Parashat Sh’mini: Risking mistakes with proper moral intention is what our work should be all about

2016-03-06 18.05.37The book of Leviticus has the unfair reputation for being boring and inaccessible. But this week’s portion, Sh’mini, has some of the Bible’s pomp and ceremony as well as drama and intrigue that proves that reputation wrong.

The portion opens up with Aaron officiating at his first ever sacrificial offering. The entire Israelite community, gather around the Tent of Meeting to witness this first ever sacrifice, because sacrifices were meant to help keep the Israelites connected to God. There is a sense in the text that Aaron felt the pressure, many of us have if we need to do something for the first time and in public. But his younger brother Moses seems to persuade and coach him.  Shortly after Aaron finished, one of the most dramatic and in-explicable stories of the Torah occured. Two of his sons, Nadab and Abihu, approach the altar and they offer with what the Torah says is eish zarah,  “strange fire.”  Sadly, fire came from the altar killed them. For me, a shocking episode. For thousands of years commentators have tried to figure out what happened.  Contempory Rabbi Larry Hoffman views these two events of our parasha as very much connected: He says “Aaron was hesitant because this act of these first sacrifices reminded him of being in front of all the Israelites at Mount Sinai when the calf was not a live calf, but a golden calf, and that he was still traumatised from that incident. He couldn’t go forward until Moses said ‘I will supervise, I’ll be watching you.’ Only then he finally steps forward to complete this act.” While Aaron acted very cautious, Nadav and Avihu did the opposite. It is not clear why they acted so quickly right after Aaron’s sacrifices. Rabbi Hoffman translates their behaviour as “arrogant and misusing their position as priests for their own purpose and not for the people.” Hoffman writes that “each of us must find that fine line that helps us to make decisions from our past experiences and behaviours; some of which have been error-filled, others which have been successes.” We should make sure that we’re not basing our decisions on “our zeal for success or personal ego-gratification. Meaning we must find a way to push away the paralysis we might feel, as well as keeping our personal desires at bay”. In short, Sh’mini teaches us that “risking mistakes with proper moral intention is what our work and what God’s work should be all about.

Shabbat Shalom – Rabbi Adrian M Schell (Cited after Maurice A. Salth on Parashat Sh’mini)

Torah Reading for Shabbat Parah / Sh’mini

Leviticus 9:1-11:47; Numbers 19:1-22 (Reading Lev. 9:1-23; P p.707; H p.443);

Haftarah: Ezekiel 36:22-36 (P 1455 H p.999)

Torah Study with Rabbi Schell this Shabbat at 08h45

Podcast of Rabbi Schell’s weekly Sermons Tuesdays on Radio Today (10h30) or: http://goo.gl/LsHQrY.

Parashat Sh’mini describes the ritual on the day after Aaron’s ordination ceremony. In the previous 7 chapters we were introduced to the rules for the sacrificial service, while Leviticus 8 described the priestly ordination of Aaron and his sons. In this parashah, Aaron begins to officiate as the first High priest. This parashah includes the death of Nadav and Avihu and concludes with dietary laws and with the demand that Israel shall be holy – for God is holy.

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