Torah Weekly

For the week ending 30 March 2019 / 23 Adar II 5779

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.


Swimming Upstream

“...everything that has fins and scales in the water, the seas, and in the streams, those you may eat…” (11:9)

An elderly Jewish gentleman, Harry Goldstein, who somehow passed his driving test, is driving the wrong way down the freeway. His wife calls him up and says, “Harry, I just heard on the news there’s someone driving a black Cadillac the wrong way down the Interstate freeway and I just wanted to check that it’s not you.” “Yeah,” says Harry, “I heard it too, but the highway I’m driving on, it’s not just one car going the wrong way — the whole highway’s going the wrong way!”

The Jewish People have been driving the ‘wrong way’ down the world’s highway for more than three and a half thousand years. Avraham is called ‘HaIvri,’ from which the name Hebrew derives, but it also means ‘the one who crossed over’. While the world at large has been cruising down the highway of status, money, fame, and physical indulgence, the Jewish nation has spent those millennia driving the ‘wrong way’ up that highway to proclaim the idea of a Supreme Being to whom all our actions are ultimately accountable and Who desires and demands a world of justice, self-restraint, morality, peace, and equality.

“...everything that has fins and scales in the water, the seas, and in the streams, those may you eat…” (11:9)

The Talmud teaches that in addition to these physical signs, if you find a fish swimming upstream, it is de facto a kosher fish.

The Torah calls us a “stiff-necked people,” but it has also been that quality — to go against the flow — that allows us to stand up for our belief and trust that the world can be perfected under the Kingdom of Heaven.

§ Sources: heard from Rabbi Akiva Fox; Shemot, 32:9; Bereishet Rabbah 42:13

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