Torah Weekly

For the week ending 18 April 2009 / 23 Nisan 5769

Parshat Shemini

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair -
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On the eighth day of the dedication of the Mishkan, Aharon, his sons, and the entire nation bring various korbanot (offerings) as commanded by Moshe. Aharon and Moshe bless the nation. G-d allows the Jewish People to sense His Presence after they complete the Mishkan. Aharon's sons, Nadav and Avihu, innovate an offering not commanded by G-d. A fire comes from before G-d and consumes them, stressing the need to perform the commandments only as Moshe directs. Moshe consoles Aharon, who grieves in silence. Moshe directs the kohanim as to their behavior during the mourning period, and warns them that they must not drink intoxicating beverages before serving in the Mishkan. The Torah lists the two characteristics of a kosher animal: It has split hooves, and it chews, regurgitates, and re-chews its food. The Torah specifies by name those non-kosher animals which have only one of these two signs. A kosher fish has fins and easily removable scales. All birds not included in the list of forbidden families are permitted. The Torah forbids all types of insects except for four species of locusts. Details are given of the purification process after coming in contact with ritually-impure species. Bnei Yisrael are commanded to be separate and holy — like G-d.


Manufacturer's Instructions

“...And they [Nadav and Avihu] brought before G-d a strange fire that He had not commanded them...” (10:1).

No one knows better how to operate a machine than its maker.

Imagine someone buying a new car. The salesman says to the proud new owner, “Oh yes sir. One more thing: your instruction manual.” The driver says, “Oh I don’t need that. I instinctively feel what the tire pressure should be and I have a sixth sense when the car needs a major service. I know intuitively what octane fuel the car needs.” Few people, when faced with operating something as precise and unforgiving as a car, would leave these sorts of decisions to instinct and feeling. Life is no less demanding or complex than a car. Rather, it is more so, and yet many people are happy to coast along blithely assuming that they are not putting water in their spiritual gas tank or brake fluid in their spiritual crankcase.

The Torah is the instruction manual of the world written by the Manufacturer of the world.

We live in an era where people are more interested in feeling spiritual than in being spiritual; where the instant gratification of a spiritual “high” and “mail-order Kaballa” masquerades as an authentic relationship with the Creator.

The Torah warns us against this in the incident of Nadav and Avihu. The “strange fire” may feel spiritual, but it cannot connect with the Source. And the reason it cannot connect is the seemingly redundant phrase, “which He had not commanded them.” If it was a strange fire, then by definition it was not commanded by G-d. Rather, the reason it was strange is because it was not commanded.

The car will only run when we follow the Manufacturer's instructions.

All or Nothing At All

“Every [animal] that has a split hoof, which is completely separated into double hooves, and that brings up its cud – that one you may eat.” (11:3).

These two aspects of a kosher land-animal are not a means of identifying them as being kosher, rather they are the cause of them being kosher. In other words, having split hooves and regurgitating its cud are what make the animal kosher.

The Torah specifically tells us that one of these aspects without the other renders the animal as unkosher as if it had neither.

The split hoof represents the outward behavior of man towards his fellow man, and the chewing of the cud represents the inward relationship between Man and G-d.

If a person behaves in a "kosher" way only with his fellow man or only with G-d, he is, nevertheless, treif.

  • Source: Heard from Rabbi Avraham Pam

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