Parshas Shemini – Archive

A Pleasant Torah


“These creeping creatures are prohibited…” (11:29). וזה לכם הטמא בשרץ השורץ על הארץ… (יא:כט).


The Torah discusses the permitted and prohibited animals for human consumption. After this comes a list of the eight creeping creatures which convey tumah, ritual impurity, to one who touches them. The astounding question is that the one animal which represents impurity and would be expected to be on this list, is absent! The snake represents the root of all sin and perversion as its forbearer, the first serpent, caused Adam and Chava to sin, yet he is not on the list? Why is this so?


Torah Beauty

Rabbeinu Bechayah is perplexed by this question. He proposes the following answer which represents the beauty and goal of Torah living! The way of the Torah is defined as, “all its paths are pleasant and harmonious” (Mishlei 3:17). Hashem did not declare one tamey for touching a snake for this could cause a hazard to human life. If it were to confer tumah upon touch this might deter someone from immediately killing a snake found in his proximity for fear of becoming tamey when touching it. Thus, any potentially dangerous animal was omitted from the list of those that are impure as a precaution to not cause any Jew to ever get hurt because of it. All eight creatures listed are harmless to humans. The Torah is kind and sensitive to man’s mentality and does not want to place his health in jeopardy for even the smallest fraction of time.


Love and Care

Rabbi Paysach Krohn recounts the story of a beloved and dedicated educator named Rabbi Binyomin Liftin who told over the reason that he dedicated his life to learning and teaching Torah. As a young student, he set out to study under the great Rabbi Shimon Shkop (1860 – 1939). He feared the well known difficult entrance-exam required to join the prestigious Yeshiva. He spent an entire day riding the train to Grodna preparing diligently for the test and finally arriving at the Yeshiva feeling apprehensive, hungry and exhausted.

Not wasting any time he immediately presented himself before the great Rosh HaYeshiva. It was then that he had the conversation that changed his life. Reb Shimon saw how long of a day it had been for him. He smiled at him and said, “I have only two questions for you… Did you eat yet? Do you have a place to sleep?” When Binyomin answered in the negative, Reb Shimon said, “then let’s get that taken care of immediately! We will speak in the morning when you are well rested! “Wow,” Binyomin thought, ever impressed with the care and concern he so strongly felt, “if this is what Torah stands for, then this is what I want to connect with!”

Reb Shimon’s two questions on that fateful day became the answer to the rest of his life! He would dedicate himself to Torah study and become a most beloved and dedicate Rebbe himself. That’s exactly what he did. The way of the Torah is the most pleasant and sweet. Praiseworthy and fortunate is one who has a part in it!



Together We Stand


Aharon’s sons.. each took his firepan… (10:1)ויקחו בני אהרן נדב ואביהוא איש מחתתו… (י:א).


The Midrash (Vayikra Rabbah 20:8) discusses the tragedy of the death of Aharon’s two sons, Nadav and Avihu. There we find a perplexing comment, “their sin was that they did not ask advice one from another.

It is clear from Chazal that their sin revolved around them taking the law into their own hands and their decision to serve Hashem according to their own personal agenda and their failure to ask Moshe and Aharon for their perspective. How then can the Midrash state that their sin was in not communicating between each other? More so, each one performed the same “holy act” and thus certainly would have endorsed the others actions as well?! What does the Midrash mean that they should have consulted one another?!

What emerges is a powerful lesson. Sometimes in life we are so caught up in what we are doing that we cannot see our own faults. This is why it is so important to have a friend and mentor whom we can turn to for advice. More so, human nature is that if someone describes something to us, we are able to clearly and truthfully define it as wrong and against the Torah. However, when it is then pointed out that we are doing this exact thing, we have all the justifications and explanations in the world!

Another insight here expresses a different aspect of their sin. If they were both trying to serve Hashem in this special way, why did they not do it together? The answer is that they lacked respect for one another; they had no appreciation for the other’s input.

Perhaps each would have indeed endorsed the other’s act, but there was no unity among them to even allow them to ask! Each one didn’t care what the other had to say.

It is most interesting that this lesson is stressed by Aharon HaKohen’s children. Aharon’s Yahrtziet (1 Av) is the only death date mentioned in all of the Torah. Why is this so? The month of Av signifies the mourning of the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash. The Mikdash was destroyed because of Sinas Chinam, unwarranted hate between the Jews. Aharon’s trait was to pursue peace. Hence, his death date, Av, serves as a powerful reminder of our job to instill peace between us. His sons were punished for not upholding the family trait.

Interestingly, a direct parallel is found by the holy Arizal who died on 5 Av in the year 1572. Before his death, he warned his students that if they did not stop bickering, he would perish. They were lax in this warning and after a heated fight broke out among his disciple’s wives and spread to the men as well, the Arizal announced that because of the lack of unity his fate had just been sealed. He perished immediately after. The Torah, and especially the Kabbalah, can only be acquired through Shalom and Achdus.

Indeed, we are now in the Sefiras HaOmer mourning period. It was in this time period that Rebbe Akiva’s students perished on account that they did not accord proper respect to each other. Rebbe Akiva was the leader of his generation in Torah and the teacher of Rebbe Shimon Bar Yochai, author of the Zohar. Torah could only be transmitted through love and respect for one another.

It comes as no surprise that the Arizal himself states that one who reads the story of the death of Aharon’s sons when it is read on Yom Kippur and is moved by it, will merit a year of life! One who internalizes the lesson of respect and care for our brethren has earned the privilege to be a link in our chain of Torah transmission.


Extra Short and Sweet                                                     Returning The Crown


The Midrash states that the four non-kosher animals singled out in our Parsha represent the Four Kingdoms that subjugate the Jews until the coming of Mashiach. The last, the Chazir, pig, refers to Rome, the final exile. The Midrash explains, “She’machzeres, it returns the crown to Hashem”. The word Chazir, pig, can also mean, “to return”.

It seems very strange to focus on this play on words in the name Chazir? What is the depth?

The Ramchal explains that the more evil and darkness present in the world, the stronger Hashem’s ultimate revelation will be manifest. In other words, when a magician performs, the more death-defying and scary his setup is, the greater triumph is expressed when he sets himself free at the end. Whereas we are dealing with very deep concepts here, I believe that this answers my question.

Rome is the darkest exile. In a world where perversion and denial of Hashem permeates our lives, this is precisely where Mashiach will reveal most powerfully the truth of Hashem. This is how Rome ultimately serves to fulfill its name precisely- “Chazir”- it returns all of the grandeur of Hashem!


Golden Silence


In this week’s Parsha Aharon HaKohen taught an eternal lesson for all generations. After Nadav and Avehu brought their firepans into the Kodesh HaKadoshim, they were punished by death from Hashem. This was supposed to be a most joyous day for Aharon and his wife and it turned into one of tragedy and mourning.

Chazal tell us that really Aharon had many valid things to say at that point. He would not have been blamed for opening his mouth and sharing his questions with Hashem on how such a terrible thing could have happened. Yet at this great moment of pain and confusion, Aharon conjured up the strength to take control and remain silent. “Vayidom Aharon, and Aharon was silent” (Vayikra 10:3). Rashi tells us that Aharon was rewarded for this in that the very next Parsha which contains the laws that outline the Kohen’s prohibition from drinking wine, were taught specifically to Aharon and not in the usual manner in which Moshe was the one who introduced them to Klal Yisrael.

The contrast of Aharon’s mourning and the prohibition of alcohol consumption has always perplexed me. Aharon and his family were then sitting as mourners and the last thing on their mind was alcohol consumption?

I believe that there is a powerful lesson here. The consumption of alcohol greatly impairs one’s ability to think rationally and it also pushes off one’s defences and frees up the tongue. People often become extremely verbal and expressive when they are under the influence, often saying regretful things. Alcohol represents the loss of personal control. The strength and character that Aharon displayed in his acceptance of Hashem’s decree was a most powerful display of deep connection and dedication to Hashem. Aharon’s conscience choice to remain silent and respectful towards Hashem’s actions was a most eloquent lesson and example for his family and Klal Yisrael.

Hashem gave Aharon the floor and asked him to carry on that message and teach the laws of self control for proper respect in the Beis HaMikdash. It was precisely because Aharon illustrated his proficiency and deep rooted expertise in self-control and respect for Hashem, that he was asked to teach it to the entire nation. Aharon taught them how when one stands before Hashem, he is prohibited from consuming beverages that throw off the proper level of respect and sensitivity needed for being in the holy Mikdash. Indeed, it is now understood how Aharon taught so many people to pursue and love peace. Self-control and thoughtful respect are healthy components for developing and nurturing relationships. May we all merit to gain inspiration from Aharon’s lessons.


You Are What You Eat


In most years the Shabbos after Pesach is Parshas Shemini as it is this year. This is quite fascinating. We spent the Yom Tov of Pesach eating Matzah and fulfilling a Torah mitzvah in every bite according to the Vilna Goan. The Zohar calls Matzah, “bread of healing” and “bread of emunah, faithfulness.” We may wonder just what effect is the Matzah supposed to have upon us?

Dietary Laws

Parshas Shemini talks about the sanctity of the Jewish Nation and how Hashem commands us to only eat things that are kosher. The Torah lists off all of the non-kosher animals which we are forbidden to eat. The animals that are prohibited have negative traits. The pig is the quintessential non-kosher animal and represents Eisav HaRasha, the evil one. The pig has split hooves and pushes them forward to show, “look at me, I’m kosher!” Just as Eisav pretended to be righteous before his father Yitzchok. But on the inside, it does not chew its cud and thus it is not kosher. So too, Eisav did not work on his internal growth and was disconnected from spirituality.

Outward View

The Vilna Goan explains that Eisav represents the last Galus, exile, before Mashiach’s arrival. This exile is one characterized by a focus on physicality and outward appearances. The culture focuses on looking good on the outside regarding dress, outward manners, styles, trends, status and honor, but has no internal focus or morals. Just as the pig has a kosher symbol (split hooves) on the outside, but lacks the required kosher symbol on the inside (rumination). We don’t eat a pig because Hashem told us that it is prohibited. At the same time, we must take the lesson as to what is wrong and undesirable regarding each individual animal.

Food’s Effect

You are what you eat and anything that we consume has an effect on us. This is seen in many ways. In a physical sense, when we eat healthy foods, we receive the best nutrients and are feel most recharged and strong. When we eat junk food, we feel slow and lethargic.

The non-kosher birds are all predators that pounce upon their helpless victims. The Torah shuns this trait and teaches us to stay far away from such an approach. We love our neighbors and strive to help them out and watch their backs. We are the exact opposite from the predator birds.

Elevating Food

            Another way in which we elevate our eating is through pronouncing berachos before and after. Additionally, by eating L’Shem Shamayim, with the intent of being strong and healthy so that we can serve Hashem, we turn our meals into spiritual experiences. Just as friendships are formed through eating a meal with others, so too, we connect to Hashem through a hearty meal filled with berachos, words of Torah and gratitude to Our Provider.


The Matza is a simple piece of dough made of flour and water. It teaches us to be humble and not haughty like the rising yeast. When we eat Matza its message becomes part of us. We remember the importance of focusing on spirituality and on connecting with Hashem. This is the healing power of Matza; this is the message of faithfulness towards Hashem that Matza imparts into us. Just as the foods in Parshas Shemini have an impact on us, so too, we recognize the spiritual growth which we were privy to by going through a Pesach and fulfilling the mitzvah of Matza. We become what we eat and we are elevated through the Matza.

Leave a Reply