1. What is the name of the parsha? What does it mean?
Shmini. It means Eight – in reference to it being the eight day that the Mishkan was constructed, and now, after Moshe’s week of practice and demonstration it was finally about to be inaugurated by Aaron and his sons.
2. Why is the word specified (by a ‘the’)?
It was on THE eighth day of the inaugration of Aaron and his sons into the kehuna(priesthood).This was the
first of the month of Nissan the day in which the Mishkan was erected. In other words this day was not an ordinary day, but began a new era in our history, our service and relation to Hashem. It was also Rosh Chodesh of Nissan, -the first day of the first month of the year – revealing that the initiation of the Mishkan resonated with Creation itself which had its beginnings on the same day. (There is a dispute in the Talmud – if Creation began in Nissan or in Tishrei – when we celebrate Rosh Hashana. Many understand that like most disputes in aggada (non-legal matters), they are really both emphazising two sides of the same coin. In our case, the world was initiated in thought/planning in Nissan, and brought out to physical reality 6 months later in Tishrei. So the creation of the Mishkan corresponds to the world of ideal, of the more eternal and supernatural.) The Midrash says that this day took 10 crowns for all the great events which began on it.
3. Why does Aaron bring a calf for his sin offering but not his elevation offering, and for the Jewish people, the order is reversed (their elevation offering is a calf)?
See the Maharal and his student the Kli Yakar for a fantastic explanation – if I have time after Shabbos I will try to write it – but at least we can be aware of the kasha (question/difficulty) -the root of learning and growth in Judaism.
4. What are the signs of a kosher animal? Is there any significance to them?
A kosher animal chews its cud and has split hooves.
Of course the depth of the reasons of the Omnipresent’s mitzvos are beyond the grasp of a flesh and blood creation, nonetheless our sages have revealed to us certain insights to help us grab onto the mitzvos, for most of us are more eager when we appreciate what we are doing (this is not to say that this is a higher level than serving Hashem with simple wholeheartedness and without investigative analyses).
We are what we eat – the Rambam responded to a community that was having difficulty coming to grips with certain Torah fundamentals, that they were likely being lax in avoiding forbidden foods and mixtures, and thereby their hearts had become clogged up to understand the depths the Holy Torah. The Ramban writes that eating of the forbidden species in our parsha engenders cruelty in one’s heart. The Sefer HaChinuch writes that only the one who made the soul can understand what it needs, and what damages it, and if we care about our precious neshamas and our link to eternality, than we had best listen to the Good Doctor, who has only our best interests in mind when He prescribes our diet.
Claws, demonstrate grabing, and taking, and we as Jews strive to be givers, and non-violent. Chewing of the cud shows a=the ability to appreciate what one has, and not have to always seek and consume more in order to find satisfaction, = and it is quite impossible to grow spiritually/intellectually if one is constantly pursuing new desires and fantasies. As it says in Pirkei Avos – “Who is happy? He who is content with his lot”
5. What are the signs of a kosher fish? scales and fins. The gemarra says that any fish that has scales has fins (in case you go to a store and the fins are already removed). An aquatic creature was once found possessing sacles but – alas no fins. The Ma’adanei Yom Tov – proved from the verse, that we only have this drash (scriptural derivation) by fish, whereas this creature (which had legs) was actually an animal.
Birds?This is according to tradition (mesorah) this is how we know. Moses was shown the various birds. No birds of prey.
There is a interesting and relevant dispute about the American Turkey – for although technically all birds are kosher unless explicitly excluded in our parsha, after time, we lost the traditions on which bird was which, and therefore only birds of which we had a tradition to their being kosher are permitted. Before coming to America there was no tradition about the Turkey – there are other such birds which have some controversy – check the responsa literature for some fascinating discussons
6. Why are the laws of kashrus placed in this parsha?
Firstly, because only kosher animals can be brought in the tabernacle. In other religions it’s always associated with temples and animals. In Judaism the tabernacle is a place that makes us holy. Each house/home is also a small tabernacle. What we bring into our homes like the temple must also be holy. Therefore, what we eat and how we eat is what makes us on a daily basis holy as well.
We daily make our house into a tabernacle as well. In the temple the one that brought a sacrifice and the priest shared in its offering. So to the mother of the house shares what she makes with the household on a daily basis similarly to the priest. The mother constantly brings holiness into our homes. Holiness can be present in everything we do.
I came across a most revealing comment from the Sforno (just after the time of the Spanish expulsion) with an important thesis which answers our question.
At Mount Sinai, it says each Jew was given two crowns, and we returned to the level of Adam/Man before sin. In other words we were immortal, and our divine part of us was much more realized, and that was why we were able to relate to Hashem much easier – we could bring offerings wherever we wished. After the sin of the calf however, we again tumbled into the darkness of our present world, and as a result a gamut of new laws were in order. As a parable -a healthy person can eat what he pleases, and go as he wishes; a sick person on the other hand, needs a very limited diet and daily regimen, and limited contact with disturbances. So too after we tumbled we had to be given a restricted diet in order to keep alive our muffled souls, and to build a Temple in order to allow us to have a rendez-vous with the Creator. With the sparse deposit of greatness accessible to us now, we ought to be smart and not hinder ourselves any more than necessary.
7. Who is killed in the parsha? Why? Are they praised or degraded? What was their father’s reaction?
The sons of Aaron:Nadab and Abihu because they entered the holy temple and raised up a sacrifice while intoxicated.
On one hand they did something that was not allowed but their intention was that they were drunk like on Purim. Where the secrets of a person come out through wine. People say things that are really in their heart. These sons went into the HOLY Of HOLIES with the correct intentions they came with their heart. But, they also needed to keep the rules.
Aaron was quiet when told the news. He accepted the news with out question and cried.
8. This parsha contains the middle verse, word and letter of the Torah – can you locate them, (bonus what is the significance of each)?
9. To whom did Aaron teach the halacha of a 1st day mourner eating from offerings?
To the great Moshe – and upon hearing Moshe immediately took reproof and admitted that he erred in this law. The sages say the one reason that the Torah is compared to water, is because just as water naturally flows to the lowest place, so too Torah only rests in the humble of heart and the unegoistic – just like Mount Sinai was chosen to receive Torah because it was the lowest of the mountains.
10. For what mitzvah does Hashem say it was worth taking us out of Egypt?
To not make yourself impure by abstaining from creeping things. We must recognize that we are Hashem’s agents on earth, and even if we may not be at our full grandeur (as I wrote above), still, we can become greater than the angels if we sublimate all of our energies to elevate ourselves. Thus it behooves us to avoid doing lowly and repulsive things like eating bugs, or dirty foods, or being around waste (the gemarra learns out a host of laws regarding being dignified from this law not to defile and debase ourselves (re; bugs).
As I was going through the parsha, I came across 10 examples of being sensitive to another’s feelings – we can learn a lot just from the subtle, human components of our Torah – tell us how many you found.
Wishing you a dignified, bug free, kosher shabbos,