Rabbi Shafir's Weekly D'var Torah
Vayikra (Leviticus)
I publish a weekly D'var Torah on the Parsha of the week.  They are archived here.  If you would like to get these by email as they are published, please email me and I will add you to the list.

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Sh'mini  (Eighth)

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1. Parsha details 
2. Questions (and a few observations) on the excerpts
3. Some other Observations
4. Persevering Perseverance
5. Just a little on Omer
6. Exercises
Pesakh is over for this year -- there are just a few noodles, two boxes of matzah and half a jar of jam left to mark the holiday.  I did pitch the Pesakh cereal -- that was really bad!  I gave it to the birds in my back yard and even they did not appear enamored with it!  I'll stick to Matzah farfel next year!

And so we are counting.....  what a wonderful spiritual exercise this is!  I have a little calendar for 2001 for those who would like it (it's in word format).  It has the calendar date, the secular calendar date, the omer day and the s'phirot for the day in English and in Hebrew.  Next year, I will have Omer Cards like the Torah Cards this year -- I'll get them out by Chanuka so there will be plenty of time to get sets for those who are interested.  For those who are saying what is she talking about, see the section a Just a little on Omer below.

This week also sees Yom HaSho'ah, Holocaust day.  Most years it would come on the 27th of Nisan, but that falls on Friday this year, so the observance is pushed back a day to Thursday to allow proper preparation for Shabbat.  It is a day to remember those lost in Europe and to reflect on the effects of those who survived and to help our and our people's healing from this wound.

My parents were survivors.  My mother from Vienna and my father from the little town of Wasz, Hungary.  My father was one of 22 children, 18 from my grandmother and 4 from my grandfather's second wife (the woman I knew as Bubbe).  Of the 22, 10 reached adulthood and 4 of those made it the US, one made it to Israel.  The four children of Bubbe and Zayde made it, the last two being born in the US.  I never knew Zayde, except through people's memories.  I did know all but one of the children that made it to the US (and Canada).  My mother had two sisters and a brother.  Fortunately for her family, the oldest sister (by a first wife) lived in the US since the 'teens and the second daughter lived in Paris with her husband in the 30's.  My mother always said that when she went to visit Lotte in Paris in '37-'38 was when she realized what was going on in Germany and warned everyone to get out as quickly as possible.  Before my aunt in New York could get everything in order, my uncle was arrested as a rabble rouser (and he probably was one).  The family managed to effect his rescue and he was "wisked" to England where he fought the war in the British Army.  Meanwhile, the rest of the family did make it to the US in 38.  I still have my mother's "Arbeitsbuch" (workingbook) which allowed her to work as a beautician during the last days in Austria.  It has the characteristic ear-pose and, like all Jews, her middle name is shown as Sara.

There are way too many details to include in something like this, but on this day, it is certainly something on which to reflect.  And so I do -- but how does one measure the effect of such an event?  How does one measure the effect of ANY cataclysmic episode for any people and/or humankind?  Shoah, Hiroshima, and literally countless other events throughout history.  No people is free of the effects of man-made catastrophes done to them or of their doing (or at least participation).  

Are we learning?  And what are we learning?

And don't sit there and say, well, I'm not part of anything terrible happening to anybody.  That's simply not true.  We are guilty of many things by NOT doing something.  We blame people for not stopping the Nazi machine -- what would we do if we were in their place?  What are we doing today to stop others from suffering in the world?  Perhaps they are not losing 6 million -- if it is your brother or your child, isn't one just as tragic?  Can you really put your arms around 6 million?  That's too large a number to have personal meaning, but the uncles and aunts and their children whom I will never know are real.  You see, it's the ones and twos that are real.  And it doesn't matter if they died among a million or by themselves.  If they died too early or horribly, that's what counts.  Or if their lives are mangled and they manage to survive.  One by one.

We are taught that EVERY n'shama is important to the Holy One.  We are taught that WE are ALL Her creatures, whether we do good or evil.  One by one.  Judged in the moment.  If your life were snuffed out right now, where would you stand?  And don't say that it can't happen today -- it happens EVERY DAY.  Are we aware?  What are we DOING about it?  One by one.

Candy Lobb
1. Parsha details: Lev 9:1-11:47 ( tri 11:1-11:47 ) [ Haftorah II Samuel 6:1-7:17 (Seph 6:1-19) ] 
2. Questions and a few observations

Summary: The first day of Official Priesthood for Aharon, the death of two of his sons, the Torah of beasts -- what is 'kosher' and what is not.

WOW -- Aharon's first official day -- the eighth day, the day after the week of consecration, the day after spending every minute in the Tent of Meeting for a week.  The sacrifices start and things are going along well.  The people are responding. Then FLASH!!!!  and two of Aharon's sons are dead, instantly, where they stood.

It's not hard to imagine Aharon standing there, dumbfounded, for a time.  Moshe recovers first and says to Aharon: "This is what the Lord spoke, saying, I will be sanctified in them that come near to me, and before all the people I will be glorified." Most translations then say "and Aharon held his peace".  The Hebrew word can mean handle, memorial or fist.  Clenching one's fist might well be a reasonable response from Aharon as he braces to control himself.

This is an intense moment -- all of the people are watching.  Disaster has just struck.  It is Aharon's sons doing something unexpected and the flash of fire and the people are watching.  There is no doubt that the people were watching very closely to see what has happened and how Moshe and Aharon are going to react.  Moshe's words are certainly a caution to Aharon in this very public setting to think fast and carefully in front of the people.  Can you hear the silence after Moshe speaks as Aharon collects as much of himself as he can and they assess the situation?

Moshe has two cousins carry out the bodies -- certainly this would prevent Aharon from being defiled by their bodies -- but it also eliminates the risk of Aharon's self-control vanishing as he holds his now dead sons. 

Torah says that the two sons offered "strange fire" that was not commanded.  Obviously this has been a subject of MUCH discussion be the commentators through the years.  What exactly did they do?  What does Torah mean by "strange fire"?  And who did the commanding?  Well, let's see what happens next.

After the bodies are removed, Moshe turns to Aharon and his two remaining sons and tells them not to mourn publicly in any way, lest they die.  Further, they are not to leave the rituals currently in process. And they are to do nothing that would signal empathetic mourning on the part of the people.  The tension and emotion must have been incredibly intense.  It is critical that the process now in play be completed with propriety, dignity and honor.

"And the Lord spoke to Aaron, saying, Do not drink wine nor strong drink, you, nor your sons with you, when you go into the Tent of Meeting, lest you die; it shall be a statute forever throughout your generations;  ... that you may differentiate between holy and unholy, and between unclean and clean;"  Interesting that God should make this statute to Aharon right then....  (the Rabbis thought so, too).  Were the two sons drunk?  Were they careless with the ingredients?  Were they careless with the recipe?  What exactly did they do wrong?  One can see Aharon looking over the scene and figuring out whet they had done as he and the other two sons pick up pieces and reestablish a sense of order.

One can imagine them standing there staring at the 'evidence', whatever it might have been, the incredible flash of fire forever etched into their minds.  And Moshe comes over and tells them to continue with the rituals and get things moving again, just as they should be.

And apparently things go mostly well, although Aharon and his family do not eat one of the key sacrifices.  Moshe has so seek it out diligently, so we must guess that they put it out of sight or even hid it.  Perhaps it was the lack of leftovers or something that clues Moshe to search for it.  And when he finds the burnt remains uneaten, he chides them.  Aharon responds: "Behold, this day have they offered their sin offering and their burnt offering before the Lord; and such things have befallen me; and if I had eaten the sin offering today, should it have been accepted in the sight of the Lord?"  And when Moses heard that, he was content.

WOW!  What a key insight into the realties they faced.  What a price leaders have to pay when they are in the public eye.  They are no longer free to give in to their own needs and whims -- they must be keenly aware of the public reaction to their actions.  None of us lives in a vacuum -- and certainly our leaders do not.

We sometimes talk about how some seemingly insignificant event can have profound effects on history -- can you imagine how our history might have been different if Aharon had broken down in sorrow at that moment?  Have you ever had to hold things in and just push forward?  What's a valid '"how stopper" and what's not?
3. Some Observations

What raw emotions and insights into the characters of Moshe and Aharon.  If you were constructing characters, it is highly unlikely you would come up with this intense a plot, with these clear and sharp insights and stage directions.  And yet, reading it, one can picture it clearly.  I can almost hear Aharon's measured breathes and feel the tension in his muscles as he fights to maintain composure in these critical moments.  Moshe's face must have looked like it was made of steely iron, locked in an emotionless poker face as the people watched to see what would happen as the scenario played out before them.  What did they hear?  What parts of these events went on behind curtains?  Were there "non-people" (those unnamed people we never notice as they flit in and out of the scene) there?

And some people say that Torah is boring .....  just a bunch a sacrifices and rules.  Right. 

And after this incredible scene, we hear the Torah of the beasts and the birds....  We hear what is clean (tahor -- pure) and what is not (what is 'tamey').  This is one of the things that the cohanim were to differentiate between -- one of the reasons to remain sober.

So let's look at the list.  No animals of prey are allowed.  Period.  Also no meat eaters, no carrion eaters, no likely disease carriers.  And nothing that dies without being slaughtered.  And what is the reason? "For I am the Lord that brings you out of the land of Egypt, to be your God; you shall therefore be holy, for I am holy"  

Kashrut is an interesting subject and often one of much debate.  Are these restrictions about health?  Perhaps.  Certainly in the hot desert and without purification and refrigeration, the non-allowed foods would spoil much more easily.  Have you ever shopped in a open air market (a shuk?).  Kashrut makes a lot of sense in that context.

And what about mad cow disease?  That comes from cows eating infected cows.  Well, the first question that come to my mind is what is somebody doing feeding cow to any cow?  Or any meat for that matter -- they are vegetarians....  Is it really a surprise that forcing them to eat what they would not normally eat is going to have serious side-effects?

And certainly, if one has stomach cramps or worse, it hard to even think about being holy.  So probably this aspect played into this concept.  But is it the whole story?

What does Torah mean by being holy by what we eat?   How do these restrictions help us to be holy?  And what other restrictions do we need to add, if any, to achieve holiness in what we eat?  What about the chemicals in so many of the products we eat and use?  Do they have an affect on whether or not we are holy?  And what about being wasteful?

This Parsha starts after a pause from the previous Parsha, rather than from a new paragraph.  And that is not surprising -- it is the continuation of the week in the Tent of Meeting.  The text is solid until we get to the warning against liquor -- a highlight for emphasis.  This short paragraph ends with the instruction to teach the khukim, the laws without obvious meaning, the deep laws, to the children of Yisrael.  The Torah of the beasts starts another solid section -- with only two short pauses until the end of the Parsha.  The Hebrew flows and the drama of the first part splashes over onto the Torah of the beasts and the birds, which has a very rhythmic sense to it.  And we are being prepared to hear about several batches of laws.  The scene has been set -- we can see Aharon teaching the people what to do and what not to do.  And his presence is solid after the near fiasco is salvaged, at least in the eyes of the people.  We will have to see what Aharon does in the coming Parshayot.  

4. Persevering Perseverance

This week's Parsha is about Persevering Perseverance. Things that last, things that endure.  How do you make the enduring endure?  At the seder last week, a non-Jewish guest who was delightful observed that we achieve peoplehood through the mantra of our chanting.  He also commented that he had never seen a people do that before.  And we had not yet done any 'new' chants -- these were the traditional seder melodies to which he was responding.  (The bruchas and hineni muchan and the like).

And I thought about davvening and how traditional davvening can be a chanting-mantra effort.  And then I thought about new chants, new melodies. Maybe both are parts of persevering perseverance.

So why is this Parsha about this?  Perhaps because in many ways this Parsha is about being fully present and how that's a struggle for us sometimes.  And it's okay to recognize that it will be a struggle some times -- but we still need to work consistently toward that goal.  And sometimes that means not giving in to the passion or pain of the moment, sometimes it does mean giving in.

But it should always be a conscious choice, intentionally made.  If we achieve that self-control, even briefly, we can let go of the control we can never achieve and give that to the One who can.  And then, we will be persevering perseverance.

5. Just a little on the Omer

The Omer is the 49 days from the second day of Pesakh until we get to the Revelation of Sh'vu'ot (weeks -- as in a week of weeks).  We have counted it for a very long time.  Of course, the rabbis and the priests disagreed about when to start the counting -- but that is not surprising.  It was the time between the harvest of the barley at Pesakh to the harvest of the wheat at Sh'vu'ot.

It is a wonderful time for working on the Self -- for that is the area that always needs the most work.  We count every day as it begins in the evening.  I won't go into the rules and the details here -- if you would like more information, just email me and ask for more.

It is a wonderfully spiritual activity to concentrate on the qualities associated with the omer as we progress through the weeks and the days and prepare to witness out own Sinai event.  Next year, I plan to have Omer cards for people to use as to facilitate the counting and the work they may chose to do during this time.  They will be patterned after the Torah Cards that are my current project.
6. Exercises

1. Holiness: What is holy?  Become holy.  Start at your heart and feel the glow of an ember of holiness.  Feel it expand outward and penetrate parts of your body, gently caressing each part of your body as it penetrates.  The intensity of the glow increases with each breathe, but slowly, bit by bit.  It warms you from inside and becomes a light shining brightly.  Know that every fiber of your being is becoming part of the light.  Recognize that you and the light are blending, melding.  Become holy. 

2. Eating: Select something simple to eat, like a piece of fruit, or even a piece of matzah.  Look at it and notice every detail about it.  Smell it, touch it -- get to know its texture.  Where did it come from?  How did it get to be before you?  How many people worked to bring that food to you?  If it came from your own garden, how about the seed, the tools, etc.  Say the b'rukha very intentionally.  Hear each word as you say it.  Taste the food.  Feel its texture in your mouth.  Swallow carefully, feeling it going down.

3. Tahor "pure": What does it mean to be pure? How do you know when you are pure? How do you know when you are cut off and when you are connected. How can you re-connect? Can you help someone else re-connect?  

 There are many traditional interpretations of the parsha that I neither talk about nor mention. That is done from a position of space. I trust that the average reader is either familiar with these or can find many of them easily in other commentaries readily available. 

Thanks for reading this. If I have offended you, please forgive me -- that was not my intention. If you found some joy or happiness in reading this, thank you for allowing me to be a part. If you found a reason to think about something more deeply - kol hakavod and thank you!

And to the people giving me feedback thank you so much! I enjoy all of it. (Including the typos) You have made this weekly practice wonderful.



(c) 2001 Candy Lobb All rights reserved 

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