Questions and Concepts for Parsha Shemini
(Leviticus 9:1-11:47)
  1. Aaron's sons, Nadav and Avihu, sinned with fire and were punished with death by fire. This seems like a very "negative" occurence, so why did Moses say of their deaths, "Of this did Hashem speak saying, 'I will be sanctified through those nearest Me, thus will I be honored before the entire people'."?
  2. The name of the Parsha, Shemini, means "the eighth," and refers to the day on which Aaron and his sons were inducted as the priests of the Sanctuary. There is a relationship between the numbers "seven" and "eight" in Torah. "Seven" is associated with the physical space and time. The "level of holiness" man is capable of reaching in this world is symbolized by the number seven. "Eight" represents a level of holiness beyond the normal confines of space and time. It is related to "being wholly united with G-d as He is in Himself, rather than as He is related to the world." This is why a circumcision is done on the eighth day and can be performed on Shabbat (which is the "seventh day" of every week). Shabbat belongs to physical space and time, but circumcision belongs to the realm of the Holy. "Eight" thus represents a level of holiness that goes beyond the idea that G-d and the world are two distinct entities.
  3. The number eight is associated with the Time of the Redemption. It is said that, "The harp of the Era of the Redemption will be of eight strands." Concerning the revelations of the Time of the Redemption, the prophets say "And the glory of G-d will be revealed and all flesh will see." How does this refer to a spiritual level above what we can experience in this present physical realm?
  4. As seen in this Parsha, the "seven days" working on the Tabernacle prepared everyone for the "eighth" day, when they experienced the presence of God. How is this related to the idea of seven thousand years of human history (including the Millennial Kingdom) followed by the "eighth day" of the Olam Haba (World to Come)?
  5. How is all of this related to the Shema, which tells us that "God is One," and the words of the prophet Zechariah who says, "In that day His Name will be One."?
  6. How does Torah give us means for linking the spiritual and the material in this present age to enable us to spiritually prepare for the Time of the Redemption? (i.e., Shabbat, the Feast days, kosher laws, studying of Ezekiel's Temple.)
  7. The laws of Kashrut (kosher commandments on clean and unclean food) are considered "chukim" - decrees from God that seem to be beyond human comprehension. (As opposed to "mishpatim," which we can more easily understand the reasons for.) By "unclean" the Torah does not mean they are "physically bad" for us. Rather, the Torah tells us not to eat certain foods, primarily because these foods are "spiritually unhealthy" - a detriment to holiness. How is believing in a God who tells us which foods are spiritually best for us, like trusting the doctor who prescribes healthy foods or proper medications?
  8. How is the keeping of those commandments considered "chukim" (such as eating kosher) associated with the idea of the "eight day" and the holiness which goes beyond the physical world?
  9. Consider this concept:
    Parsha Shemini is read around Pesach, near the beginning of the seven week period of the counting of the Omer. What is the connection between the two? The Torah says about the Omer, "You shall count for fifty days." And yet in fact we count only forty-nine days. Why? In the seven weeks we remove ourselves step by step from the forty-nine "gates of impurity" and pass through the forty-nine "gates of understanding." The fiftieth, the ultimate level of understanding, is beyond us. But it is only when we have reached by our efforts the forty-ninth, that the fiftieth comes to us as a gift of G-d. The seven weeks of the Omer are like the seven days of consecration. They represent the spiritual achievement of man. The fiftieth day of the Omer is like the eighth day of the Sanctuary It is the revelation which breaks in on us from the outside, the answer of G-d to our endeavors. The fiftieth day is Shavuot, the day when the Torah was revealed on Mt. Sinai. And that day was a foretaste of the revelation of the Messianic Age.