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Eight Days a week – Parshat Shemini

Parshat Shimini

Leviticus 9:1 -11:47

This week’s Torah portion is different. By that I mean if you are a Reform Jew or you live in Israel the Torah portion we read from is Shimini. If you are a Conservative or Orthodox Jew living outside of Israel you are still observing Passover this Shabbat and there is a special reading for the 8th day of Passover. But Reform Jews observe the Biblical Torah cycle which coincides with the way all Israeli Jews read the Torah! The irony of this week’s portion is that the word Shimini means eighth day!!!! It reminds us of the Beatles’ song “Eight days a week”! This week we read the first half of Shimini. The portion opens with the first offering given by the High Priest in the new Tent of Meeting, the Ohel Moed. Moses had dedicated the altar and Tent with offerings for the first seven days of its inauguration. But Moses was not the High Priest. He had the honor of the first offerings. But then Moses had to install Aaron and the priesthood which he did by a special anointing. Then on the eighth day of the observance Aaron and his sons began their regular work as the Priesthood, culminating a wonderful celebration. One of the most powerful moments of this sacred celebration is that the fire that consumed the sacrifice was seen by the whole people. Leviticus 9:24 states, “And fire went forth from before Adonai and consumed the burnt offering and the fats upon the altar, and all the people saw, sang praises, and fell upon their faces.” This was not some hidden moment. God’s glory and strength was witness by the entire Israelite nation. Think about it. Usually, the work of priesthood is secretive, mysterious, done behind closed doors. But in this case a new open system was created and shared. Everyone knew the formula for the offerings (These were described in the last two weeks Torah Portions). Everyone was privy to the miracle of God in their midst. While the priesthood had special job roles, they did not possess some secret knowledge. And they could not make up some secret knowledge. In fact that is one of the purposes of the story contained in this week’s portion, the death of the sons of Aaron, Nadav and Avihu. Immediately following this great 8th day of culmination ceremony, Nadav and Avihu come to the altar and try to offer a sacrifice that was not what God required. Chapter 10:1 states: “And Aaron’s sons, Nadav and Avihu, each took his pan, put fire in them, and placed incense upon it, and they brought before Adonai foreign fire, which God had not commanded them.” They did it in secret. They did it when not called upon to. They did it without proper reverence (tradition teaches they were drunk from the celebration!) They did it to usurp their father’s power. All reasons that flaunt the new system of openness and inclusiveness of the people. This heritage of openness and inclusiveness is the values we should uphold in our traditions today even though some would not. The Torah is not the exclusive material for rabbis and scholars but is accessible to all. The mitzvot are not something done by a special class of people but incumbent upon all Jews. The teachings of the Jewish people are not only for some Jews but for all Jews to learn debate, innovate and make meaningful. That is the challenge for the liberal Jew. Not simply to “not do” or “we don’t do that anymore.” But the challenge is to make meaning from knowledge. This is how we integrate contemporary life into our ancient traditions. And that spirit of openness and transparency is exactly the spirit we must bring to our synagogues, our Jewish institutions and our study and knowledge of Torah today!