Torah Portion:  Shemini (Eighth) (Leviticus) Vayikra 9-11

Haftorah Reading: II Sam 6:1-7:17

The name of this Torah portion is Shemini or Eighth. This Torah portion contains many worthy spiritual lessons for us and we will talk about a few of them. However, one fact is not clear from just reading the text. In Lev. 10:16 we read of Moshe, “Moshe searched carefully for the goat of the sin offering and behold it had been burned up.” The interesting fact is the words translated, “searched carefully.” In Hebrew the two Hebrew words are “dorash, darosh” meaning searching he searched. This same Hebrew word is applied to the study of Torah and by extension all of scripture as found in Deut. 6:7, which is part of the Shema where we see that all of us as believers are called to teach G-d’s Word to our sons and daughters every chance we have. We should teach them with purpose. In John 5:39 we read of Yeshua rebuking the teachers of Torah for not, “searching” “dorash” because the scriptures teach about Him. Now the interesting fact is that this word “dorash” is the exact middle word of the Torah, if you are counting the words. Right at the center of the Torah we find the word search or study. Teaching us that we are to always be about the study of G-d’s Word. We must never stop studying and seeking out what we can learn from the Word of G-d.


Next in these opening words of Lev. 9:7 we read Moshe telling Aaron to “go to the altar,” or in Hebrew the word means “get close to the altar.” What is puzzling is that Aaron and his sons had been practicing for seven days on how to perform their job as priests. So why would Moshe have to tell him to get closer. It seems he would have known that without being prodded by Moshe. Why would Aaron have hesitated to approach the altar? I think Aaron was thinking about what was about to happen, G-d’s presence would come down and fill the Mishkan. Maybe he was feeling inadequate for the task before him. Maybe he was considering his failure with the golden calf. In verse 6 we get a hint as Moshe tells him, “this is the thing which the L-rd commanded you to do. I expect most of us have felt like Aaron at one time or another. We sense G-d’s direction, a direction to take, then a doubt begins to seep into our mind.  I’m not good enough, I’m not educated enough. Let the words of Moshe comfort us and give us strength, “Approach the altar, you were chosen for this.” If G-d has given you this opportunity then you are well suited for the job. Even if you don’t think you are capable for the task. G-d does and that is what really matters.

Now I would like us to look at the tragic death’s of Nadav and Avihu, the two sons of Aaron. G-d’s presence had fallen, the climax of the last seven Torah portions had been realized. The people and priests had done everything G-d had commanded and the fire had fallen and consumed the sacrifice. Then, this horrific scene unfolds. Torah says that they had offered strange fire before the L-rd which they had not been commanded to do. Lev. 10:1. Fire went out from the L-rd and consumed them. So what went wrong? Let us look at this through the eyes of holiness. Holy is a time, space, object or person who has been set aside as a home of the L-rd, for His use, His presence.

Let us think of this world as a place where G-d has limited His power and presence to a certain extent. He does this to allow His creation, us, to use our own powers of thought, communication and creativity to make our own choices, to become responsible and mature in our life and faith.  G-d seeks people who make the choice to follow Him, not a robot programmed to do only what the Creator wants.  It is like a parent who knows they must step back and allow their children to make their own choices. However, there is a limit to this stepping back of G-d. To completely withdraw would be equivalent to abandoning His children.  So how does the Father leave us a sign of His continued involvement in our world?

He speaks to us through those holy moments in our lives, those holy days, holy places like the Mishkan here in these verses. These are those times and events where He and His glory are no longer limited but on full display. In those times we must be fully prepared to meet Him, not on our terms but on His. Here we see the mistake of Nadav and Avihu. They encountered the perfect without being called or prepared. They inserted their own presence into the absolute presence of G-d. That is why they died, no matter what motivated them. Rather than follow G-d’s order they followed their own.

Even at the beginning with Cain and Abel where we see worship leading to the first murder. Why, because worship, true worship, generates power which when approached with our impure motivation can be profoundly dangerous. Let us approach the Father in spirit and in truth. John 4:24

Lastly, let me say a few words about the issue of Kosher food as outlined in chapter 11. Maybe the most basic reason Jean and I observe Kashrut is found in Leviticus 11:47. Here we read, “To differentiate between the impure and the pure.” The word for differentiate in Hebrew is “lehavdil” which means to separate. This word when used in Judaism applies to two similar things. The first is a cow. Cows differentiate between grass and poisonous weeds. However, man can also differentiate in the area of food. This is not a moral issue even though morality can be the capacity to accept those things that are to be embraced and things to be rebuffed. But if that is where it stops then we are a lot like the cow avoiding poison. For Jean and I it comes to yes and no in G-d’s Word. Yes and no for us dictates what we can eat and what we cannot. We feel each time we read where G-d says to do or not do something He is making a point. This word lehavdil clearly makes for us the point here about what goes into our mouth. Nothing makes the point better than food. For when you consume food the eater and the food eaten literally become one flesh.