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Judaism, Torah and Talmud


Parasha No. 26
Shemini: “On the eighth day”

Vayikra (Leviticus) 9, 1 - 11, 47

The heart of things

- The overall meaning of the parasha,
which emerges from the principle themes and mitzvot
- Our difficulty in understanding
- The Sage's difficulty
- Anava (humility, modesty, fear)
- The limits to our comprehension
- Rashi's commentary
- The meaning and function of the sanctuary
- Rabbenu Bahya's commentary: the 8th day
- The sanctuary and man: the importance of rites in our lives
- The sanctuary and peace in the world
- The comments of the Sages on anava
- Test of knowledge
- The overall meaning of the parasha
through its principle themes and mitzvot



Parasha Shemini continues the process of restoring the universe and humanity through the rules that govern the Temple.
It describes mitzvot 150-166 which relate to the duties of the Cohanim in the sanctuary: we know that the Cohanim represent:
" the prototype of ideal man,
" the men who lead the re-creation of the world through their holiness;
" like them, the Jewish people are a light unto the nations and help to improve the world through their holiness.

The teachings of the Torah are not just symbolic, they are concrete prescriptions pertaining to reality. They deal with the hair of the Cohanim, their garments, the times when they can enter the sanctuary, and the details for carrying the sacrifices.
Then, the Torah describes the dietary laws governing what Jews can or can't eat and lists which animals are pure or impure. The latter consists in:
" impure animals: beasts of prey, unclean fish and birds, reptiles and insects,
" impurity due to defects in animals one can eat,
" impurity due to contact with impure animals or with carcasses that have not been slaughtered in the authorized way..

The parasha also describes the death of Aharon's sons.
All these themes are found in Moshe's words to Aharon: "This is it that Hashem spoke, saying: through them that are nigh unto Me will I be sanctified" (Vayikra 10, 3).

Our difficulty in understanding
Do not be surprised if you find it difficult to understand the meaning of all the rites in the sanctuary and the lists of pure or impure animals. The commentators show that Moshe himself did not understand all these prescriptions.
We shall examine Moshe's difficulties. First of all, the fact that he had difficulty contrasts with those who are quick to interpret the Torah and who base all sorts of psychological, historical, medical, sociological or political theories on their interpretations. It is common knowledge that it is the less intelligent who believe they understand everything and are convinced that their position is the correct one, for such people are unable to perceive nuances.

The Sages'difficulty in understanding
In comparison, the greatest Sages, such as Ribbi Shimon bar Yohai, say that they are only able to understand a few glimmers in the Torah, particularly in Vayikra. They write with great caution, using terms such as " it is possible, efshar" or "as far as my limited knowledge allows me to say.." All the more reason for us to be cautious!

Even after the detailed descriptions of the laws governing sacrifices in parasha Tzav, Moshe still has difficulty understanding. Tractate Hulin, page 42, tells us that Hakadosh Barukh Hu took each animal species and showed them one by one to Moshe. Moshe could then understand how the eating of impure animals could harm the state of benediction in the world. In his turn, Moshe did the same for the children of Israel: he took each species and described them in detail, listing what could or could not be eaten (11,2).

As Tractate Menahot 29 a tells us, there were other subjects that Moshe, despite his great intelligence and closeness to God, was unable to understand. The construction of the menora, the fixing of the first day of the month (which relates very much to women), the impurity of reptiles. In each case, he was told precisely what to do and why (read Shemot 12, 2 and 29, 38; Vayikra 11, 2).

Anava (humility, modesty, fear)

In order help us attain anava - in all things and particularly in relation to the Creator - the Torah and the Talmud teach us two important things:
" the Torah opens the passage on the list of animals that are permitted or prohibited with the phrase dabberu el bnei Yisrael (speak [plural] to the sons of Israel). Rashi explains the meaning of the plural form: Aharon and his sons, Elazar and Itamar were as worthy of receiving and teaching the Torah to the people as Moshe because: they kept a dignified silence when the two other sons of Aharon died, they accepted the divine verdict and they did so with love.
" the Talmud (Menahot 29 b) describes how Moshe did not understand the importance of certain details: when he saw Hakadosh Barukh Hu add coronets (tagim) over the letters of the Bible, he said: "Master of the world, is it useful to spend time on such little things?" Hakadosh Barukh Hu replied: "there will come a man, Ribbi Akiva, who will draw knowledge from these little signs." Moshe responded: "If this is so, then he is the one who should receive the Torah and not me." Hakadosh Barukh Hu replied: "shetok, silence." Moshe continued: "if this is the teaching, show me the reward he will be given." And Hakadosh Barukh Hu showed how Rabbi Akiva's body was dismembered and sold on the marketplace. Moshe was shocked and exclaimed: "zo Torah ve ao karkha, this is the Torah, and this is the reward!" Hakadosh Barukh Hu answered: "shetok, silence, this is how it is."

The limits to our comprehension

The aim of this story is to make us understand that there are limits to our comprehension, and even defects. We should not get upset when we do not understand something: it is simply a sign that a problem is complex and that we are not looking at it in the right way.
This is why we have been given the book of Job, consisting of more than 40 chapters of tragic narrative, of endless arguments that seem pointless or too intellectual, with no sense of conviction until Hashem reveals the greatness of his creation to Job - a greatness which man has difficulty comprehending. In the course of 5 verses in chapter 12, Job repents and sees the complexity of creation. It is important to read chapters 38 to 42 of the Book of Job.

Rashi's commentary
We now turn to Rashi's commentary on verse 11, 2: "zot hahaya, this is the animal." If we think about all the meanings discussed above (the role of sacrifices, the process of drawing close to Hashem, the link between animals and men), we can understand Rashi's commentary: "animal, haya, also means life, hayim, for Israel adheres to the Creator and deserves to live. This is why Hashem singled Israel out from other nations and gave it the mitzvot." Rashi takes up the commentary of Midrash Tanhuma which refers to Devarim 4, 4: atem haddevakim baHashem Elokekhem hayim kulekhem haom ("you who adhere to Hashem your God, you are all alive today").

Sacrifices have two dimensions that are difficult to reconcile:
On one hand, they entail adhesion (devekut) and intimacy: Devarim 4,4 is the verse which Jewish men recite every morning as they place the tefilin 7 times around their arm, recalling Hashem's love through this act. The Song of Songs, Shir Hashirim, immediately follows the Book of Job.
But alongside adhesion and intimacy, is sacrifice. The link between the book of Job and the Song of Songs has a double meaning.

The meaning and role of the sanctuary
The sanctuary, and all that takes place within it, is the juncture where these two irreconcilable dimensions unite. It is this unity that ensures both dimensions of life - as represented in man and woman - and which is the source of love and material life.

Rabbenu Bahya's commentary: the eighth day
Rabbenu Bahya comments on the title of the parasha, which is drawn from the first verse: "vayehi bayom hashemini, and it came to pass on the eighth day." This refers to the 8th day of the month of Nisan, when the sanctuary was inaugurated. The number 7 refers to shabbat, to the yovel and the year of the shemita, the 7 days of Pesah, the holiday of Succot, the 7 days of mourning and the 7 days of celebration of a marriage, all of which are based on the 7 days of creation.

In contrast, the number 8 refers here to the Cohen Gadol, the High Priest, who is the servant of the Master of all creation and is 1. He alone is 1. The eighth day refers to this ONE, which is above the 7 of our world.
The restoration of creation and of ideal man in the Book of Vayikra, is not just a humanist vision which aims to create a new and better world based on a system of laws and regulations. The entire process has meaning only because it is oriented towards the source which is above us (le avodat el ehad veheshbon shemona ahar shivea, towards the service of El, One, and his number is eight after seven).

The sanctuary of man: the importance of rites
The process by which we pass from material life, represented in the 7, to the service of God, who is One, a process found in prayer and in the rituals of the sanctuary, teaches us also that we possess a source which impels us in this direction - this is the heart, lev.
" Without these two dimensions, the divine and our heart (El, lev), the sanctuary and its rites would have no "meaning;" without this bipolar dimension, the world would crumble, as our prophets and Torah tell us repeatedly.
" the two dimensions may result in good or bad things, depending on man's conduct as when the Temple was destroyed or when man's excessive ideals led to wars and catastrophes.
" The Sages warn us against these excesses of man. The Temple is the regulator of the impulses of men, both on an individual and collective level. Without this regulatory place, disaster awaits all mankind, not just Jews.

This is why, from time immemorial, Jews pray several times a day towards the heart of Judaism which is the mountain of the Temple (har habayit) and carry out these regulatory rites which are prescribed in the Torah.
When the rest of the world understands this and stops destroying or interfering with this place, which is vital for the good of humanity, it will follow the steps of the wise King of Persia of ancient times and order that the Temple be rebuilt for everyone. Then it will have discovered the meaning of fraternity and understood the role of the Jewish people - a people of Cohanim whose role is to better the world.

The Temple is not a type of super United Nations. It has a regulatory role because the Creator chose it as the heart of his creation, as the place which unites what is divine and what is human at all levels, and as the place where men will be able to live in peace among themselves and in peace with the Creator: "in the sanctuary I shall dwell among them."

The comments of the Sages on anava, humility

Our Sages consider anava to be THE most important human quality. Let us look at the commentary of Rabbi Eliahu ben Moshe Di-Vida in Reshit Hohma. Di-Vidas was a disciple of R. Moshe Cordovera in the 16th century. A summary by R. Yisrael Alnakawa, called Menorat hammaor, was added later to his book.
- Avraham was seated and the shekhina stood before him.
- Hashem speaks, then he says his name: this is what is called anava.
- Modesty and humility are the signs of someone who is an adam tzaddik and near to God.
- Man must shun ambition.
- Man must not walk with an arrogant gait, nor raise his voice, in study or in prayer.
- One must learn from all men, even the simplest.
- All men should be great in your eyes.
- Man must wear clean, modest clothes.
- These men were praised for their anava: Avraham, Yitzhak, Yaakov, Moshe, Aharon, Shmuel, David, Mordekhai, the Levites, Eliezer, etc.
- Anava will bring resurrection and the prolongation of the days of the world.
- etc.

Test of knowledge of the parasha
according to the traditional method described in my book Lev Gompers.

1. Re-read this commentary and learn by heart the plan and the main themes. Develop questions on the parasha and on your own life, and try to answer them.
2. Look up the references that are mentioned in this commentary.
3. Learn the Hebrew words and phrases cited in this commentary.
4. Return periodically to this commentary:
" in order not to forget it,
" in order to be able to recite it by heart,
" in order to use it as a source for meditation and personal reflection, together with the study of traditional texts.
This is the traditional Jewish method of study.
5. Re-read the parasha, in Hebrew or in English, together with Rashi's commentary.


- Psychology and Repentance
   (in french)

Part 15

Part 16

- Jerusalem excavations
- Terror and counseling
- Peace and peoples
- Israel and Iran
- Visual study & song on snow
for, through our union with the song of nature, the plan of Creation will be fulfilled

Poem: to be moon

In french

Avec Modia, vivez
vos vacances en Israël,
Texte et photos

- Par Modia, arrivez au Kotel
- La vie du Kotel
- Prières au Kotel
- Fête au Kotel
- La destruction du Temple
- Photos rares et émouvantes des abords du Temple
- Synagogues de Jérusalem
- Maisons de Jérusalem
- Les fleurs de Jérusalem
- Ici, tout sur Jérusalem
- "Le" texte sur Jérusalem
- Voir et visiter Israël
- Voyage dans le Nord d'Israël
- Belle carte d'Israël
- Jérusalem et les nations

- Vacances en Israël sur Modia
- Le Kotel en film direct
- et ici aussi, autre caméra

- Trahison historique:
L'antique synagogue de Jéricho


Part 17

- Love towards all people
- Light in war
- Before the hanukiah
- Land of Israel
- Jerusalem excavations 2007
  Proof of the lies propagated
  by the media

In french - Hope in Israel

Part 20
"Encounters with God
in the real"

- You are planning a tour in Israel - Photos
- My photos and judaism
- New year of beauty
- Flowers
Gallery photos

Part 21

- My english songs


Rav Professor
Yehoshua Rahamim Dufour
(Dipur, in hebrew)

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