Sh’mini (Eighth)

Sh'miniLeviticus 9:1 to 11:47

One of Torah’s most shocking events, the deaths of Aaron’s sons for presenting “alien fire” during the dedication of the Tabernacle, demonstrates the importance of obeying the commandments and laws of God.

Back in Exodus the Eternal spoke to Moses about the rituals for the Tabernacle: “You shall make an altar for burning incense…Place it in front of the curtain that is over the Ark of the Pact – in front of the cover that is over the Pact – where I will meet with you. On it Aaron shall burn aromatic incense; he shall burn it every morning when he tends the lamps, and Aaron shall burn it at twilight when he lights the lamps – a regular incense offering before the Eternal throughout the ages. You shall not offer alien incense on it, or a burnt offering or a meal offering; neither shall you pour a libation on it….” (Ex. 30:1, 6-9)

Then this week we read about what happened during the final day of the dedication of the Tabernacle. Aaron had just completed his offering to God…. “Now Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu each took his fire pan, put fire in it, and laid incense on it, and they offered before the Eternal alien fire, which had not been enjoined upon them. And fire came forth from the Eternal and consumed them, thus they died at the instance of the Eternal.”

“Then Moses said to Aaron,

‘This is what the Eternal meant by saying:
Through those near to Me I show Myself holy, And gain glory before all the people.’”

“And Aaron was silent.”

“Moses calls Mishael and Elzaphan, sons of Uzziel the uncle of Aaron, and said to them, ‘Come forward and carry your kinsmen away from the front of the sanctuary to a place outside the camp.” (Lev. 10:1-7)

Above is the law as presented in Exodus and the story of its violation. This short story – only 121 words – presents what this writer feels is one of the most shocking passages in Torah….

Two young priests wanted to demonstrate their passion by going beyond the specified agenda with a special offering. God objected to this change and sent a fire to consume them….. What was their offense? Did this fatal punishment fit the circumstances?

Two other stories from Torah help to see the reasons God acted:

From this week’s Haftarah:

“…Then David and all the people with him went up from Baalei-Judah, to take up from there the Ark of God, on which is written the Name – The name God of Heaven’s Hosts – Enthroned on the Cherubim. They put the Ark of God on a new cart and took it out of the house of Abinadab on the hill…. But when they got to the threshing floor of Nachon, the oxen nearly upset [the cart], and Uzzah reached out for and seized hold of the Ark of God, and the Eternal grew furious with Uzzah and God struck him down on the spot, because of his disrespect, there he died, next to the Ark of God.” (Second Samuel 6:2, 6-7)

Even though the action of Uzzah was done with the best of intentions, Uzzah was punished by God. The act of just touching the Ark which was thought to represent the divine Presence was considered an infraction. For this, Uzzah received the ultimate punishment. This reinforces the idea that Aaron’s sons were killed for disobeying God’s command… even with the best of intentions

The second example comes from the AlephBet. Org website ( article on Aaron’s sons). It compares the creation of the Tabernacle and the Nadab and Abihu incident to the Genesis story of the creation of the world and the eating from the Tree of Knowledge:

Genesis: God creates the world in six days and rests on the seventh day.
Leviticus: Man creates a home for God. Moses leads the dedication for the first seven days.

Genesis: On the eighth day God gives Adam and Eve the ability to freely move in Garden.
Leviticus: On the eighth day Moses turns the dedication over to Aaron and his sons.

Genesis: Adam and Eve disobey God and eat from the Tree of Knowledge.
Leviticus: Aaron’s sons disobey God’s instructions by adding a special offering to the ceremonies.

Genesis: God does not kill Adam and Eve, but sends them out of the splendor of the Garden of Eden into a much harsher world. Thus, their life in the Garden is ended.
Leviticus: God kills Aaron’s sons and their bodies are taken out of the community.

Again we see the punishment for not obeying God’s commands.

In addition to these two stories, there is the puzzling statement which Moses makes to Aaron after the boy’s deaths: “Through those near to Me I show Myself holy, And gain glory before all the people.”

This quote from Moses can be understood to mean the following: Through the actions of those near to Myself (the priests) the image of God is presented to the people…. If the priests can break … or recast … the laws of God, the people will also feel free to do likewise….. So the priests – those who convey the law to the people – must obey ALL the laws of God, showing the greatest respect for God. And through these actions the Eternal will “gain glory before all the people.”

Continuing with the thought – the laws of God must be followed…. I think that the fact that the Laws of Kashrut – the Dietary Laws – are also presented in this parsha is not a matter of chance. These laws form one of the basic parts of Jewish Tradition and are considered of greatest importance. For this reason it is not surprising that they are introduced in this parsha that reflects the great importance of following God’s commands.

Earl Sabes

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