This week’s parasha Shemini describes one of the most joyful days in the Jewish history, as it is written “That day was as joyous to G‑d as the day on which heaven and earth were created.” (Talmud, Megillah 10b)
After leaving Mitzraim the Jewish people went through a spiritual elevation process in the desert, up to the point where they received the Torah. However, even after the reception of the Torah, they were still caught in the desert. Mystically, a desert means a place of intense death-forces, a place of lethal ordeals. No water means no life. Even though, G-d supported his nation with all the physical needs to survive the desert, he knew that these deadly forces will gnaw also on the Jewish people’s spiritual level. Thus, G-d commands in the desert and Moses introduce the Mishkan (Tabernacle), bringing G-d’s divine name amid the Jewish people.
The 8th day
Parasha Shemini (Hebrew for "eighth”) uncovers the eights day of the inauguration ceremony of the Mishkan. As we know from the creation in Bereshit the biblical number six represents the daily life’s profanity, the number seven stands for sacrality of the Shabbat and eight is the number describing all the holiness of the world to come. Thus, the Mishkan – and later also the Beit HaMikdash (Temple in Jerusalem) – became the materialization of the coming world in our physical creation on this very day, the 1st of Nissan.
As it is written: “That day took ten crowns: It was the first day of creation (i.e., a Sunday), the first for the offerings of the nesi’im (tribal heads), the first for the priesthood, the first for [public] sacrifice, the first for the fall of fire from heaven, the first for the eating of sacred food, the first for the dwelling of the Divine Presence in Israel, the first for the priestly blessing of Israel, the first day on which it was forbidden to sacrifice to G-d anywhere but in the Sanctuary, and the first of months.” (Talmud, Shabbat 87b)
Moses and Aaron
Beside this tremendous ceremonial act, we can also see a sweet experience of brotherly love on a personal level between Moses and Aaron. Moses, the highest of our prophets, who was chosen by G-d to reach out to the children of Israel in Egypt and later to teach them the secrets of the Torah, must hand over the priestly duties to Aaron. Midrash Rabbah, tells us more about Moses expectations: “For all the seven days of inauguration Moses ministered in the office of high priest, and he imagined it was his. On the seventh day G‑d said to him: “It belongs not to you, but to your brother Aaron […]” We see, Moses expected to continue in the office of the high priest, but was pulled off by G-d. In this moment he realized, that he was the one, who led the preparation during the holy seven days before, but on the eight day – the day where the holiness of the coming world presents itself to this world – he has to step back for his brother. Imagine yourself in the situation where you were about to receive your most desired position at work or private life, for which you have work many years, and suddenly the day before you get told by your superior, that you must step back and leave the position to your brother on your own! Rivalry and envy could have emerged on Moses mind and maybe hate in a later state. However, nothing comparable happened, not even for a second. Hate and envy come from a deep feeling of arrogance within a person, who believes everything he does is better than the outcome of other people. In the second, when G-d reveal his intention to Moses, he understood, that he is not the one who fits best for this office, but his brother Aaron is. Which in conclusion means, that through Aaron’s service in the Mishkan the whole nation will have the highest possible connection to G-d and the benefit will be at its maximum. This is the reason why Moses not only stepped back without any negative feelings towards Aaron, but did it with love and the greatest appreciation to Aaron as Rashi teaches us: “Said Moses to them [people of Israel]: “Aaron my brother is more worthy than I. Through his offerings and his service, the Divine Presence will rest upon you, and you will know that G‑d has chosen you.”
Nadav and Avihu
In the same Parasha we can examine also another brotherly relationship between Nadav and Avihu, two of Aaron’s four sons. At the top of all celebration and preparation a tragedy struck, when the both sons brought an offering, which just their father Aaron in his new position of a high priest, was allowed to sacrifice: “Nadav and Avihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer, put fire in it and put incense on it, and offered strange fire before G-d, which He did not command them. A fire went out from G-d and consumed them, and they died before G-d.” (Vayikra 10:1-2)
Bar Kappara said in the name of Rabbi Jeremiah ben Eleazar that Nadav and Abihu died because of four things: (1) for drawing too near to the holy place, (2) for offering a sacrifice that they had not been commanded to offer, (3) for the strange fire that they brought in from the kitchen, and (4) for not having taken counsel from each other, as says " each took his censer."(Midrash Rabbah; Rashi)
Not only they have ignored the commandment of G-d when he appointed their father as the high priest but also they acted in arrogance i.e. exactly the opposite to Moses, when he joyfully stepped back for Aaron. They died for “not having taken counsel from each other”, implying that each acted on his own initiative. When they needed each other the most e.g. to revaluate the situation together anew and through this to hold each other back from this deadly sin, they decided in their arrogance to count only on themselves and to act on their own.
Just by reading the beginning of this Parasha I felt amazed by the deep consciousness with which Moses and Aaron lived in this world, trying to increase G-d name by the love had for each other. They understood, that only in a combined effort they will be able to lead the Jewish nation. Followed the exact opposite behaviour to show us the disastrous effect emerging from pride, arrogance and self-authorization, especially in the context of the holy sacrifice. For me it is a lesson to work on breaking up those wrong feeling toward another person in any situation. Therefore, even if we think that we deserve something, it is not up to us to receive it, until Hashem decides that we should receive it. Shabbat Shalom!
Arthur Bondarev loves to attend the weekly Jewish students learning in Konstanz, Germany, where the students jointly discus the weekly Torah portion or new Halachot. He studies financial economics in Konstanz, serves as the vice president of the local Jewish community and as the student president of ELES, a Jewish governmental scholarship fund.
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