16-23 Adar II 5779

FROM THE TORAH

SHEMINI: The Twenty-sixth Sedra of the Torah
Leviticus 9:1-11:47

At the conclusion of last week’s 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.

AARON PERFORMS THE OFFERINGS
9:1-24

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!” (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
10:1-20

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, all of the House of Israel, may bewail 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. 9:15) 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 since its blood had not been brought into the Sanctuary (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!” (10:13)  So, Moses insists, they should have eaten it in the Sanctuary, as he says he commanded.  (He did so command with regard to the meal offering; cf. 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.

ANIMAL FOODS PERMITTED AND FORBIDDEN
TO THE CHILDREN OF ISRAEL
11:1-47

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.  Of those which swarm upon the earth, 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 it.  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 you shall detest their carcass.

Forbidden Birds

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.

Summary

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.

PARAH: The Third of the Four Special Parashiyot
Numbers 19:1-22

The Eternal communicates a statute of the Torah (chukat hatorah) to Moses and Aaron:

The Children of Israel should bring you an entirely red cow (parah adumah) without blemish and on which no yoke has been put.  You shall give it to Elazar the priest, who shall have it slaughtered in his presence outside of the camp.  Elazar the priest shall sprinkle some of its blood seven times towards the front of the Tent of Meeting.  The cow shall be burned entirely, in his presence.  The priest shall add cedar wood, hyssop and crimson to the burning.

The priest and the one who burns it shall wash their clothing and bathe in water before re-entering the camp, and they remain impure until the evening.

A ritually pure person collects the ashes and leaves them outside of the camp in a ritually pure place for the Israelite community, both Children of Israel and the sojourner.  The ashes of the red cow shall be used for water that removes impurity, as a statute for all time.  The collector of the ashes shall wash his clothes and remain impure until the evening.

Whoever touches a human corpse becomes impure for seven days.  In that state he would defile the Tabernacle of the Eternal and be cut off from Israel.  He must instead have the water that removes impurity thrown upon him on the third day and on the seventh day of his impurity, after which he must wash his clothes and bathe in water, becoming pure again in the evening.

Anyone who touches a human corpse or bone or grave outside becomes ritually impure for seven days.

If a person dies in a tent, everyone else in the tent becomes ritually impure for seven days, and any open vessel in the same tent becomes ritually impure.

The procedure for purification requires the taking of some of the ashes and adding to them fresh water in a vessel.  A ritually pure person dips some hyssop in the water and sprinkles it on the person who became ritually impure, on the third day and on the seventh day of his impurity.  For a tent and its open vessels, he sprinkles the water also on the tent and on all the vessels that were in the tent.

The one who sprinkles the water must wash his clothes.

Whoever touches the water shall be impure until the evening.

Whatever the ritually impure person touches becomes ritually impure, and the person who touches him shall be ritually impure until the evening.

FROM THE PROPHETS

Haftarah for Shabbat Parah
Ezekiel 36:16-38

The word of the Eternal to the prophet: Son of man, the House of Israel dwell upon their Land,  defiling it by their way, which is like the impurity of a woman.  I therefore pour out My anger upon them for the blood that they have spilled upon the Land and for the idols that they have worshipped.  I am scattering them among the nations, but even there they will profane My name by their very presence as “the people of the Eternal” (36:20) who “went out from His Land” (ibid.).

Now I am showing compassion for My holy name which the House of Israel have profaned among the nations to which they have come.  I am removing you from them, taking you back to your own Land.  “I am sprinkling pure water upon you, that you may be clean; from all of your idols I shall purify you.”

I give you a new heart and take away the heart of stone from your flesh.  I place My spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes and keep My ordinances.  I will bring out for you the vegetables and the fruit of the Land so that you will not be associated with famine among the nations.

Then you shall recall your evil ways, and you shall loathe yourselves for the iniquities and abominations that you have committed.  I do this not for your sake.  Be ashamed and embarrassed for your ways, O House of Israel!  When I cause your desolate cities to be inhabited, the nations around you shall see that I, the Eternal, can turn what is ruined into the Garden of Eden.  I shall increase your number, O House of Israel, as greatly as were the number of people and of sacrificial animals in Jerusalem at the festive seasons.

FROM THE MIDRASH

Leviticus Rabbah 11:1

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.
(9:1-10:2)

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—he shall turn here;
lacking of heart—she speaks to him.”
(Proverbs 9:1-4)

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): turn away from the will of the Holy One, blessed be He, and follow instead the will of the serpent!  How so?  “Lacking of heart, she speaks to him” (ibid.)!  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

Directly after the incident of Nadab and Abihu (9:1-10:7),
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
…”
(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!”
(Proverbs 23:31-32)

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 know 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,” (10:2) and we do not know why they died!  But because He commands Aaron, “Do not drink wine or any other intoxicant…” (10:9), we know that they died only because of the wine.  For that reason the verse displays a preference for Aaron and singles him out for the commandment of “Do not drink wine or any other intoxicant…” (10:9).

Leviticus Rabbah 12:2

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.”
(10:2-3)

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…”
(10:8-9)

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,
Eternal One,
God of hosts!”
(Jeremiah 15:16)

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.” (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’” (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…”
(10:8-9)

Aaron now recognizes what the prophet later expressed:

“Your word is for me
happiness and heartfelt joy,
as Your name is upon me,
Eternal One,
God of hosts!”
(Jeremiah 15:16)

Pesikta Rabbati Parah 14

Our Rabbis told the story of a Jew who owned a cow that was used for ploughing.  His circumstances became strained, so he sold the cow.  It was purchased by a gentile.  The gentile also used the cow for ploughing, and for six days out of the week there was no problem.  However, when he tried to make the cow plough on Shabbat, the cow would only lie down under the yoke.  Even when the gentile beat the cow to get her to move, she would not budge.  So he went and found the Jew who had sold him the cow and demanded, “Take your cow back, as there seems to be something wrong with her: as much as I beat her, she does not move!”  The Jew immediately understood what the “problem” was: she was accustomed to rest on Shabbat.

So the Jew said to the gentile, “Come and I will get her up.”  When the Jew came to the cow, he whispered in her ear, “O cow, O cow, you know that when you were owned by me, you would plough on weekdays, and on Shabbat you would rest.  Since now, because of my sins, you are owned by a gentile, I would request that you stand up and plough,” whereupon she immediately got up and ploughed.

The gentile said to the Jew, “As I said before, you will have to take back your cow, because I cannot run after you to get her up every time I need her to plough.  I tired myself out and beat her, yet she would not get up.  I won’t let you go until you tell me what you whispered in her ear!”  The Jew began by trying to pacify him and then said to him, “I used no magic or sorcery but simply whispered such-and-such in her ear whereupon she got up and ploughed.”

Then the gentile became frightened, thinking: If a cow, who cannot speak or reason, recognizes her Creator, then how can I, whom my Creator has fashioned in His image and given reason, not go and recognize Him!  Immediately he went and became a Jew.  He learned and became a worthy student of Torah, whom they called Yochanan ben Torta.  “Torta” can be read as “Toratah,” her Torah, meaning Yochanan son of her Torah!  To this day our Rabbis cite halacha in his name.

Now if you are surprised that one person took refuge under the wings of the Shechinah because of a cow, it is also because of a cow that all of Israel can achieve purification, as we learn from the reading of the statute of Torah (chukat hatorah): the “red cow” (parah adumah)! (Numbers 19:2)

SHABBAT SHALOM!

Copyright © 2019 Eric H. Hoffman
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