Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Thoughts on Parashat Shmini


Parashat Shmini begins with the words "Vayihi Bayom Haschmini - And it came to pass on the eight day …". As many of you already know, the word "Vayihi - ויהי" at the beginning of a Torah Parasha always stands for something negative coming up. The Torah commentator Ohr HaChaim teaches that the "Anshei Knesset HaGedolah" of the Second Temple period stipulated this in Talmud Megillah 10. Furthermore, we see the word "Vayihi" right at the beginning of the "Megillath Esther - The Book of Esther" where soon Haman announces the destruction of the Jewish people.

In the previous Parashat, Parashat Zav, G - d listet Moshe and Aharon the exact details for the Korbanot (sacrifice) service. Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch said that the "eight day" now in Shmini stands for a new beginning. The seven previous days were the days without the Sanctuary in the Tabernacle (Ohel HaMoed in the Mishkan), and now, Moshe and Aharon were allowed to enter. Thus, they step into the new elevated character pf a life dedicated to belong to G - d and to the Nation.

The "Ohel HaMoed" was supposed to be G - d's residents on Earth. His Shechinah (presence) should dwell among His Chosen People and it was there where He spoke to Moshe.

The Parasha continues with the disaster symbolized by "Vayihi": The tragic death of Nadav and Avihu. A fire killed the sons of Aharon because they had taken a strange fire into the Sanctuary. It is said that their clothes as well as their bodies were intact but the fire entered their noses and pulled out their souls (Neshamot). Kabbalistic and chassidic literature considers the nose as the entrance path to the soul.

There are countless commentaries on why Nadav and Avihu had to die: They were drunk and took a strange fire into the Ohel. They were too arrogant because they refused any Shidduch by saying that they are so holy that no wife would fit them. Or was it simply the strange fire they brought into the Sanctuary ?

As a matter of fact, G - d handed the exact offering regulations to Moshe and Aharon and they were supposed to keep them in a precise order. What Nadav and Avihu did was adding their own will (Ratzon) and going according to their feelings. They wanted to offer so they offered. No matter what. They neither asked Moshe nor Aharon for permission and maybe felt too much in charge. Were they too full of themselves ?

Is G - d giving us a hint on what could happen if we start interpreting the law without asking a knowledgeable Rabbi for advice ? Does enthusiasm to serve G - d justify wrong behaviour in Halacha ?

Talmudic Tractates such as Menachot, Keritot (incl. the Ketoret - spice sacrific), Yoma, Bechorot, Zevachim, etc., teach us all kinds of specific details on how the Korbanot (sacrifices) have to be carried out. Am I allowed to run after my feelings and forget about stipulated laws ?

The difference between idol - worshippers offerings and Jews offering is that idol - worshippers always demand a wish from their God. Jews, on the other hand, want to put themselves into the service of G - d. They sacrifice because they want to fulfill G - d's wishes.

Towards the end of the Parasha, G - d gives us all the kosher laws; which animals are we allowed to eat and what are their signs.

More laws ? Why always laws ?

The dietary laws were given to the Jews in order to keep their soul spiritually healthy and not necessarily their bodies. Kashrut is teaching us moral and self - control and the Jewish soul is the most important aspect, as non - kosher food influences our souls in a negative way. A human being has to be different from an animal and not running after his instincts. Purpose of the dietary laws is to make us aware of our spiritual part in life and this does include not to strive for materialism and forgetting once's purpose in life.

But where is my G - d given "Free Will" ? How can I use my Free Will when there are so many laws telling me all I have to do ?

Of course, you have the freedom to decide whether you eat kosher or not. G - d gave us the laws and we still have the choice to follow His will or to follow our own desires. In case I eat a non - kosher animal like a rabbit, I do have to face the consequences. Namely that my soul may get damaged.

"I only eat non - kosher food once in a while and those few times won't destroy my Jewish soul !"

We could say that to ourselves but are we really able to estimate our soul damage ?

Mankind should differentiate itself from the animal kingdom. The Sefat Emet (a former Rebbe of Chassidut Gur) commentated on the Parasha that the Jews have the task to draw G - d down into this material physical world. How do we do this ? As soon as we keep the Mitzvot. We have the task to advance and perfect our Pnimiut (inner being) and thus the Shechinah will be more present. Using our wisdom (Chochmah) and following the Torah. Recognizing certain morals in this world.

What do we learn from the death of Nadav and Avihu ?

For instance, that we cannot follow our overwhelming feelings to serve G - d and thus leave out all the Torah laws. My feelings still don't justify cutting down on G - d's Mitzvot. There are rules and despite all kinds of enthusiasm, I still have to keep them. In this respect it is important for a Jew to know the Mitzvot and the way Halacha should be kept.

How ?

By studying the background of each Mitzvah and the result will be that you suddenly understand why you have to do something in such and such a way.

Shabbat Shalom

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