01 Apr 2016

Shemini 5776: Time Flies

Download a printer friendly version here.

‘What is lovely never dies, but passes into other loveliness’

— Thomas Bailey Aldrich

The day of the Mishkan’s inauguration was the day that G-d descended to rest prominently within the nation of Israel. It was a day on which the hopes of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and the struggles of countless slaves, who were the biological and spiritual heirs to their vision, had finally been realised. A day almost too good to be true. But it was true — for a moment in time.

G-d was happy on that day as He had been on the day that heaven and earth were created… (Megilla, 10b)

The joy, however, did not last. The celebration of G-d meeting man in communion and love, the exuberance of true transcendence ended in tragedy and pain. The great hope of leadership for the next generation[1] was snuffed out when the sons of Aharon, in an act of passion and enthusiasm, introduced a foreign fire into the Mishkan that G-d had not commanded.

And Aharon’s sons, Nadav and Abihu, took each his fire pan and put fire and incense upon it, and brought before G-d an alien fire…and fire came forth from before G-d and consumed them, and they died before G-d. (10:1,2)

It wasn’t an act of rebellion but it was out of order nonetheless and it collapsed the festivities.

They too acted out of happiness, and when they saw the new fire [on the altar] they intended to add love to the love… (Sifra, Shemini, 32)

This, of course, is an extreme, but poignant, example of a painful reality in life: life is comprised of beautiful moments that die, often in tragedy or sorrow. Try as we might, we cannot hold on to our greatest experiences and feelings for very long. Torah teaches us that this reality — the fleeting moments of true joy — goes back to the very days of creation itself.

…Even the happiness of the Holy One did not last! When He created His world, he was tremendously excited, as it says, ‘G-d shall rejoice in His works’ (Tehillim, 104:31). And so it says ‘G-d saw all that he had made and it was very good’ (Gen., 1:31), to teach you that the Holy One took pride and joy in His work. Then [the] Human failed Him… and He said, ‘I only made all this for  Adam, and now he is as good as dead — what enjoyment can I have anymore?’  (Tanhuma, Shemini, 2)

 What are we to make of a world of transience? A world in which our greatest joys and loves tend to pass as the sun across the sky. It has always been our belief that such moments, although with us only for a time, be it a minute, an hour or several years, enter a dimension in which they are pristine and eternal. This dimension is what we call ‘Olam HaBa’ — the World to Come. As Rambam teaches us[2] we call it the World to Come not because it does not currently exist but because we do not yet have full access to it.

The yom hashemini, the eighth day, signifies this level of reality in that it is emergent from, and exists beyond, the seven days of our working world of process. The eighth day is when ‘becoming’ moves into ‘being’ and when ‘process’ becomes ‘product’.

In those moments of joy, love and beauty, in which we feel the fullness of life concentrated into a moment, a day or even a golden era, we know of Olam HaBa’s reality and we can, in those moments, say Dayenu — ‘It is enough for us’. Not because more is not logistically necessary but because in such times we glimpse the wholeness and beauty of life and

through it we know that to have been born and experience its splendour is what fuels our hope and strength in continuing to live life.

It is in such moments that we sense the world’s grand design and perceive it in its details. In experiencing these times we know the truth of G-d. It is in these blessed, passing moments that we experience the benevolent and holy light with which He manifests among us and which moves us to tears that flow from both joy and sadness. We witness this and know in our soul that to have known such beauty in this life is its greatest blessing.

[1] ‘No one in Israel was in their class, other than Moshe and Aharon’ (Zohar, III, 61b)

[2] Hilkhot Teshuba, 8:8

Law and Lore

Reading of the Torah   –    Aliyot

One may only go up to the Torah for an ‘aliya’ after being called to do so. It is not halakhically necessary to call a person to the Torah by name.

Ashkenazim, and Western Sepharadim call people up to the Torah publicly by name, while Eastern Sepharadim call people up privately. The reason for private invitations without using a person’s name is because when one is called by name to the Sepher Torah they are not permitted to decline. However, when a person is invited privately (not by name) it is permitted to decline.

For this reason it is customary in some Eastern communities to simply present a silver plate in the shape of the Ten Commandments before the person as an offer for an aliya (this is still practiced in ‘Ades’ synagogue in Jerusalem which follows customs of Jews from Aleppo, Syria). If the person accepts, he touches the silver plate. No words are exchanged between the presenter and the acceptor thus allowing one to decline without concern.

Before saying the beracha for the aliya the individual must see the place in the Torah where the reading for his aliya will begin.

Parasha Perspectives

III  Shemini
20b           Day 1 of Kohanim’s duties in Mishkan (9:1-10:7)

Aharon, aided by his sons, offers a calf chatat and a

ram olah on behalf of the Kohanim; on behalf of the

People he offers a goat chatat, a calf and a lamb olah,

an ox and a ram shelamim and a mincha mingled with

oil. His sons aid him in his work. (9:1-21)

When he has finished Aharon blesses the people.

Aharon & Moshe go into the Ohel HaMoed, come

out and bless the people again. God appears. Fire

comes from before God and consumes offerings to

everyone’s amazement and praise (9:22-24).

Two of Aharon’s sons, Nadav and Avihu, offer

burning incense which God had not commanded.

Fire comes from before God and consumes them.

They die. God is sanctified by those who are near.

Aharon is silent. Non-kohanic family take the dead

outside the camp. Moshe instructs the Kohanim not

to mourn under penalty of death (10:1-7).

21             Kohanim warned against drinking   (10:8-11)

Kohanim must not be intoxicated when they go into

the Ohel HaMoed under penalty of death.

This is to distinguish between holy and common, pure

and impure and to teach the people God’s law.

22             The relevant korbanot are eaten   (10:12-20)

Moshe instructs Aharon and his remaining sons to eat

the remains of the Mincha. Also they and their

children may eat the left over Shelamim. Moshe

accuses Aharon’s sons of making a mistake but

Aharon corrects and pacifies him.

23a           Kashrut Laws: Creatures we can eat   (11:1-28)

Animals: Must chew cud and have parted hooves:

no camel, coney, hare or pig (11:1-8).

Sea creatures: Must have fins and scales (11:9-12).

Birds: Twenty forbidden birds are mentioned. All

Are birds of prey (11:13-19).

Insects: Most are forbidden. A few with specific

characteristics are allowed (11:20-23).

Contact: It is forbidden to touch unclean dead

animals (11:24-28).

23b           Unclean Reptiles   (11:29-38)

Eight are mentioned. Uncleanliness can be passed

on through contact to humans and some objects.

23c           Purpose of these laws   (11:39-47)

Be holy like God. Distinguish between unclean/clean

and between what you can/cannot eat.

 Taken from, ‘Torah for Everyone’ by Rabbi Dr Raphael Zarum, Dean of LSJS