Weekly Torah Commentary — Shemini April 6, 2013

SHEMINI, Leviticus 9:1-11:47

The “eighth day” with which SHEMINI begins refers to the first day of the month of Nissan, one year after the Exodus from Egypt. On this day the final inauguration of the Tabernacle took place following seven days of consecration of Aaron and his sons for service as priests. During the previous seven days, Moses had erected the Sanctuary in order to conduct the priestly consecration rituals, only to dismantle the Sanctuary afterwards. However, on the Eighth Day — the first of Nissan — the Sanctuary was left standing. On that day as well, Aaron and his sons fully assumed the role of priests forever after.

In calling this the “eighth” day, the Torah alludes to the fact that, with the inauguration of the Sanctuary, the Israelites reached a new height of spirituality and relationship with Hashem. They embraced the reality that life is more than bodily needs and desires, which bind us to this earth. In order to embrace and achieve the destiny for which we were created, we must reach higher than the natural realm.

So unique and powerful was the day when the Tabernacle was inaugurated that the Torah speaks of it in several portions in Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers. Yet this auspicious day was horribly marred by the death of the two older sons of Aaron. How to explain such a tragedy? As far as this world is concerned, death is the end: how can it be good?

Intimacy with G-d comes at a price — a price which is often paid in some form or other of pain. Pain is a teacher, at times, a harsh one. But pain is also a friend for when properly handled it takes us to heights we would reach no other way.

The manifestation of G-d’s visible presence in this world, such as was seen at the Tabernacle, could not but come at a great price. The price was paid by Aaron precisely because his was the pivotal role in the Sanctuary project. Aaron wore garments of glory and splendor. He received the choicest share of the priestly gifts and portions. But the glory was all G-d’s.

The temptation to use the wealth of this world for selfish purposes has caused the fall of more than one leader. Aaron is on the very edge. He has all the glory, he wears the wealth of the world on his very person. In order to keep him from going out of his mind with pride, he is struck with a terrible blow, the loss of two of his children. The sudden pain numbs him and at the same time demonstrates his true greatness. He utters no complaint; he does not rail against the Almighty; he does not rend his garments. He remains in the Sanctuary. We read, “And Aaron remained silent.”

There is a verse in Psalm 65 that reads, “To You, silence is praise.” There are times in our relationship with Hashem that exuberant praise is appropriate; there are equally times when SILENCE is the praise dearest to His heart and most appropriate response from ours. In this world, all is not as it appears more often than we notice. To truly understand the ways of Hashem, we must penetrate beyond the surface of daily life. His Torah, the Tree of Life, will teach us what we need to know about every area of life. Aaron’s astounding reaction to the death of his sons underlies this truth.

In Tune with Torah this week = may we, like Moshe, like Aaron, find the spiritual strength to take our destiny in our hands and rise to our true mission: “And you shall sanctify yourselves and be holy, for I am holy…” (Lev. 11:44).

Shabbat Shalom

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