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Parashat Sh’mini (Leviticus 9:1-11:47)

“Fire came forth from before God and consumed the burnt offering and the fat parts on the altar. And all the people saw, and shouted, and fell upon their faces.” (Leviticus 9:24)

Seven is a big number in the Torah. The seventh day is Shabbat. The seventh month is Tishrei, when we celebrate Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. The seventh year is the sh’mitah, when the land lies fallow and debts are cancelled. The seventh sh’mitah is the yovel, the Jubilee, when all slaves are set free and land reverts to its original owner.

So Parashat Sh’mini, which describes the first instance of actual worship in the mishkan, or Tabernacle (rather than its dedication), surprises us by beginning with, “Vay’hi bayom hash’mini…And on the eighth day Moses called Aaron and the elders of Israel.” (Lev. 9:1) What’s with the eighth day?

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks (1948- ); former Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the British Commonwealth) explains: God creates Adam and Eve on the sixth day. This is a risk because they can make choices. And of course, they choose to violate God’s command and destroy Eden’s harmony. All this happens on the sixth day, so God permits Adam and Eve one day of grace, Shabbat, before exiling them (Deuteronomy Rabbah 13). At the end of the first Shabbat, as the sun sets, God shows them how to make fire (Pesikta Rabbati 23). So, the first seven days begin with by God creating light. The eighth day (which is the beginning of the second seven-day cycle) begins with humans, empowered by God, creating light.

God creates the world for humanity; the Israelites create the mishkan for God. So the Israelites take seven days to dedicate the mishkan, God’s world, and apply what they’ve learned by inaugurating it with fire on the eighth day.

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom

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