The kosher section at a supermarket in Boca Raton, Florida. (Uriel Heilman/JTA)

Parashat Shmini: Summary

After the dedication of the Tabernacle and the ordination of the priests, two of Aaron's sons bring a strange fire before God and are consumed by fire; God then instructs Moses and Aaron regarding which animals may be eaten.

Commentary on Parashat Shmini, Leviticus 9:1-11:47; Exodus 12:1-20

The Lord had just commanded Moses to tell Aaron and his sons about the different offerings and specific rituals to be given in the Tent of Appointed Meeting. Aaron and his sons were required to remain at the entrance of the Tent of Appointed Meeting for seven days and nights.

On the eighth day, Moses summoned Aaron and his sons and the elders of Israel. Moses told Aaron to gather specific animal and grain offerings and bring them before the Lord.

They brought the offerings to the front of the Tent of Appointed Meeting. The entire community came forward and stood before the Lord. Moses said, “This is what the Lord has commanded that you do so that the glory of God will reveal itself to you.” Then Moses said to Aaron, “As the Lord commands, come forward to the altar and sacrifice your sin offering and your burnt offering. Then sacrifice the people’s offering for their atonement.”

Aaron sacrificed the animals, then lifted his hands toward the people and blessed them. Then Aaron and Moses went inside the Tent of Appointed Meeting. When they came out again, they blessed the people, and the glory of God revealed itself to all the people. Fire went forth from before God and consumed the burnt offering and the fat parts on the altar. And all the people saw, and shouted for joy, and fell on their faces.

Now Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu each took his fire pan, put fire into it and placed incense upon it. Then they brought before God strange fire that God had not enjoined upon them. Then fire went forth from before God and consumed them and they died before God.

Moses said to Aaron, “This is what God said, ‘I will be sanctified through those who are nearest Me, thus I will be honored before the entire peoples.’” Aaron was silent.

They carried Aaron’s sons from the Sanctuary to outside the camp. Moses said to Aaron, “Don’t show your mourning, lest God become angry with the entire community. But know well that your brethren, the entire House of Israel, shall bewail the burning that God has kindled. Do not leave this place in the Sanctuary, for God’s anointing oil is upon you.”

Then God spoke to Aaron, saying, “Drink no intoxicating wine when you or your sons enter the Tent of Appointed Meeting so that you may not die. This is a law for all time throughout your generations to distinguish between the sacred and the profane, the contaminated and the pure.”

The Laws of Kashrut

Then Moses told Aaron’s remaining sons to make an offering to God. Afterwards, God spoke to Moses and to Aaron, telling them to state the following to the Israelite people:

These are the creatures that you may eat from among all the land animals: any animal that has true hooves, with clefts through the hoofs, and that chews the cud, you may eat. The following animals who either chew the cud or have true hooves, you shall not eat: the camel, the rabbit, the hare, and the pig. You shall not eat of their flesh nor touch their carcasses. They are unclean to you.

From the waters, seas and rivers, you may eat all creatures except what does not have fins and scales. They are an abomination to you. You shall not eat of their flesh.

And these you shall hold in abomination from among the fowl; they shall not be eaten: the eagle, the vulture, the kite, falcons and ravens of every variety, the ostrich, the sea gull, any variety of hawk and owls, the pelican, the stork, herons of every variety, the hoopoe and the bat.

All winged swarming things that go upon four legs are an abomination to you. Only those insects that have above their feet, jointed legs to leap with on the ground may you eat, such as locusts, crickets and grasshoppers of every variety. All other winged swarming things that have four legs shall be an abomination to you.

All animals that walk on paws, among those that walk on fours, are unclean for you. Also unclean are those living things that creep on the earth, such as the mole, the mouse, lizards, crocodiles, and chameleons. Whoever touches anything unclean, whether directly, by cloth or by container, they shall remain unclean until evening. Then they shall be clean.

And every thing that creeps upon the earth, it is an abomination and shall not be eaten. Whatever goes upon the belly, upon four legs or many legs, all creeping things are an abomination.

You shall not make yourselves unclean by eating these things. For I the Lord am your God: you shall sanctify yourselves and be holy, for I am holy. For I, the Lord God, who brought you up from the land of Egypt to be your God, you shall be holy for I am holy.

Parashat Shmini Discussion Questions

1) Why does what we eat make a difference to God?

2) Do you ever think about what you are eating as unclean or clean? Why or why not?

3) How did you feel when God appears to kill two of Aaron’s sons?

4) What does God mean by proclaiming, “You shall be holy for I am holy?” How is God holy? How are you holy?

Reprinted with permission from Jewish Family & Life!


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