bring up the Ark of the Eternal with shouting and the sound of the shofar. The Ark is installed in the place within the tent that David prepared for it. He offers burnt offerings and peace offerings before the Eternal. Then he blesses the people in the name of the Eternal of Hosts and hands out loaves and cakes to everyone of Israel, who then depart to their homes.
MICHAL GREETS DAVID WITH CONTEMPT
Michal daughter of Saul, looks out at the festivity in the City of David. The sight of King David whirling about before the Eternal fills her with contempt for him. When David returns home to bless his own household, Michal confronts him: “How has the king of Israel been honored today, exposed as he was to the gaze of his servants’ handmaidens, as a worthless vaunter!” David said to Michal: “I shall indeed celebrate before the Eternal, who has chosen me above your father and all of his house, to appoint me ruler over His people Israel! And I may act even more lowly than this, lowly in my very own eyes, and get honor with those handmaidens whom you deride!” Michal daughter of Saul had no child until the day of her death.
DAVID COUNSELS WITH NATHAN
When the time arrives that the king is dwelling in his house and the Eternal has secured him from his enemies, David observes to Nathan the prophet: “See, I am dwelling in a house of cedar, but the Ark of God dwells within curtains!” Nathan’s response to David is that he should proceed with what he intends “as the Eternal is with you.”
THE WORD OF THE ETERNAL
That very night the word of the Eternal comes to Nathan, that he should say to “My servant David” these words from the Eternal:
“Will you build Me a house in which to dwell?
“Even though I have not dwelled in a house
from the day that I brought the Children of Israel up out of Egypt,
and instead have gone along in a tent or in a tabernacle,
during all of this time have I spoken one word to any of the tribes of Israel
whom I have charged to care for My people, asking,
‘Why have you not built for Me a house of cedar?’”
THE ETERNAL’S PROMISE FOR DAVID AND ISRAEL
And Nathan should say further:
“Thus says the Eternal of Hosts:
I took you from your shepherd’s abode
to be the ruler of My people Israel,
and I have been with you wherever you have gone
and have cut off your enemies from before you.
I shall make for you a great name,
as great as there is in the earth.
And I shall establish a place for My people Israel
to dwell securely, without worry
that they will suffer more unrighteous hurt
as before, since the time of the judges.
THE HOUSE SHALL BE BUILT, AND THE THRONE SHALL ENDURE
“The Eternal promises
that He will make for you a house.
It will be through your offspring,
after your days are fulfilled
and you lie with your fathers.
“He who comes from your loins,
whose kingdom I establish,
shall build a house for My Name;
his throne shall I establish for ever!
I shall be for him a father,
and he shall be for me a son.
While I shall rebuke him for his sins
in the same way that other men are punished,
my love for him shall not depart,
as it did from Saul before you.
Your house and your kingdom
shall endure after you,
and your throne shall be established for ever.”
These words in accordance with this vision
were spoken by Nathan to David.
FROM TALMUD AND MIDRASH
Leviticus Rabbah 11:1
Nadab and Abihu Compared to Adam and Eve
“On the Eighth Day (following the seven days of ordination)…
Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu…offer before the Eternal
spurious fire, which He had not commanded them.
From before the Eternal a fire goes out
and consumes them: they die before the Eternal.”
Rabbi Ahava bar Kahana explained this event by reference to the following:
“Wisdom has built her house,
she has hewn out her seven pillars;
she has prepared her meat
and mixed her wine;
she has set her table.
She has dispatched her maidens
and declares upon the heights of the city:
Whoever is foolish—let him turn here;
lacking of heart—she speaks to him…”
As “wisdom” is the means by which “the Eternal founded the earth” (Proverbs 3:19), Rabbi Jeremiah bar Ilai identified “wisdom” in Proverbs 9:1-4 with the Holy One, blessed be He, and understood those words to refer to the creation of the world. The “seven pillars” are the six days of creation (cf. Exodus 31:17) followed by the Sabbath day (cf. Genesis 2:3). “Meat” and “wine” allude to the bringing forth of land animals (cf. Genesis 1:24) and the gathering of waters (cf. Genesis 1:9), respectively. “Set her table” is the proper completion of the table’s presentation with provision of fruits (cf. Genesis 1:11). “Dispatched her maidens” is the creation of Adam and Eve, and “the heights of the city” reflects their flirtation with divinity as reflected in the serpent’s presumption, “You will be like God” (cf. Genesis 3:5).
After all of the first seven days’ consecration, on the eighth day, as it were, Adam and Eve abandoned the will of God: “Whoever is foolish—he shall turn here” (Proverbs 9:4): the foolish turn away from the will of the Holy One, blessed be He, and follow instead the will of the serpent! But ultimately, it is the Holy One, blessed be He, who speaks to Adam of his end, “lacking of heart,” meaning that he will die, “for dust you are and to dust shall you return” (Genesis 3:19).
Leviticus Rabbah 12:1
How We Know that Wine was the Cause of Death
Directly after the incident of Nadab and Abihu,
who “offered before the Eternal spurious fire” (Leviticus 10:1),
the Eternal imparts the following instruction to Aaron:
“When you come to the Tent of Meeting,
do not drink wine or any other intoxicant
—you and your sons—lest you die…” (Leviticus 10:8-9)
This is what is meant by:
“Look not upon the wine
when it is red,
colorfully tempting in the cup,
going down easily.
For in the end
it bites like a serpent,
and stings like
a venomous snake;
your eyes shall see spurious sights…!”
Just as a venomous snake makes the difference between life and death, so the wine made a fatal difference between Aaron and his sons, as Rabbi Simeon teaches: Aaron’s sons died only because they entered the Tent of Meeting under the influence of wine.
Rabbi Pinchas in the name of Rabbi Levi taught: This can be compared to a king who had a trusted attendant. When the king discovered him to be indiscreet in his personal behavior, he had him beheaded without explanation and appointed another in his place. No one was told why the king had the original attendant beheaded, but because the king warned the new attendant not to be indiscreet in his personal behavior, we infer that such was the reason why the king killed the first one. Similarly: “From before the Eternal a fire goes out and consumes them: they die before the Eternal” (Leviticus 10:2), and we do not know why they died! But because He then commands Aaron, “Do not drink wine or any other intoxicant…” (Leviticus 10:9), we infer that they died only because of the wine. That is why the verse displays a preference for Aaron and singles him out for the commandment of “Do not drink wine or any other intoxicant…” (Leviticus 10:9).
Leviticus Rabbah 12:2
Moses Consoles Aaron
“A fire came out from before the Eternal
and consumed them (Nadab and Abihu)…
Moses said to Aaron:
That is what the Eternal meant when He said,
‘Through those who are near to Me
I shall be sanctified,
and before all of the people
I shall be glorified,’and Aaron remained silent.”
After the incident of Nadab and Abihu,
the Eternal singles out Aaron for instruction:
“The Eternal imparts the following instruction to Aaron:
When you come to the Tent of Meeting,
do not drink wine or any other intoxicant…”
In order to understand this,
Rabbi Isaac opened his discourse
with the prophet’s words:
“Your words being offered,
I devour them;
Your word is for me
happiness and heartfelt joy,
as Your Name is upon me,
God of Hosts!”
Rabbi Ishmael bar Nachman explained:
The Holy One, blessed be He, said to Moses on Mount Sinai, “There (at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting) I shall meet with the Children of Israel, and it shall be sanctified through My glory” (Exodus 29:42-43). Moses began to understand these words only later, when he witnessed one of the phenomena on the Eighth Day:
“Moses and Aaron enter the Tent of Meeting. When they emerge, they bless the people, and the glory of the Eternal is seen by all of the people. A fire goes out from before the Eternal and consumes the burnt offering and the fat parts upon the Altar. All of the people see, they exult, then they fall upon their faces.” (Leviticus 9:23-24)
Whereupon Moses says to Aaron: Aaron, my brother, from Mount Sinai it was said to me (referring interpretively to Exodus 29:42-43, quoted above), “In the future I (the Eternal) shall meet with Israel at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting, and there will be a sanctification before them of this House, and through a great man (cf. Exodus 29:43: “through My glory”) I shall sanctify it.” I thought that He meant that this House would be sanctified “through My glory,” that is to say, either through you or through me.
But when Aaron’s sons draw near to present their offering and are also consumed by a fire from the Eternal, Moses says to Aaron: Now it is apparent that your two sons are more preferred than either of us, as they have died for the sanctification of His Name. “That is what He meant when He said, ‘Through those who are near to Me (who offer themselves to Me) I shall be sanctified, and before all of the people I shall be glorified’” (Leviticus 10:3), as “through My glory” (Exodus 29:43), through these great men, Nadab and Abihu!
Upon hearing this, Aaron knows that his sons are distinguished of Heaven. He remains silent and receives good reward for his silence, the reward of being singled out by the commandment:
“The Eternal imparts the following instruction to Aaron:
When you come to the Tent of Meeting,
do not drink wine or any other intoxicant…”
Aaron now recognizes what the prophet later expressed:
“Your word is for me
happiness and heartfelt joy,
as Your Name is upon me,
God of hosts!”
Leviticus Rabbah 13:2
He Sees and Discerns
“He shall stand [amad] and shake [vayimoded] the earth,
see [ra’ah] and make nations tremble [vayatter]…”
Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai:
He stood [amad] and measured [vayimoded] the earth,
saw [ra’ah] and released [vayatter] nations!
How did He stand and measure the earth?
The Holy One, blessed be He, took the measure of all the nations and found none worthy to receive the Torah but Israel.
The Holy One, blessed be He, took the measure of all generations and found none worthy to receive Torah but the generation of the wilderness.
The Holy One, blessed be He, took the measure of all of the mountains and found none worthy to host His Presence but Mount Moriah.
The Holy One, blessed be He, took the measure of all of the cities and found none worthy for the building of the Temple but Jerusalem.
The Holy One, blessed be He, took the measure of all of the mountains and found none worthy to have the Torah given upon it but Sinai.
The Holy One, blessed be He, took the measure of all the lands and found no land suitable for Israel but the Land of Israel.
How did He see and release nations?
It may be compared to one who went out to his threshing floor, taking with him a dog and an ass. He loaded the ass with 5 measures of grain and the dog with 2. The ass had no problem, but the dog was panting. So he transferred a measure from the dog to the ass. The ass had no problem, but the dog was still panting. When he transferred the remaining measure from the dog to the ass, the dog still panted. “However much you do or do not carry,” said he to the dog, “you pant!”
Thus it was when the gentile nations accepted upon themselves the Seven Commandments of Noah. When they were unable to bear even those seven, they threw them off upon Israel. So did He see and release the nations.
Rabbi Tanchum bar Chanilai compared this to a physician who was treating two patients. He ordered one of them not to be given certain foods. But for the other patient he permitted the eating of any food that the patient wanted. What made the difference? The patient that he restricted was expected to live, and certain foods needed to be avoided in order to protect his heath and prolong his life. But for the other patient, who was not expected to survive, there was no reason to restrict him, as his diet would make no difference.
Thus, for the nations of the world, who are not destined for the world to come, “Every moving thing that lives may be food for you; as the green herb I allow you everything” (Genesis 9:3)! But for Israel, whose destiny is life in the world to come, “These only are the living things that you may eat from among all of the animals that are on the earth…” (Leviticus 11:2)!
Leviticus Rabbah 13:3
Talmud Chullin 42a
“Every saying of God is refined…”
Every teaching of God is a purification:
The commandments are given by God for the express purpose of refining His creations!
“…He is a Shield to those who take refuge in Him.”
He will be a Shield to those who show restraint through Him!
Rabbi Abba bar Kahana:
“Hearken to Me, you who pursue righteousness…
for Torah shall come out from Me…”
A torah shall be excepted from Me:
An innovation of Torah shall come forth from Me!
Rabbi Berechia in the name of Rabbi Isaac:
A festive dessert will the Holy One, blessed be He, serve to His righteous servants in time to come. Whoever has refrained from eating forbidden meat in this world will be privileged to eat it in the world to come. Such is implied by the Eternal, “The fat of a dead or wounded animal may be used for any other work” (Leviticus 7:24), when He repeated, “and definitely do not eat it!” (ibid.), that is to say, not in this world in order that you may eat of it in the world to come! That is why Moses admonishes Israel, “This is the living thing which you may eat from among all of the animals that are upon the earth” (Leviticus 11:2)! According to Rabbi Chiyah, “This” teaches that Moses would hold up an animal—or a fish (ibid. 9) or a bird (ibid. 13)—to show Israel in each case what is clean and what is unclean!
It was a teaching of the School of Rabbi Ishmael that “This is the living thing which you may eat…” (Leviticus 11:2) means that the Holy One, blessed be He, actually held up each species of animal and showed it to Moses, saying to him, “This shall you eat” and “This shall you not eat!”
“Happy is the one
whose help is the God of Jacob…
the Eternal releases the captives [mateer asurim]…”
The Eternal ultimately permits the forbidden [mateer asurim]!
Leviticus Rabbah 13:5
Rome Compared to the Swine
“Land animals which bring up cud but do not have cleft hoofs…are not permitted…
inversely, the swine, which does have a cleft hoof and cleaves the hoof,
but does not bring up cud, is also forbidden…”
Said Rabbi Samuel bar Nachman: All of the Prophets foresaw the aggression of foreign powers. This is intimated already in the Garden of Eden, as explained by Rabbi Tanchuma—and some say by Rabbi Menachama in the name of Rabbi Joshua ben Levi: “A river goes out from Eden to water the Garden…” (Genesis 2:10): In the future, the Holy One, blessed be He, will fill a cup of reprisal against the nations of the world! “…And from there it divides into four principals” (ibid.): Babylonia, Medea, Greece, and Edom (Rome)!
Rabbi Pinchas and Rabbi Chilkiah in the name of Rabbi Simone: But of all the Prophets, only two actually disclosed Edom (Rome): Asaph and Moses. Asaph said, “The swine out of the forest tears Israel to pieces” (Psalms 80:14), and Moses proscribed, “the swine” (Leviticus 11:7)!
How then is Rome compared to a swine? “The swine, which does have a cleft hoof and cleaves the hoof” (ibid.): the redundant phrase, “and cleaves the hoof,” suggests “and hoofs the hoof,” that is to say, it tries to call attention to its cloven hoof even though “it does not bring up the cud and is therefore unclean” (ibid.). Just as the swine lies down and extends its hooves as if to say, “See, I am clean!” so did that wicked kingdom project itself as the fount of law and justice while it bolstered its arrogance through violence and pillage. This was typified by the Roman magistrate in Caesaria who executed thieves, rapists and sorcerers, and boasted to one of his advisors, “I do all three myself in a single night!”
Talmud Berachot 63b
“The Eternal blessed the house of Oved Edom
and all that he had because of the Ark of God…”
(II Samuel 6:12)
Rabbi Eliezer the son of Rabbi Yosi the Galilean opened on the subject of hospitality with this verse. By the inference of kal vachomer it follows from a blessing because of the Ark, which does not eat or drink and requires only cleaning the ground around it, that comparable blessing will be bestowed upon one who shows hospitality to a Torah scholar whom he boards and whose needs he supplies!
Numbers Rabbah 4:20
King David’s Humility
“Do not glorify yourself before a king
or stand in the place of the great.”
If one should act lowly before a king of flesh and blood, how much the moreso before the Divine King! Thus we have learned: “Be strong as a leopard, light as an eagle, swift as a deer, and brave as a lion, to do the will of your Father who is in heaven” (Mishnah Avot 5:20 as taught by Yehudah ben Tema), meaning that there is no place for pride before the Omnipresent. Such was taught by Eliahu: “Whoever shows much honor to Heaven, both the honor of Heaven and his own honor are increased; and whoever shows little honor to Heaven and much honor to himself, the honor of Heaven stands, but his own honor is diminished. (Tanna d’vey Eliahu Rabbah 14:5)
Thus you find with David king of Israel who displayed no pride before the Omnipresent when he brought up the Ark from the house of Avinadav to bring it to Jerusalem. David might have been expected to proceed before the Ark in the usual restrained manner of a king, dressed in his royal robes, but no, “David was clothed in a robe of white linen…” (I Chronicles 15:27). He humbled himself before the Holy One, blessed be He, like a common person in order to increase the honor shown to the Omnipresent: ”David dances around with all of his strength before the Eternal, girded with a linen ephod” (II Samuel 6:14).
From Michal’s reproach (ibid. 20) we know that all of the women in Jerusalem gazed at David from the windows and from the rooftops, and they saw him dancing and playing, yet it did not bother him.
When David returns home to bless his household, Michal confronts him (ibid. 20ff.). She reproaches him for exposing himself “to the gaze of his servants’ handmaidens, as a worthless vaunter” and would not let him enter his own house. “Look at the difference between you and my father’s house,” she says. “All of my father’s house were modest and holy…not a heel nor a toe of theirs was ever exposed, but you stand and expose yourself like a cheap exhibitionist!”
David responds: “Do you think I was dancing before a king of flesh and blood? Was it not before the King of the kings of kings that I was tripping, who chose me over your father and all of his house! If your father were more righteous than I, would God have chosen me and disqualified your father’s house? Your father’s house sought honor for themselves and neglected the honor of Heaven; I, on the other hand, set aside my own honor and seek instead the honor of Heaven!”
Then David rebukes Michal for how she characterized the women of Israel, whom she called “the handmaidens of your servants”: “They are not amahot (‘handmaidens’) as you call them, but imahot, ‘mothers!’ ‘May I be honored’ (ibid. 22) in the world to come along with those mothers whom you deride!”
“A song of ascents, of David:
I am not proud in my heart,
nor exalted in my eyes;
I have not proceeded in grandeur
or in ways too wondrous for me.
My spirit is tempered;
like a child weaned from its mother,
my spirit is weaned from me.
So may the hope of Israel
be towards the Eternal
from now and for ever.”
Talmud Ketubot 17a
The Honor Due a King
“Do not glorify yourself before a king…”
Our Rabbis taught: We change the route of a funeral in favor of the bride. (Rashi: When a bride goes out of her father’s house to the location of her chuppah at the same time that those carrying a person to be buried come out, and there are many in attendance of both processions and do not want to mix together, we change the route of the funeral in favor of the route of the bride.) But we change the route of both of them in favor of a king of Israel!
However, they taught concerning Agrippa the king that he changed his route in favor of a bride, and the Sages praised him. If they praised him, that means he did the right thing, and this appears to go against the Rabbis’ own teaching, that we change the route of a bride in favor of a king of Israel (see above)!
But didn’t Rav Ashi teach: Even for one who says that when a nasi (chief rabbi) foregoes his own honor, his honor is foregone—when a king (presumably higher than a nasi) foregoes his own honor, his honor is not foregone, as the verse, “Set over, you shall set over you a king…” (Deuteronomy 17:15) implies through the double verb, “set over…set over,” that you must hold the king in high respect and therefore his honor is not foregone. If the king’s honor cannot be foregone even by himself, and we have the Rabbis’ teaching that the bride should change her route in favor of a king, why did the Sages praise Agrippa for changing his route in favor of a bride? In that case the bride and Agrippa came to a fork in the road, and (Rashi) it was not clear that the king had actually changed his route in her favor, rather it seemed at first as if he needed to take her route.
Considerations for Building the Temple
Talmud Sanhedrin 20b
“When the time arrives that the king is dwelling in his house
and the Eternal has secured him from his enemies,
David observes to Nathan the prophet,
‘See, I am dwelling in a house of cedar,
but the Ark of God dwells within curtains!’”
(II Samuel 7:1-2)
Rabbi Yosi taught in a baraitha that three commandments were given to Israel when they entered into the Land:
(1) To establish for themselves a king;
(2) To destroy all the descendants of Amalek; and
(3) To build for themselves the Temple.
“As a hand upon the throne of the Eternal, a war for the Eternal against Amalek…” (Exodus 17:16)—from this I know that the establishment of the throne (king) precedes the war against Amalek!
“When He has given you rest from all of your surrounding enemies and you dwell in safety, then shall you bring all that I command you to the place where the Eternal your God shall choose to make a habitation for His Name…” (Deuteronomy 12:10b-11)—from this I know that the war against your enemies (Amalek) precedes the building of the place (Temple)!
And so, “When the time arrived that the king (1) is dwelling in his house and the Eternal has secured him from his (2) enemies, David observes to Nathan the prophet: ‘See, I am dwelling in a house of cedar, but the Ark of God dwells within (
3) curtains’” (II Samuel 7:2)!
Yalkut Shimoni 145
“David said to Solomon his son:
It was my intention to build a House
for the Name of the Eternal my God,
but the word of the Eternal came to me, saying:
“’Much blood have you shed,
and great wars have you waged;
you shall not build a House for My Name
because you have poured much blood
on the ground before Me.
“‘Look to the son who will be born to you:
he shall be a man of peace,
I shall give him rest from all of his surrounding enemies;
“peace” shall be his name, Shlomo,
and peace and quietness
shall I grant to Israel in his days.’”
(I Chronicles 22:7-9)
When David first heard these words, he lamented: “I have been disqualified from building the Temple!”
Rabbi Judah son of Rabbi Ilai taught that the Holy One, blessed be He, said to him: David, fear not, I assure you that “before Me” (I Chronicles 22:8) the blood that “you have poured on the ground…” (ibid.) is like the blood of the deer or the hart, of which I have said, “You may pour it on the ground like water” (Deuteronomy 12:16)!
Alternatively, the Holy One, blessed be He, said to David: Fear not, I assure you that before Me the blood that “you have poured…before Me” (I Chronicles 22:8) is like the blood of offerings, of which I have said, “He shall slaughter the bull before the Eternal, and the sons of Aaron shall bring the blood near and throw the blood around the Altar…” (Leviticus 1:5)!
David replied: If that is the case—that my pouring of blood on the ground before You is as acceptable before You as the pouring of blood on the ground like water when permitted animals are prepared for food or as the pouring of blood on the ground before You of sacred offerings at the Altar—then why should I not build the Temple?!
The Holy One, blessed be He, gave him the following answer: If I allow you to build the Temple, the Temple that you, David, build will endure and never be destroyed. But I know that in the future your people will sin, and when they do, I would prefer to pour out My wrath upon the Temple, destroying it but sparing the people themselves. Thus shall these words be understood: “He has bent His bow like the enemy, He stands with His right hand like the adversary, He destroys every thing that is pleasing to the eye; against the Tent of the daughter of Zion He pours out His wrath like fire” (Lamentations 2:4)! But if I allow you to build the Temple, I would not be able to destroy it, in which case I would have to pour out My wrath upon the people, and thus would these words be understood: “He destroys all who are pleasing to the eye; in the Tent of the daughter of Zion He pours out His wrath like fire” (Ibid.)!
Finally, the Holy One, blessed be He, said to him: Because you have refrained from building it, even though Solomon your son will build it, I do inscribe it in your name.
“A Psalm, a Song at the Dedication of the House, to David:
I extol You, O Eternal One, for raising me up,
for not letting my enemies rejoice over me…
What profit is there in my blood…
shall the dust acknowledge You
and declare Your truth?
You turn my lament into celebration!”
Yalkut Shimoni 143
The Eternal Anticipates David’s Zeal
“Nathan advises the king
to proceed with his plan
to build a Temple
for the Ark of God!”
(II Samuel 7:1-3)
“That very night the word of the Eternal comes to Nathan,
that he should say to My servant David
these words from the Eternal:
Will you build Me a House in which to dwell?
“The Eternal promises
that He will make for you a House.
But it will be through your offspring,
after your days are fulfilled
and you lie with your fathers.”
Rav taught: Better advice was given to him that night.
Rav Chanina explained that the Holy One, blessed be He, said to Nathan the prophet: Nathan, this man whom I have sent you to be with, works quickly. Before he hires workers, go and say to him, “You shall not build for me a Temple,” so that he does not have a complaint against Me!
Rabbi Simone explained that the Holy One, blessed be He, said to Nathan the prophet: Nathan, this man whom I have sent you to be with, is wont to vow. Before he takes a vow, go and say to him, “You shall not build for me a Temple,” so that he is not shamed for an impulsive vow before the Sanhedrin!
“A song of ascents:
Remember, O Eternal, for David
all of his disappointment,
how he swore to the Eternal,
vowed to the Mighty One of Jacob:
I will not enter my own house
or sleep in my bed,
grant repose to my eyes
or slumber to my eyelids,
until I find a place for the Eternal,
a habitation for the Mighty One of Jacob.”
Copyright © 2021 Eric H. Hoffman