“And it came to pass on the eighth day…”
This week’s reading, Shemini (“eighth”), begins by recounting the events of the eighth day–which was the 1st of Nissan of the year 2449 from Creation (1312 bce), two weeks before the first anniversary of the Exodus.
And it came to pass on the eighth day, that Moses called Aaron and his sons, and the elders of Israel.
And he said to Aaron: “Take you a young calf for a sin offering, and a ram for an ascent offering, without blemish, and offer them before G-d.
“And to the children of Israel you shall speak, saying: Take a kid of the goats for a sin offering; and a calf and a lamb, both of the first year, without blemish, for a burnt offering; also a bullock and a ram for peace offerings, to sacrifice before G-d; and a meal offering mingled with oil;
“For today G-d will appear to you…”
The offerings are brought as instructed, following which,
Moses and Aaron went into the Tent of Meeting, and came out, and blessed the people: and the glory of G-d appeared to all the people.
And there came a fire out from before G-d, and consumed the ascent offering and the fat [of the other offerings] upon the Altar. And all the people saw, and sang out, and fell on their faces.
And then, in the midst of the jubilation, tragedy struck.
Nadav and Avihu, the sons of Aaron, took each of them his censer, and put fire in it, and put incense on it, and offered strange fire before G-d, which He commanded them not.
A fire went out from G-d, and consumed them, and they died before G-d.
And Moses said to Aaron: “This is it that which G-d spoke, saying: I will be sanctified in those who are close to Me, and before all the people I will be glorified.” And Aaron was silent.
And Moses called Mishael and Elzafan, the sons of Uzziel the uncle of Aaron, and said to them: “Come near, carry your brothers from before the Sanctuary out of the camp.” So they went near, and carried them in their robes out of the camp; as Moses had said.
Because of the centrality of their role in the revelation of the Divine Presence in the Sanctuary that day, Aaron and his two remaining sons are forbidden to engage in any of the customary mourning practices:
And Moses said to Aaron, and to Elazar and to Itamar, his sons:
“Let not the hair of your heads grow long, neither rend your clothes; lest you die, and lest anger come upon all the people. Your brethren, the whole house of Israel, shall bewail the conflagration which G-d has burned…”
And they did according to the word of Moses.
G-d Speaks to Aaron
And G-d spoke to Aaron, saying:
“Do not drink wine or strong drink, you, nor your sons with you, when you enter the Tent of Meeting, lest you die; it shall be a statute for ever throughout your generations.
“And that you differentiate between holy and the profane, and between the impure and the pure. And that you instruct the children of Israel all the statutes which G-d has spoken to them by the hand of Moses.”
Moses instructs Aaron, Elazar and Itamar to eat the special offerings of the day, as prescribed (despite the fact that, ordinarily, a priest in mourning does not partake of the offerings). This they do, except in the case of one offering:
And Moses diligently sought the goat of the sin offering, and, behold, it was burnt; and he was angry with Elazar and Itamar, the sons of Aaron that were left alive, saying:
“Why have you not eaten the sin offering in the holy place, seeing it is most holy… you should indeed have eaten it in the holy place, as I commanded.”
And Aaron replied to Moses: “Behold, this day have they offered their sin offering and their ascent offering before G-d; and such things have befallen me. If I had eaten the sin offering today, would it have been accepted in the sight of G-d?”
And Moses heard this, and it was favorable in his eyes.
The Dietary Laws
“These are the animals which you may eat,” G-d tells Moses to instruct the people of Israel, “among all the beasts that are upon the earth: Whatever parts the hoof and is cloven footed, and chews the cud.”
To be fit to eat, an animal must have both identifying signs; the Torah cites four examples of animals that have but one, and are thus “unclean”:
The camel… the hyrax… and the hare, because he chews the cud but does not part the hoof, is unclean to you.
And the swine, though he divide the hoof and be cloven footed, yet be chews not the cud; he is unclean to you. Of their flesh shall you not eat, and their carcass shall you not touch; they are unclean to you.
Water creatures may be eaten if they have both fins and scales (thereby excluding all forms of “seafood” other than the kosher species of fish).
Regarding birds, the Torah does not provide “signs,” but instead lists twenty species of non-kosher fowl:
And these are they which you shall have in abomination among the birds; they shall not be eaten, they are abominable:
The eagle, and the bearded vulture and the black vulture. The kite, and the buzzard after its kind. Every raven after its kind. The owl, the kestrel, and the gull; and the sparrow hawk after its kind. The little owl, the fish fowl, and the great owl. The barn owl, the jackdaw, and the gier eagle. The stork, the heron after her kind; the hoopoe, and the bat.
Insects, as a rule, are forbidden–“All swarming things that fly, going upon four, shall be an abomination to you”–with four exceptions:
These of them you may eat: the locust after its kind, and the grasshopper after its kind, and the hargol after its kind, and the hagav after its kind.
Carcasses of non-kosher mammals render the one who touches them or carries them tameh, ritually impure, as does the carcass of a kosher animal that was not slaughtered in the prescribed manner. The Torah also lists eight “creeping animals” which render a person tameh: “The rat, the mouse, and the tortoise after its kind; the gecko, the monitor, the lizard, the skink, and the chameleon.”
Utensils, food and drink also become tameh through contact with a carcass. Food, however, can become tameh only if it has first been made “susceptible” by being wetted with a liquid.
A mikveh–a naturally occurring pool of water–or a wellspring do not become tameh; indeed, the mikveh and the wellspring have the power to purify things that have become impure that are immersed in them.
Sanctity and Distinction
You shall not make yourselves abominable [by eating] any creeping thing that creeps, neither shall you make yourselves unclean with them, that you should be defiled by them.
For I am G-d your G-d; you shall therefore sanctify yourselves, and you shall be holy, for I am holy…
This is the law of the beasts, and of the birds, and of every living creature that moves in the waters, and of every creature that creeps on the earth.
To differentiate the pure and the impure, and between the animal that may be eaten and the animal that may not be eaten.