Torah Portion

The Portion of Shemini

Leviticus 9:1-11:47
Bible Portion
The Portion of Shemini

The Portion of Shemini

Leviticus 9:1-11:47

This portion is a busy one. It details at length the special service Aaron and his four sons brought in the Tabernacle for the first time, following the seven day period of inauguration. It tells of the tragic demise of Aaron’s elder two sons, Nadab and Abihu, and what happens in the aftermath of their deaths. Finally, the portion closes with a lengthy explanation of the laws of permitted and forbidden animals for consumption, known as the Kosher laws.

The Service of the Eighth Day

Leviticus 9:1-24

On the eighth day after the Tabernacle was first erected and Aaron and his four sons were anointed, the newly inaugurated priests begin offering the sacrificial service. The first offerings are special; Aaron brings a young bull for a sin offering and a ram for an elevation offering, while the Children of Israel bring a he-goat for a sin offering and a yearling calf and sheep  for an elevation offering. They also bring a bull and ram for a peace offering and accompany it all with a meal offering.

The text goes on to detail how Aaron and his sons performed the rituals of the sacrifices in all their details, after which Aaron and Moses bless the people and God’s glory appears to them. A fire goes out from before God and consumes the offerings the priests have prepared, and the people rejoice before Him.

The Israel Bible explains the connection between this revelation and that of Sinai. The Tabernacle and Temple in Jerusalem were intended to be a permanent resting place for the presence of God among the people. That is why the construction of the Tabernacle follows so closely on the heels of the revelation at Sinai. The Divine Presence made a brief appearance on Mount Sinai before making an extended stay within the Tabernacle.

Points to Ponder

Why do you think the Torah provides us with so much detail about what Aaron and his sons did to perform the first sacrificial service? Would it not have been enough for it to say they performed the service as commanded? The details have been laid out already extensively in the past two portions.

Tragedy Strikes

Leviticus 10:1-20

At the height of the celebrations of the first day of the Tabernacle service, Aaron’s two older sons, Nadab and Abihu, take it upon themselves to offer incense that is not part of the commanded service. God sends out a fire from before Him and consumes their souls. Moses offers comfort to his bereaved brother, but Aaron remains silent.

The Israel Bible explains Nadab and Abihu’s actions. Moved by the closeness they felt to God during the inauguration of the Tabernacle, they wish to get even closer to Him by bringing an offer in the Holy of Holies. It was not commanded, however, despite their good intentions, and therefore they were punished. This is the meaning behind Moses’s words to Aaron: “I will be sanctified through those who are nearest to me.” Through the deaths of Nadab and Abihu, who were immeasurably close to God at the time, the Children of Israel learned that God’s rules must be upheld, even by those who are powerful.

Aaron’s cousins minister to the bodies of the fallen priests, as Aaron and his younger sons are not permitted to leave the Tabernacle at this time. God also warns them not to consume any alcohol while serving in the Tabernacle, lest they die.

Moses instructs Aaron, Eleazar and Ithamar on how to complete the remaining parts of the service. However, they do not follow his instructions precisely. Moses confronts them for it, and Aaron argues that given their state of bereavement, they acted correctly. Moses accepts his brother’s explanation and acknowledges that they did the right thing under the circumstances.

Points to Ponder

Why do you think God chooses this time to warn the priestly family to avoid alcohol during their service?

The Laws of Kosher Food

Leviticus 11:1-47

This chapter lists the animals, birds and fish which the Torah deems Kosher or not Kosher. For some creatures, specific criteria are listed, while for others, acceptable and unacceptable species are identified with no explanation provided.

Among the land animals, we are told that Kosher creatures must both have split hooves and chew their cud. If it has one sign without the other, it is unacceptable. The Torah singles out four animals which have one sign but not the other: the hare, hyrax and camel chew their cud but do not have split hooves by Torah standards, while the pig has split hooves but does not chew its cud.

Among sea creatures, only those with both fins and scales are permitted.

Among birds, a list of forbidden birds is provided, although the precise identities of many are unclear today. Observant Jews eat only birds that have been held to be acceptable throughout the generations.

Most insects are forbidden, but the Torah permits flying insects which walk on four legs and have jumping legs as well. Those without jumping legs are unacceptable.

The Torah also lists which animals transfer contamination to those who touch their carcasses. A person who becomes contaminated must remains so until evening, and under certain circumstances must wash his clothing before being purified. The Torah goes on to explain what happens to utensils that become similarly contaminated. Even Kosher animals can transfer contamination if they die instead of being slaughtered ritually.

God explains that all these laws are designed to help the people become holy, because God says He is holy. As the Israel Bible explains, God is requiring of the Jewish people to distinguish themselves from the other nations. He gives them an incredible responsibility, to live a holy life, follow His laws and become close to Him. Thus they can become a positive influence on the world.

Points to Ponder

Why do you think the Torah specifies the four land animals which have only one Kosher sign without the other, implying all other animals will have either both or none?

The Israel Bible Team

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