Sh’mini (Eighth)

Leviticus 9:1 to 11:47

Sh'miniTwo major events occur during this portion – The deaths of Aaron’s sons during the consecration of the Tabernacle… and the presentation of the Dietary Laws. Both are presented without explanation.

Like other portions of Torah, this week’s title comes from one of the first words of the text… “On the eighth day (of the consecration of the Tabernacle) Moses calls Aaron and his sons, and the Elders of Israel.” (Lev.9:1) Moses then provides details on what should happen during this eighth day, and final day, of the Tabernacle’s consecration.

As the text continues, we read that Aaron presents offerings and they are accepted with the flame of the Eternal’s acceptance. Then, Aaron’s sons make their offerings which included an extra offering involving incense which was not part of the planned ceremony as requested by God. As they are presenting their offering a flame consumes both boys…. Not only is the event both shocking and unexpected, it is presented with a minimum of explanation. We do learn of both Aaron’s and Moses’ reactions.

After this happening, God relates the Dietary Laws to Moses. God simply states what animals may be eaten… and those which cannot. No explanation for these rules is presented.

A similar question arises regarding both the death of Aaron’s sons and the Dietary Laws…. WHY? …. Why do the boys die after making an extremely heartfelt offering? …. And, why are the Israelites given specific laws regarding what they can and cannot eat?

Many explanations have been given for both questions. Regarding Aaron’s sons, many commentators point the fact that the “alien fire” that was presented was not what the Eternal had specified in the order of the consecration of the Tabernacle. Back in Exodus the Eternal states the laws for offering incense on an altar specifically designed for this purpose: “You shall not offer alien incense on it [the altar], or a burnt offering or a meal offering; neither shall you pour a libation on it.” (Ex. 30:9) This rule was broken.

After the deaths of the two boys, Moses spoke to Aaron and said: “This is what the Eternal meant by saying: ‘Through those near to Me I show Myself holy, And gain glory before all the people.” (Lev. 10:3) Some commentators have interpreted the words of Moses to mean that the actions of the priests present an image of the Eternal and the importance of the commandments and laws presented by the Eternal. Aaron’s sons decided to create their own order or rules for the presentation of incense. This lessened the importance of God’s rules. For this they were punished.

This Torah commentator feels that because this incident appears directly before the Dietary Laws, it gives us a message that the dietary laws are also important and should be observed… or punishment will result.

But why are these dietary laws so important?

Because no explanation or reasons for these laws is presented, many theories have been devised to explain the laws. Some commentators have said that they were presented for health reasons. Many diseases have been associated with pigs and other prohibited animals. It is pointed out that Torah is not a health manual…. No other health concepts are presented and there is no real reason to believe these concepts should become an exception. (Regarding other diseases… Leprosy is discussed later in Leviticus. But during the discussion no cures or health information is provided. The text just demands isolation of infected persons. This is not health information.)

Others theories state that the forbidden animals played significant roles in the religions of surrounding peoples … and as such were prohibited.

This commentator leans toward a different explanation that deals more with the basic concepts presented in the rest of Torah. Most of the laws of Torah are designed to create a separation between the Holy and the secular …. Between the interpretations of what is good and what is evil …. And between what is God’s role and the role of mankind.

As Torah presents the roles of the Eternal and the roles of mankind, we see that God is the creator. God created the world, vegetation, animals, and mankind. God is also playing an exclusive role in what occurs after life ends – death….. Mankind has responsible for the actions between birth and death. Mankind is challenged by God to repair and improve the world of which they are a part. Many of the laws reflect this idea…. including the dietary laws.

With this concept in mind, we must realize that many believe that whatever a person eats helps to shape their being … or at least… acts to shape their thinking and relationships to the world around them. Upon examination of the permitted foods … and the forbidden foods … we observe that, for the most part, consumption of non-meat eating animals is permitted, while eating meat-eating animals is forbidden. If one believes that a person is shaped by what is eaten…. A diet of peaceful, vegetarian, animals will result in a more peaceful person.

Also, if birth, death … and life itself … is the venue of the Eternal…. by avoiding contact animals that take life (death), a person will accept a world where food consumption … or the satisfaction from eating … is not approving of, or eating those animals that take on the actions of killing other living creatures. The laws force mankind to examine the roles of creation (birth and death) and look toward a world in which these actions are left to the Eternal.

It should also be noted that the consumption of blood, which represents a life-force, is also prohibited. (Lev. 7:26 is one of the most recent mentions of this ban.)

In other words, by eating according to the dietary laws, a statement is made that a person is affected by what is eaten. Foods of animals that kill other animals (a power this is considered that of God) should not be eaten. Thus, the concepts of what is God’s role … and what is mankind’s role is reflected in what is the most common human activity, that of eating.

Earl Sabes

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