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
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.
Rabbi Shaul Yosef Leiter, director of Ascent
(for a free weekly email subscription, click
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
Shabbat Shalom, Shaul
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For last year's essay by Rabbi Leiter on
this week's Reading, see the archive.
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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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