Weekly Reading Insights: Shemini

Overview of the Torah Reading

To be read on Shabbat Shemini, Shabbat Para, 23 Adar II 5782 /March 26

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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There is an interesting counterpoint in the name of this week's Shabbat. The Torah portion is called Shemini and this Shabbat is called Shabbat Shemini. Shabbat is the seventh day, and shemini means "eighth". The Lubavitcher Rebbe taught that we can take a lesson from this on how to serve G d. On the one hand, we have the six days of the week ending with Shabbat - the weekly cyclic repetition of the completion of the entire plan of Creation by G-d. The seven days of the week are also called "the 7 days of tikun/repair" and refer to our efforts to change, fix and uplift this world. Either way, from G d's perspective- creation or from mankind's perspective- repair, the context of the number seven is tied to this world, within the spiritual and physical confines of the Creation itself, like the six sides of a box and its inner space.

Conversely, the number eight hints at a level that is higher and not confined by the existence of the created world. Even the number eight (8 on its side) itself is an infinity sign. On Shabbat Shemini both aspects of within nature and higher than nature are combined. What does that mean exactly? Even the person who has struggled and succeeded in reaching their appropriate level of the "seven", of fulfillment materially and spiritually, has a special added potential to raise him or herself above the limitations of the world, more than their usual, to go beyond themselves.

How do you do it? How does one push and even exceed the limits to reach the transcendent eight? The most obvious way might be to take on more. Do more to act on and demonstrate our connection to G d. Go out of your limitations!
Unfortunately, this does not always work. More is not always better.

The Rebbe Rayatz [1] quoted his father, the Rebbe Rashab [2], "The supernal chambers of spiritual reality, where a soul goes after life in This World (or where certain lofty souls can travel even during their lifetimes) only allow entrance to those who are fitting. Someone who is not fitting, even if he is a baal nefesh, i.e., someone who works on improving himself, or a great Torah scholar, or even one who can intellectually grasp the very highest levels of spiritual consciousness, is not given access. What does guarantee access? Accepting the yoke of heaven, i.e., doing what is required of us, not what we want to do - the simple naiveté of being G-d fearing no matter what the circumstances - is the key that open all the locks of all of the doors of the supernal chambers." (from Otzar Pitgamai Chabad - Collection of Chabad Sayings)

This is also one of the explanations of what happened to the sons of Aharon, Nadav and Avihu, who were killed by Heaven because they offered to G-d "a strange fire", something that they were not commanded to do. Going to the highest level requires a more sublime level of quality, not a higher level of quantity.
We see this also in the tzaddikim (holy sages) of Tsfat. The most spiritually gifted, Rabbi Yitzchak Luria, Rabbi Yosef Karo, Rabbi Moshe Alshich and others reached their high spiritual levels not because of their intelligence, but because of their holiness, that they carried the yoke of Heaven.

This is the inner dimension of the dichotomy in the content of Shemini. The Torah portion begins by speaking about things that are very lofty - the eighth day of the dedication of the Tabernacle that initiated the dwelling of the Divine Presence upon it. But it ends at the other extreme, teaching the Divine prohibitions of eating creepies and crawlers, things that are anyway naturally disgusting to a person. Being on a high spiritual level, knowing a lot, even doing a lot, is not necessarily a key to true spiritual success. The best advice to protect oneself from mistakes and to reach the highest levels is to relate to Judaism in a simple and total way - do what the Torah demands of us because G d said so - just like a simpleton, without being a wise-guy. It is too easy to make excuses and decide that "just this time" there is room for an exception. This is even if your intention is to do something even more holy, something loftier, like the sons of Aharon. First and foremost, cover the basics! There is always room to grow - and safely.

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:

The Zohar

Delight Below, Delight Above

From the teachings of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai; translation and commentary by Shmuel-Simcha Treister, based on Metok MiDevash

The Zohar teaches that every action in this world causes a similar reaction in the higher spiritual realities; as priests, upon whom such immense responsibility lies for drawing down spiritual sustenance, the blemish of torn clothes, unkempt hair, and mournful manner would render inoperative their ability to manifest G-d's benevolence for the world.

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