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Torah Sparks

PARASHAT SHEMINI - BIRKAT HAHODESH
April 18, 2009 – 24 Nisan 5769

Annual: Leviticus 9:1 – 11:47 (Etz Hayim, p. 630; Hertz p. 443)
Triennial: Leviticus 10:12 – 11:32 (Etz Hayim, p. 635; Hertz p. 447)
Haftarah: II Samuel 6:1 – 7:17 (Etz Hayim, p. 645; Hertz p. 454)

Prepared by Rabbi Joyce Newmark
Teaneck, New Jersey

Torah Portion Summary

On the eighth and final day of the ordination ceremony Moses instructs Aaron, his sons, and the Israelites in the proper rituals of consecration. Aaron offers his own purification offering and burnt offering. He then offers a purification offering, a burnt offering, and an offering of well-being on behalf of the people. Aaron and then Moses and Aaron together bless the people. The Presence of the Lord appears and a fire comes forth and consumes the offering on the altar.

Aaron’s sons Nadav and Avihu offer “alien fire” before the Lord. A fire comes forth and kills them. Moses tells Aaron and his two remaining sons that they must not engage in the normal mourning rituals, but the rest of the Israelites will mourn. The kohanim are prohibited from drinking alcohol while they are engaged in their sacred duties. Moses instructs Aaron, Eleazar, and Itamar about the various portions of the offerings they may eat.

God tells Moses and Aaron to instruct the people about the animals they are permitted to eat. Land animals must have cloven hooves and chew their cud. Animals that have only one of these signs and therefore are not permitted are listed. Sea creatures must have fins and scales. No signs are given for birds; forbidden species are listed. Permitted insects are listed; all the rest are forbidden.

Animals whose carcasses transmit ritual impurity are listed. A general warning to guard against defilement and to be concerned about ritual purity is given.

1. Food for Thought

Speak to the Israelite people thus: These are the creatures that you may eat from among all the land animals. (Leviticus 11:2)

  1. I maintain that the food that is forbidden by the Torah is unwholesome. There is nothing among the forbidden kinds of food whose harmful character is doubted... (Rambam, Guide for the Perplexed, (Rabbi Moses ben Maimon), 1135-1209, Spain and Egypt)
  2. According to the sense of Scripture, and in answer to the heretics, all the flesh, fish, fowl, or vermin forbidden to us are unwholesome and harmful to the body; on this account they are termed "impure". (Rashbam (Rabbi Shmuel ben Meir), 1080-1158, France, grandson of Rashi)
  3. We would do well to bear in mind that the dietary laws are not, as some have asserted, motivated by therapeutic considerations. God forbid! Were that so, the Torah would be denigrated to the status of a minor medical treatise and worse that that. Apart from that, the alleged ill effects could be treated with various drugs, just as there are antidotes to the most powerful poisons. In that event the prohibition would no longer apply and the Torah would be superfluous. (Akedat Yitzhak (Rabbi Isaac Arama), 1420-1494, Spain)

 
 
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