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Posted April 21, 2017 - 4:14pm

Parashat Shemini covers the inauguration procedures for the service of the Tabernacle, as well as the dietary laws that spell out which animals are fit for consumption. Sandwiched between these topics we learn about a tragic event that results in the death of Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu. They attempt to approach Hashem on their own terms by bringing “unauthorized fire” into the presence of the Holy One of Israel. The event that follows is horrific. The Torah tells us, “Fire came out from before the LORD and consumed them, and they died before the LORD” (Leviticus 10:2).

After this tragedy, Moses instructed Aaron, Eleazar, and Ithamar (Aaron’s two surviving sons) on the details of eating the various offerings that were used for the service. But when the service was complete Moses realized that one of the offerings was not eaten, but entirely consumed on the fire. He became angry at Eleazar and Ithamar for not eating of it and began chastising them for this. Immediately, Aaron responded to his accusations and justified the actions of his sons. Who was right? Aaron or Moses?

Before we look to the answer, we need to understand what Moses did in this situation. Most Bible translations will say something like, “Moses searched diligently” for an answer to this dilemma. However, the Hebrew is a little more interesting. It uses the phrase, “darosh darash.” These are both two forms of the same Hebrew word, whose root means “to search out.” What is even more significant about this phrase describing Moses’ intense inquiry is that these two words are believed to be at very center—the very heart—of the Torah.

Posted April 7, 2017 - 7:23am

In our second week of learning about the sacrificial system, we read about the laws of what is known as the korban tamid, or the daily offering. Our portion begins by telling us, “This is the law of the burnt offering” (Leviticus 6:2[9]). The burnt offerings in this passage are not voluntary burnt offerings brought by petitioners, but rather the continual (tamid) or daily offerings required to be brought at the beginning and end of every single day: “One lamb you shall offer in the morning, and the other lamb you shall offer toward the evening” (Exodus 29:39). These two offerings serve as bookends to the daily services of the Holy House. They also serve as the basis for the daily prayer times. The morning prayers (shacharit) and the afternoon prayers (minchah) correspond to these two daily offerings.

When discussing these particular korbanot (offerings), the Torah specifies that the fire that burns on the altar should never be allowed to be extinguished. It emphasizes this point three times in our portion:

The fire of the altar shall be kept burning on it. (Leviticus 6:2[9])

The fire on the altar shall be kept burning on it. (Leviticus 6:5[12])

Fire shall be kept burning on the altar continually; it shall not go out. (Leviticus 6:6[13])

From this repetition we learn that there were at least three fires burning on the altar: one for burning the offerings, one for the coals required to be used while burning the incense on the Golden Altar, and one simply to ensure that there is a continual flame on the altar in the event the others should ever fail. It is this last one that we will now draw our attention to.

Posted March 31, 2017 - 6:38am

Drawing Near

As we finish the book of Shemot (Exodus) we now turn to the book of Vayikra (Leviticus). When most people begin a study of the book of Leviticus, they probably don’t get that excited. It’s almost entirely focused on animal sacrifices, various sprinklings of blood, bodily discharges, and purification rituals. The modern reader finds a study of Leviticus more repulsive than edifying. This is because these rituals are foreign to the modern reader in a time when animal sacrifice is considered more barbaric than spiritual. 

But in the days of the Master, these issues would have been extremely relevant to those wanting to draw near to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Their significance would not have been lost, nor reduced to “types and shadows” as they are often understood today. For Israelites living in a time when the Holy Temple in Jerusalem stood, sacrifices and purification rituals occupied sacred space originating from their Redeemer.

They learned this from a very early age. At the age of five Jewish children begin their Torah studies with the book of Leviticus. Why Leviticus? The midrash explains:

Why do young children commence with The Law of the Priests (i.e. Leviticus), and not with Genesis? Surely it is because young children are pure, and the sacrifices are pure; so let the pure come and engage in the study of the pure. (Midrash Rabbah 7:3)

Paul makes a similar statement in his instruction to Titus that might help us understand this concept:

To the pure, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled. (Titus 1:15)

Posted March 27, 2017 - 10:31am

Rabbi Shimon said: If three have eaten at one table and have not spoken over it words of Torah, it is as though they had eaten of the sacrifices of the dead, for it is written (Isaiah 28:8) “All tables are covered with filthy vomit; no place is clean.” But if three have eaten at one table and have spoken over it words of Torah, it is as if they had eaten from the table of God, for it is written (Ezekiel 41:22) “He said to me, ‘This is the table that stands before the LORD.’ ” (m.Avot 3:4)

In our previous mishnah, we learned a lesson from Rabbi Chananiah ben Teradion regarding the necessity to speak words of Torah when two people are conversing. In this mishnah, Rabbi Shimon uses the teaching of Rabbi Chananiah as a springboard to lead into his teaching. He said that “if three have eaten at one table and have not spoken over it words of Torah, it is as though they had eaten of the sacrifices of the dead.” As we brought out in our previous mishnah, for some this statement will be immediately written off as extreme. However, if we peer deeper into it we will see the wisdom waiting for us under the surface.

First, why does Rabbi Shimon increase the number of people from two to three? To begin answering this question, we need to think about the difference between a random event and an intentional one. Sometimes two people may eat together simply because they are in public and either happen to run into one another or happen to sit at the same table. Three people, on the other hand, is usually the result of a more intentional act. When three people sit to eat together, it is usually because they have something in common. Therefore, Torah should be a common, uniting factor between them. Also, with three people (versus only two) there is a higher possibility that one of them will be learned and able to bring a word of Torah with them to the table.


Latest Book Review

The Magerman Edition

Author: Daniel Rose & Jay Goldmintz
Publisher: Koren Publishers
Year: 2014

The Koren Ani Tefilla Siddur is one of the latest in Koren’s growing collection of siddurim (prayer books) geared towards a specific demographic. Koren describes Ani Tefilla as “an engaging and thought-provoking siddur for the inquiring high school student and thoughtful adult.” Koren says that Ani Tefillah has been developed in order “to help the user create their own meaning and connection during the Tefilla [prayer] experience.” The name of the siddur is connected with its objective. Ani Tefilla means “I pray.” 


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