Synopsis – On the eighth day following "seven days of inauguration," Aharon and his sons begin to officiate as Kohanim (priests); a fire issues forth from Adonai to consume the offerings on the Altar and the Divine Presence comes to dwell in the Sanctuary.
Aharon's two elder sons, Nadav and Avihu, offer a "strange fire before Adonai, which He commanded them not" and die before Adonai. Aharon is silent in face of his tragedy. Moshe and Aharon subsequently disagree as to a point of law regarding the offerings, but Moshe concedes to Aharon that Aharon is in the right.
Adonai commands the kosher laws, identifying the animal species permissible and forbidden for consumption. Land animals may be eaten only if they have split hooves and also chew their cud; fish must have fins and scales; a list of non-kosher birds is given, and a list of kosher insects (four types of locusts).
Also in Shemini are some of the laws of ritual purity, including the purifying power of the mikvah (a pool of water meeting specified qualifications) and the wellspring. Thus the people of Israel are enjoined to "differentiate between the impure and the pure."
Theme & Message – The theme of this lesson is The Adonai the consuming fire. Those who serve Adonai do their work with reverence and awe. They know that the Adonai they serve gives exact instructions and standards, but He also helps His servants to meet those standards. There are great consequences for those who do not follow the ways of Adonai. However, the power and the glory of Adonai is revealed to His servants when they follow His commandments.
TORAH LESSON – This torah portion begins with Moshe giving Aharon and his sons the Lord’s commandments regarding the preparations before the Adonai glory was revealed to the people. The first thing to be done was for Aharon and his sons to offer sacrifices for their own sins and to offer peace offerings for themselves. Then the priests had to make offerings for the people. The offerings were made as follows: the sin offering, the burnt offering, then the peace offerings. Then Aharon prayed a blessing over the people. Moshe and Aharon then went inside the Tabernacle. When they came out of the tent, they blessed the people. The Adonai’s glory was revealed to the people. Then fire came forth from before Adonai and consumed the burnt offering on the altar. When the people saw this, they shouted praises and threw themselves on their faces to the ground.
Immediately after this very humbling experience, the account tells us that two of Aharon’s sons, Nadav and Avihu offered fire and incense offerings which were not sanctioned by Adonai. Fire then came from before Adonai and consumed both of the men. Relatives were commanded to remove their bodies from the sanctuary. The Israelites were commanded to mourn for the men. However, Aharon and his remaining sons were not permitted to cut their hair, rent their garments or to leave the Communion Tent because they still had the Lord’s anointing oil on them. If they disobeyed they would bring divine wrath on the community and they would have died.
Adonai commanded Aharon and his remaining sons never to drink alcohol before entering the tabernacle. The alcohol could affect their judgment; therefore, it would be an eternal commandment to ensure that they would always be able to correctly distinguish between clean and unclean, holy and common.
Adonai gave Moshe and Aharon specific dietary laws. The camel, the hare, and the pig were named unclean. All water animals with fins or scales were named clean. Many different types of birds were named unclean. Most flying insects were named unclean. All animals with paws were named unclean. The Lord commanded that anyone touching any dead carcass would remain ceremonially unclean.
Adonai prescribed that anyone declared unclean in this way had to be immersed in water and remain unclean until evening. The Lord commanded that because He is holy, the people must also be holy. The people were to use these laws to help them distinguish between clean and unclean.
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