Weekly Reading Insights:
Shemini 5779



Overview of the Weekly Reading

To be read on Shabbat Shemini, Shabbat Para, 23 Adar II 5779 /March 30

Torah: Leviticus 9:1-11:47; Maftir Num. 19:1-22 (Parah), Haftorah: Ezekiel 36:16-38 (Parah)

Shemini is the 3rd Reading out of 10 in Leviticus and it contains 4670 letters, in 1238 words, in 91 verses.

Shemini begins with a discussion of the service in the Tabernacle on the eighth day, the first day following the seven days of installation. Aharon's eldest sons, Nadav and Avihu, brought an unauthorized fire offering and were consumed by flame from the Holy of Holies. Aharon is instructed that the priests should never come to the Sanctuary in a state of drunkenness. Then the completion of the service is discussed. The balance of the portion is a discussion of the dietary laws, specifically which mammals, fish, birds and insects are spiritually pure or not, and which are appropriate to eat and which not.

An essay from
Rabbi Shaul Yosef Leiter, director of Ascent

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At the end of this week's portion, Shemini, the Torah tells us which animals are kosher to eat and which are not. One of the last verses (11/41) says "Every creeping thing (literally 'that walks on its stomach'), and all that walks on four (legs) and including all with many legs, any insect that swarms on the land, it is abominable, do not eat it."

Rashi, the foremost commentator on the Torah, explains that the first part of the verse is referring to snakes, which, he continues, means 'crawls bent over, falling on their stomach'
Rashi is usually pretty terse and straight forward, what added message is he trying to tell us?

The Lubavitcher Rebbe learns the following: The Zohar says (vol. 1, 35b) "Snake is (a paradigm for our) evil inclination." How does our evil inclination seduce us? It will never suggest straight out, 'crawl on your stomach', throw your life away by being consumed by desires for food and alcohol, drugs and other physical desires. Rather almost always, its first move is, 'Hey! Let's just try a little of this…, just relax your values, you do not have to give away everything. Let's just be a little bent, just this time, just once.'

What is so bad about being a little bent? In fact, this is the opposite of what the Torah, G-d's will and wisdom, the road map for the Jewish people, suggests. The Torah says (Yeshaya 40/6), "Raise up your eyes and see Who created this!" A person (not like an animal) can raise their head. Looking upward means thinking about G-d and what He wants from me.

Our evil inclination says do the opposite. Lower your head, lower your goals, see the physical world as primary. Walk bent over. And if we fall for it, what happens? Each time we get more bent, and a little more bent until, G-d protect us, we are so bent over we are crawling on our stomach. And this is only one step away from 'falling on our stomach', our whole reality becomes nothing more than supporting our negative desires and bad habits.

This is what the Talmud (Shabbos 105b) is referring to when it says, "this is the vocation of the evil inclination; today it says, 'do this', tomorrow, 'do that', until one day it says to you, 'go worship an idol'."

If it sounds unbelievable, that just might be your evil inclination whispering in your ear. So what do we do? To succeed in life a person has to raise up their head and see through the world's façade. They have to think about the greatness of G-d, how G-d is always there, always involved; how our potential is infinite. Each person is able to choose to be a soul with a body, rather than a body…with a soul.

History shows us that even the most refined philosophy does not guarantee that a person will become refined. The best advice is occupying yourself with 'head up' consciousness and heavenly things instead of sinking into worldly affairs. To keep the vision clear, at least part of our lives have to be invested in studying Torah and especially the Torah of Safed and of Chassidism, which is about seeing the world on a higher plane, as something divine. It is only when a person 'raises his eyes' and studies Torah, that he can at least have a chance to avoid the 'snake', our evil inclination. (Adapted from Likras Shabbos, which was originally taken from the Rebbe's Collected Talks, volume 17, page 122)

Late one night, two hours into an audience with the Rebbe, the Israel diplomat Yehuda Avner asked, "Rebbe, what is it that you seek to accomplish?"

"Yehuda," said the Rebbe to Avner, "look there, on the shelf. What is that you see?"

"A candle", he replied.

"No, it is not a candle, it's just a lump of wax with a string down the middle. When does it become a candle? When you bring a flame to the wick."

His voice rising, the Rebbe continued in a Talmudic sing song (a rhythmic voice melody some scholars use when studying the Talmud), "The wax is the body of the human being, and the wick is the soul. The flame is the fire of Torah, that's when the person becomes a candle, achieving the purpose for which he was created.

"This is what I try to do - to help every man and woman achieve the purpose for which they were created".

An hour later, with the sun about to rise and the meeting drawing to a close, Avner asked, "So has the Rebbe lit my candle?"

"No," answered the Rebbe quietly. "I have given you the match. Only you can light your own candle."

(from "Seeds of Wisdom" by Mendle Kalmanson, published by JEM.

Shabbat Shalom, Shaul

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For last year's essay by Rabbi Leiter on this week's Reading, see the archive.


Specifically, for an overview of the recommended articles in the columns:
Holy Zohar, Holy Ari, Mystic Classics, Chasidic Masters, Contemporary Kabbalists, and more,
click to Shemini

one sample:
Mystical Classics

Turning the Tables

From Shenei Luchot HaBrit by Rabbi Isaiah Horowitz

Emek Ha-Beracha states that a heavenly sanctity rests on foods which are pure and permitted. Thus consumption of these foods confers upon the person eating them some of the spirit of purity and holiness resting on them. Nowadays, when we do not have a Temple and an altar, it is our tables which serve as the instrument for our atonement.

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