Parshat Shemini (The Eighth Day) - 5761
In the Haggadah, among the songs
that follow the Seder,
and which for many are true highlights of that memorable experience, is the
song, “Who Knows a Given Number?” where that number runs from One, HaShem
Himself, to Thirteen, His “Midot,” or Characteristics.
Among those numbers, of course, is the number “Eight.”
The answer given to the question “Who Knows Eight?” is “Eight
Days of ‘Milah,’ “ referring to the fact that the Ceremony of
Circumcision is performed on the Eighth Day of Life of every Jewish boy.
“Milah” is a Covenant of G-d with the Jewish People, that was first established with our forefather Avraham (Bereshit 17:9-14). A male who is uncircumcised is called an “arel,” and is excluded from many defining Jewish experiences, including partaking of the Pesach Sacrifice, that will be re-instituted with the re-building of the “Beit HaMikdash,” the Holy Temple, by the “Mashiach,” soon and in our days.
What is special about the number “eight?”
we can make an attempt to answer that question by looking at, together with
the Haggadah’s response to “Who Knows Eight?” other instances in the
Bible and in Jewish History that the number “eight” plays an important
role. The following come
immediately to mind:
Process of Consecration of the “Kohanim,”
the Priests and the “Mishkan,”
the Tabernacle, into the Divine Worship, was an Eight-Day Process, climaxing
on the Eighth Day, that is the main subject of this week’s Parshah.
On that Day, HaShem signaled His satisfaction with the activities of
the Jewish People in creating an Abiding Place for His Divine Presence, by
sending forth a Fire from Heaven to consume the Sacrifices on the Altar.
Eighth Day of the Holiday of “Sukkot”,
attached to it but really independent, is the Holiday of “Shmini
Atzeret.” On that day, in
contradistinction to the earlier seven days of the Festival, when the number
of bullocks sacrificed decreased daily from thirteen to seven, adding up to
seventy, corresponding to the “seventy nations of the world,” on
“Shmini Atzeret,” only one bullock was sacrificed.
That single bullock corresponded to the People of Israel, the “One
Nation in the Land,” the “Kingdom of Priests and the Holy Nation.”
Holiday of “Chanukah,” that
celebrates the victory of the Jewish People over the Greeks and the “Mityavnim,”
Jews who were assimilating into the culture of Yavan, the ancestor of the
Greek People. It is an Eight-Day
Holiday, commemorating also the Re-Dedication of the Second Temple and the
miracle of the cruse of oil that lasted for eight days, when there was
really only enough oil in it to last for one day!
What is the common thread that binds “Brit Milah,” the Consecration of the “Mishkan,” “Shmini Atzeret” and “Chanukah?”
possibility is that in each case, there is an instance of the Jewish People
being raised, somehow, above nature, above the natural order, while
remaining firmly anchored within it.
the case of “Milah,” Circumcision, the Jews are asked to make a
“Sign” in their bodies, specifically in the organ of desire, that shows
their willingness to sublimate their natural desire, to control and regulate
it in accordance with the Command of the Torah, and of its Holy Author, in
accordance with the principles of “Tzniut,” Modesty and Restraint.
the case of the “Miluim,” the Consecration, there is a demonstration of
the possibility and the actuality of a Connection between the Divine, the
Eternal, and the human being, frail and mortal but possessed of an Eternal
“Shmini Atzeret,” HaShem asks the People of Israel to remain behind and
spend a “Special Day” alone with Him, to allow expression of the
intimacy that exists between the two “Parties.”
“Chanukah,” the first Holiday after the cessation of Prophecy, there
occurred a “Nes Nigleh,” an “Open Miracle,” when a limited amount of
oil, of stored energy, somehow was made to last longer than its capacity, in
a manner similar to miracles recounted in the Bible, showing the continuing
Presence of G-d with the Jewish People, even as they were moving closer to
each case, the Connection between the Creator of the Universe in Seven Days
(Six Days of “Labor” plus a “Day of Rest”) and the Jewish People is
stressed by the number “Eight,” showing that they are somehow within
Nature, yet above it also, to be a Messenger of HaShem to the World, that He
is One and His Name One.
Rabbi Pinchas Frankel