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Tragedy and Sacrifice

WEEKLY SCRIPTURE READING

Torah Portion: Parashat Shemini ("Eighth")

Shabbat: April 15, 2023 Nisan 24, 5783

Prophets: 2 Sam. 6:1-7:17

New Covenant: Heb. 8:1-6


TODAY’S PRAYER OF AGREEMENT

The Shema

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength”. Deut. 6:4-5

 

Our Torah reading for this week, called parashat Shemini ("eighth"), continues the account of the seven-day ordination ceremony for the priests (as described earlier in Parashat Tzav). During each of these "seven days of consecration" Moses served as the first High Priest of Israel by offering sacrifices and training Aaron and his sons (i.e., the kohanim or priests) regarding their duties at the mishkan (i.e., "Tabernacle"). On the eighth day however, (i.e., Nisan 1), and just before the anniversary of the Passover, Aaron and his sons began their official responsibilities as Israel's priests. In the midst of the dedication, however, tragedy struck as Aaron's sons Nadav and Abihu took it upon themselves to make their own offering before the Holy of Holies of the tent. Since this was not the prescribed means of offering sacrifice, God considered the incense offered to be "strange fire" (i.e., esh zarah: אשׁ זרה) and both sons were tragically consumed by fire before the LORD (Heb. 10:29,31). Aaron was required to remaine silent as his sons' bodies were removed by his cousins, and Moses then warned Aaron's two remaining sons, Eleazar and Ithamar, not to mourn during this sacred occasion. The Torah portion includes a list of various animals, birds, fish and insects permitted (or fobidden) as food, a list which subsequently provided the framework for Jewish dietary law (i.e., kosher law). The Israelites were permitted to eat any mammal that has both a split hoof and chews its cud (Lev. 11:3). Likewise, only fish that have both scales and fins were to be regarded as kosher. A list of acceptable (i.e., non-predatory) birds was given, along with the commandment not to eat any insects unless they have a pair of jointed legs used for leaping. The dietary laws were intended to sanctify the Israelites by separating them for holiness: "For I am the LORD your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy" (כּי קדוֹשׁ אני). Providentially considered, it is no coincidence that the inauguration of the Sanctuary is directly connected to the Passover (פסח), since the daily sacrifice of the Lamb (i.e., korban tamid: קרבן תמיד) presented an ongoing memorial of the great Exodus from Egypt. Indeed, consider that the central sacrifice of the Mishkan (i.e., "Tabernacle") was that of a defect-free lamb offered every evening and morning upon the altar in the outer court, along with matzah and a wine offering, signifying the advent of the true Passover Lamb of God given sacrifice for us. This is called "God's Food" in the Torah (Exod. 29:38-42; Num. 28:4-10; John 1:29).


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