The Deathly Power of the Holy

The Deathly Power of the Holy

Mar 25, 2022 By Marcus Mordecai Schwartz | Commentary | Shemini | Shabbat Parah

Finding the right words after loss is hard, but Moses’s comments to Aaron in this week’s parashah are unusually difficult. At the moment that God fills Aaron’s hands with abundance, appointing him as high-priest and his descendants as an eternal priesthood, his two eldest die when they attempt to offer incense with a flame brought from outside the newly dedicated sanctuary—a strange, uncommanded offering. “And fire came forth from the LORD and consumed them . . .”

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The Seed of the Rabbinic Revolution

The Seed of the Rabbinic Revolution

Apr 9, 2021 By Jason Rogoff | Commentary | Shemini

How important is intention in Jewish law? Do I need to be mentally present when performing commandments, or is it enough to go through the motions and get it done? How often does the Torah care about what I’m thinking? For many of us the answers to these questions would seem obvious: Of course, God demands active engagement with the commandments! Why are mitzvot worth doing if I’m not going to be mindful in their performance? In reality, these answers are a product of the revolutionary interpretations of the Torah by the early rabbinic sages.

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How Do We Mourn?

How Do We Mourn?

Apr 17, 2020 By Eliezer B. Diamond | Commentary | Shemini

In these dark times, we are faced not for the first time with the question: how do we deal with unbearable pain? There are no easy answers. For some, the solution is to find a way not to feel it, and one way to do that is to drink oneself into oblivion.  

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The Promise of a New Heart and a New Spirit: <em>Lev Hadash Veruah Hadashah</EM>

The Promise of a New Heart and a New Spirit: Lev Hadash Veruah Hadashah

Mar 29, 2019 By Mychal Springer | Commentary | Shemini | Shabbat Parah

This Shabbat is Shabbat Parah, the Shabbat of the Red Heifer. The special Torah reading for this Shabbat, in Numbers 19, addresses the defilement of coming into contact with the dead. The Parah Adumah section makes clear that contact with the dead disrupts our ability to function, and that we must engage in a ritual in order to be restored into society and into proper relationship with God. And anyone who is involved with the ritual that purifies others will become impure in the process; there is no way to eradicate the impurity absolutely.

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Six Takes on a Leader’s Attributes

Six Takes on a Leader’s Attributes

Apr 13, 2018 By Walter Herzberg | Commentary | Shemini

In chapter eight of Leviticus, Moses is essentially serving as temporary kohen gadol, high priest, during the dedication of the Mishkan, the Tabernacle. On the eighth day, according to Rashi, Aaron and his sons are officially inaugurated into the priesthood. Moses transfers the position to his brother Aaron, who along with his descendants will officially serve as priests and high priest. 

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Making Meat

Making Meat

Apr 21, 2017 By Daniel Nevins | Commentary | Shemini

Dr. Mark Post of the University of Maastricht stunned the world several summers ago by producing the most expensive burger in history. Working from stem cells taken from a live cow, his team cultured muscle tissue that they then turned into an edible product resembling ground beef. Amongst all the specifications for kosher animals in this week’s parashah, lab-grown meat is unsurprisingly absent. Jews therefore want to know—is it kosher? Could it even be pareve?

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A Love That Transforms

A Love That Transforms

Apr 21, 2017 By Leonard A. Sharzer | Commentary | Shemini

This week’s parashah includes the tragic story of Nadav and Avihu, Aaron’s two eldest sons, who died, consumed by divine fire, after bringing an offering of alien fire within the sacred precincts of the Mishkan. Considering the dramatic nature of the narrative, and its compelling pathos, the story is told with remarkable terseness.

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Easing the Transition From Shabbat

Easing the Transition From Shabbat

Apr 1, 2016 By Shira D. Epstein | Commentary | Shemini

The parashah delineates several distinctions between holy and unholy: what constitutes an acceptable sacrifice; which animals fall within the category of kosher; the actions that might transition a vessel, oven, or garment to the status of unclean.

At the end of Shabbat, we invoke these same words during havdalah, praising God “who makes a distinction between holy and profane.”

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How Can People Be Holy?

How Can People Be Holy?

Apr 1, 2016 By Stephen A. Geller | Commentary | Shemini

Shemini (Lev. 9–11) contains two main topics: the elaborate sacrificial rites performed on the eighth day of the dedication of the Tabernacle, and the laws regarding kosher and nonkosher animals. The first topic details the numerous sacrifices accompanying the last stages of the dedication of the shrine, which reach an intensity matched only by the yearly rites of the Day of Atonement. This is no accident, because the annual event is meant to restore the shrine to the purity it possessed on the day it was dedicated.

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The Liberated Bird: Let’s Talk Turkey

The Liberated Bird: Let’s Talk Turkey

Apr 17, 2015 By Anne Lapidus Lerner | Commentary | Shemini

The main course at my Thanksgiving dinner—and perhaps at yours as well—is determined by a few verses in this week’s parashahShemini. After all, Leviticus 11 defines which living things are fit for kosher consumption, granting it a major impact on the Thanksgiving menu of kosher aviavores.

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An Offering of Love

An Offering of Love

Apr 15, 2015 By Alisa Braun | Commentary | Shemini

What does a feminist reworking of Leviticus 10 sound like? The Indigo Girls song “Strange Fire” (1987) beautifully illustrates how biblical images and stories weave their way into our lives and the art we create. The song exemplifies their signature style: a second-wave feminist message wrapped in a spare acoustic sound, strong rhythms, and soft harmonies. The lyrics allude to the actions of Aaron’s sons as a way of critiquing those within organized religion who wield power and seek to silence voices of personal spiritual expression.

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Enthusiastic and Committed Judaism

Enthusiastic and Committed Judaism

Mar 19, 2014 By Danielle Upbin | Commentary | Shemini

When my husband and I named our first son Nadav, we knew that we would have some explaining to do.

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Silence and Loss

Silence and Loss

Mar 18, 2014 By Matthew Berkowitz | Commentary | Shemini

One of the most enigmatic and painful moments of all of Tanakh occurs in Parashat Shemini.

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Finding Atonement After Sin

Finding Atonement After Sin

Apr 3, 2013 By Matthew Berkowitz | Commentary | Shemini

Parashat Shemini opens with the initiation of the Tabernacle altar.

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Aaron’s Silence

Aaron’s Silence

Apr 21, 2012 By David Levy | Commentary | Text Study | Shemini

The midrash is a sound warning to us all that our anger clouds our judgment and, worse, can inhibit our compassion. These, after all, were Moses’s nephews, both those lost and those mourning.

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The Challenge of Nadab and Abihu

The Challenge of Nadab and Abihu

Apr 21, 2012 By Deborah Miller | Commentary | Shemini

The idea of distinctions persists throughout the Torah and in Jewish life. The word lehavdil (to separate/distinguish) occurs in the first act of Creation—“God separated/distinguished between light and darkness.” The theme continues into this week’s parashah, Shemini. 

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Silence Speaks Volumes

Silence Speaks Volumes

Mar 26, 2011 By Abigail Treu | Commentary | Text Study | Shemini

We’ve all been on both sides of this story. Sometimes we find ourselves as the one in mourning or going through a particularly hard time, having to put up with the well-intentioned words of friends and acquaintances that inadvertently rub salt in our wounds; and at other times, we find ourselves trying to offer words of comfort, and speaking banalities that—even as they come out of our mouths—we realize are of no help.

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Parashat Shemini’s Lessons of Leadership

Parashat Shemini’s Lessons of Leadership

Mar 26, 2011 By Matthew Berkowitz | Commentary | Shemini

Parashat Shemini provides a stark example of celebration suddenly transformed into mourning. Having completed the building of the Tabernacle and set the foundation for divinely ordained sacrifices, the Israelites are ready to offer the first sacrifice celebrating the inauguration of Israel’s priesthood. The celebration, however, is tragically interrupted by the deaths of Aaron’s eldest sons, Nadav and Avihu. What makes their ending even more shocking is that their downfall comes while they are performing their priestly deeds. How are we to understand this fateful episode, and what does this tragic mishap teach us about leadership?

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Aaron’s Silence

Aaron’s Silence

Apr 9, 2010 By Eliezer B. Diamond | Commentary | Shemini

In Parashat Sh’mini we read of a great tragedy that befalls the people of Israel on the very day that it celebrates the dedication of the Mishkan, the sanctuary in the desert. Two of Aaron’s sons, Nadav and Avihu, bring an unauthorized offering and, consequently, they are slain by a fire that issues forth from heaven. We are told that when Aaron was informed of his sons’ death he said nothing: “And Aaron was silent.”

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When Theology Fails

When Theology Fails

Mar 17, 2009 By Arnold M. Eisen | Commentary | Shemini | Yom Hashoah

There is a fearful symmetry to the three chapters that make up this week’s parashah; symmetry made all the more fearful because the harmonies of theme and structure in Sh’mini contrast so mightily with the awful events it describes. 

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