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Torah Commentary - Shemini

                                                                                                                                           *Commentary courtesy of Menahem Me-Zahav
 

Our Sidrah is named for one word in the first Passuk: “Va’yehi Bayom Ha’Shemin - And it was on the eighth   day”. In recalling the end portion of the previous Sidrah (The Sidrah of Tzav, last week) - it was the consecration of the Sanctuary that would last seven full days. During this period Aaron and his sons went through their initiation rituals. They put on their special garments, applied the special (holy) oil, and presented their special offerings. They were then ordered to camp at the entrance to the Sanctuary for the seven days of consecration in order to “Watch God’s Watch” (Leviticus 8:35).   

The Fateful eighth day - “Yom Ha’shemini”. 
The next day following the seven days of consecration and being the 8th Day, is full of promises and hopes. It is destined to become the happiest day in Aaron’s life. The special offerings are presented and God’s fire descends (from Heaven) and consumes the offerings. “And Fire came forth from before The Lord, and it consumed the Burnt Offerings on the Altar. And when all the people saw (The Fire) they shouted ecstatically and they fell down on their faces” (Leviticus 9:24). 
Aaron has just assumed the exalted office of Kohen Gadol, his 4 sons are serving with him, their offerings have been accepted – everything seems to be just perfect and so promising. 

Aaron’s Tragedy. 
At that very moment, an unexpected tragedy befalls Aaron. His two eldest sons Nadab and Abihu (Nadav Ve-Avihu) are killed. The Torah refers to their sin very briefly: “And Nadab and Abihu the sons of Aaron, took each his canister and they offered alien fire before the Lord which He had not commanded them…And there came out fire from God…and they died in front of God” (Leviticus 10:1-2).  
Why did such a terrible tragedy come upon Aaron? Why was Nadab and Abihu’s act, considered a major offense against God that warranted the ultimate punishment? 
Commentators of all times struggled to come up with some answer. 
Here are a few theories: 
(a) Nadab and Abihu did not believe that God will send fire miraculously down to consume all the offerings  
      so, they brought their own fire instruments. 
(b) They came too close to God’s fire. 
(c) They tried to assist God with their own fire (God does not need human help).   
(d) They were drunk in the Sanctuary. 
(e) They did not ask their father Aaron and Moses’ permission.  
(f) They were not dressed in their special robes. 
(g) They wanted to succeed Aaron and Moses prematurely, as leaders of the Israelites. 
(h) They tried to come too close to God. 
(i) In performing their own ritual, they disrupted the unity of the community. 
What do you think?

A graceful Aaron is tested to the limit. 
The Torah spares no effort to express great sympathy to the grief and sadness endured by Aaron and his family. The Torah specifically points at Aaron’s most dignified conduct in suspending himself from some official activities while trying to confront his personal tragedy “And Aaron told Moses: Such things have befallen me, had I eaten from God’s offerings today would the Lord approve? And Moses agreed” (Leviticus 10:19-20).   


The Jewish Dietary Laws - The Laws of Kashrut . 
The dietary laws were given to us incrementally. First the Torah disallows mixing milk and meat for the purpose of eating “Thou shall not boil a kid goat in its mother’s milk” (Exodus 34:26). The next prohibition is on consuming blood. “And you should not eat any blood either of bird or of animal”. (Leviticus 7:26). The blood must be covered with sand (Deuteronomy 15:23). Additionally, in order to remove all traces of blood from the meat before eating, it must be soaked in water (30 min) and then salted (60 min) prior to cooking (Law of Kashrut).  

The two Natural Signs of a Kosher Animal.   
In today’s reading, the Torah expands the dietary laws considerably. It lists exactly what animals, birds and what kind of fish are not permitted to be eaten. Animals that are permitted are those which are not specifically forbidden, and which do have their qualifying signs: Having true split hoofs and do regurgitate the food. 
 “These are the animals which you may eat among all the cattle that are on the earth. All that part the hoof, and is wholly cloven-footed, and chews the cud, among the cattle - that may you eat”. 
(Lreviticus 11:2 & 3).   

There is a great reason for the above…                                                    
The Jewish Dietary Laws are aimed at sanctifying our lives. Our Dietary Laws are based on moral values and are designed to elevate our lives to a higher level. They remind us of our close and unique relationship with our Creator. “I am the Lord your God, you shall sanctify yourselves and be holy, for I am Holy…For I am the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt to be your God. You shall therefore be holy” (Leviticus 11:44-45).  
  
  
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There are 2 Scrolls of Torah taken out today. The 1st Scroll is for the Sidrah of Shemini. 
It is then lifted and dressed (Hagbaha & Gelilla). Afterwards, the following section, regarding Shabbat HaChodesh is read from the 2nd Scroll. 

- - - - - - - - - -


Special Maftir Reading for Shabbat HaChodesh, Exodus 12:1-20.
Shabbat Hachodesh is the 4th and the last of the 4 Shabbats preceding Pessach. It falls either on Rosh Chodesh Nissan itself or a few days prior to Rosh Chodesh Nissan. 
The name HaChodesh is derived from the beginning of the special Maftir reading: “And God spoke unto Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, saying: This month (HaChodesh HaZeh) shall be unto you the beginning of months. It shall be the first month of the year to you” (Exodus 12:2).
Since in this month the Jewish people were freed from slavery.

The Holiday of Pessach that falls in the middle of Nissan, shall always have special meaning: ”…And this Day (Pessach) shall be unto you for a memorial, and you shall keep it a Holy Day to the Lord, throughout your generations” (Exodus 12:14). “And you shall observe the Holiday of the Matzot, for on this Day I brought you out of the land of Egypt”. (Exodus 12:17). 
The Exodus from Egypt “Zeicher Le’Yetziat Mitzrayim”, is still mentioned today in many of our prayers. IE: in our “Shemah” prayer, in our Shabbat and Holiday Kidd
ush, in our Birkat Hamazon and more. 

Haftarah: Ezekiel 45:16-46:18.
Ezekiel was among the prominent Jews who were deported to Babylonia with “The exile of King Yehoyachin” that took place 12 years before the destruction of the Holy Temple (586 BCE). The remaining Jewish people were then exiled as well. Ezekiel the great consoler, promises his Jewish brethren, that God will soon restore them to their own land. He is doing it in a series of prophecies about Jerusalem, that stretch over not less than 9 full Chapters of his Book (Ezekiel Chapters 40 through 48). 
Ezekiel’s message is clear - Jerusalem will soon be rebuilt. The holiest part of the city – Its Holy Temple with all its rituals, will soon be, fully functioning. This is the backdrop to Shabbat Ha’Chodesh’s Haftarah.
The renewal of the Monarchy – per Ezekiel.
In today’s Haftarah, Ezekiel adds to his prophecy the resumption of the Israeli Monarchy which will replace the old monarchy, (that ended abruptly, some 25 years earlier, with the destruction of the Temple): 
“All the people of the land shall give this offering for the ‘Nassih’ (The Head of State) of Israel” 
(Ezekiel 45:16). 
Ezekiel then details the ritual of Pessach, hence also the linkage to our special Shabbat Ha’chodesh, that precedes the Holiday of Pessach: “On the First (Namely, the First Month of the Jewish Calendar - Nissan), on the fourteenth day of the month (The 14th of Nissan) you shall celebrate the Pessach, on which Matzot shall be eaten” (Ezekiel 45:21). 
Ezekiel concludes by teaching us an important ethical lesson: “But He (The Nassih) shall not take over for himself any public property, He may transfer to his children only of his personal assets” (Ezekiel 46:18) – 
A real moral lesson, for all generations.


 
Note: 
Shabbat Ha’Chodesh, falls always on a day preceding or on the same day as Rosh Chodesh Nissan.

There is a clear distinction to be made between the term “Shabbat HaChodesh” to the term 
                                                                                           “Rosh Chodesh” (Nissan).
The two, do not necessarily fall on the same day.
 Shabbat HaChodesh may fall only on the Shabbat prior to Rosh Chodesh Nissan, as it does happen today, or – 
It may also fall on Rosh Chodesh Nissan itself (as it did happen 2 years ago).
The above means, that sometimes: (1) Hacodesh, (2) Rosh Chodesh and (3) Shabbat may fall on the same day (not in 2024).

 

 

Mon, April 15 2024 7 Nisan 5784