Torah Portion Shemini (Eighth ) Leviticus (Vayikra) 9-11
Haftorah Reading II Samuel 6:1-7:17
Today we read a very exciting Torah portion or at least it should be exciting. The first services are to be held in the newly completed Mishkan. Aaron and his sons are offering the offerings before G-d Almighty and the fire of G-d devours the offering. The people gave a shout and fell down before the L-rd and so ended chapter 9.
Immediately following in verse one of chapter 10 we read that two of Aaron’s sons, Nadav and Avihu, brought strange fire before the L-rd. Again, the fire of G-d fell but this time it took the life of the two sons of Aaron. Aaron was taken from the heights of joy to deep tragedy in the space of a few short verses. Moshe told him he could not take time to mourn his sons but must carry on with his service to G-d and his role as High Priest.
Tragedy and joy are part of all of our lives. We all have and will experience loss in our lives. I think scripture is saying in these verses we must not allow it to stop us or cripple us as G-d’s people. G-d will comfort us and give us peace. Our struggle is allowing Him to do that. We live in an imperfect world. Our task or role, as people of G-d, is to continue on in the role G-d has for us. To not be defeated but to rise above the disappointments and fulfill our role in G-d’s plan. We should grieve the losses that come to us in our lives but we are to not be defeated by that grief.
Sin can also sometimes try to weaken us in our spiritual life. However, with G-d’s help and forgiveness this too can be overcome and can even be an instrument used by G-d to strengthen us. We see an example of this again in this Torah portion in Leviticus 9:7. Aaron and his sons had been in training for 7 days on exactly how their roles were to be fulfilled in the service to G-d in the Mishkan. Yet, in this verse, we read a strange exchange between Moshe and Aaron. Moshe had to say to Aaron, “Come near.” Apparently Aaron was holding back not coming to the altar to offer the sin offering for himself, his family and all of Israel. Why would this be? He had trained. He knew what to do yet when the time came Moshe had to say, “Come near.” Maybe Aaron was over come with his own guilt of his past in the making of the golden calf. Maybe he felt unworthy to stand before G-d and perform his duties as High Priest. Moshe was saying in effect it was for this time you were chosen by G-d. Don’t let your past hold you back. I think for us this is so true. All of us have past sins in our life. All of us have done things, that when we look back, embarrass us, sins that still weigh on us even though we have asked forgiveness and G-d has forgiven us. We haven’t forgiven ourselves. Aaron had to be reminded of this by his brother. Don’t let a mistake, a sin define you. G-d forgives. G-d loves. G-d has a role for each of us. G-d has chosen us to fulfill that role. He does not give up on us. We must not give up on ourselves.
Lastly, I would like to look at the name of this Torah portion, Shemini or Eighth. This is a number that is used often in scripture. What if anything can we learn from this? Where do we see the number eight used in scripture? Circumcision occurs on the eight day. In Lev. 23:33 we read where Succoth ends with a Sabbath rest on the eight day. In II Peter 2:5 the word is used when describing the people on the ark, with Noah being the eighth or one of eight and of course here in our Torah portion.
In each of those cases the number eight is used to show a new beginning. Succoth’s eighth day signaled the start of a new religious cycle. In Noah’s case it signaled a new beginning for mankind. The circumcision of a boy on the eighth day signaled that he was now part of the community of Israel. Here in our verse it signaled a new and different relationship with G-d. He now dwelt among His people.
So the number eight in scripture usually indicates something new has occurred. I would say that our salvation experience could be compared to this. Things are different for us after we take that step. We are allowed to have a closer more intimate relationship with G-d. We are part of the family so to speak. We are no longer strangers and we should live our lives differently now.