Aliya-by-Aliya Parashat Shmini 5760

Numbers in [square brackets] are the mitzva-count of the Sefer HaChinuch.

Kohen – first Aliya – 16 p’sukim – 9:1-16

On the 8th day (either the 8th day of Nissan, or Rosh Chodesh Nissan, in which case the 8th day refers to the days of inaugurating the Mishkan) Aharon was commanded to offer the first set of sacrifices (not counting the korbanot that were brought during the previous week). Specifically, “personal” korbanot – an EIGEL (calf) as a CHATAT and an AYIL (ram) as an OLAH. Then the People offer a goat as a CHATAT and a calf and a lamb as OLOT. Then a bull and ram as SH’LAMIM.

[Ponder this...] It is clear that the CHATAT of a calf is an atonement for the Sin of the Golden Calf and/or an indication that G-d has forgiven the people for the Golden Calf. In one context the Golden Calf was called “the calf that Aharon did”. Therefore, the calf on the Eighth Day is his CHATAT. The calf of the people is an OLAH, rather than a CHATAT. OLAH is brought for thoughts of certain sins; CHATAT is for acts. Those of Bnei Yisrael who DID whatever we will call it, the EIGEL, were killed. The rest of us were “guilty” of indecision, fence-sitting, confusion – all “sins” of thought. Our calf was an OLAH.

Aharon’s OLAH was the ram, reminding us of AKEIDAT YITZCHAK. No sin associated with that. (Olah is not always about sin.) Our CHATAT was a goat, reminding us of our former collective sin of the selling of Yosef and deception of Yaakov with the help of the blood of a goat.

[SDT] The Kohen Gadol removed his gold garments before entering the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur, because the accuser does not become the defender. Why then would we not make the same argument against Aharon’s offering of a calf on the Mizbei’ach? Rashi indicates that the super-sensitivity involved here applies inside the Mikdash, but not outside (at the Altar).

We can offer a general answer to this question and others. Horns from the bovine family of animals are not acceptable as a Shofar. On the other hand, look at these korbanot. The K.G. didn’t enter “inward” with gold, but what greeted him inside was an ARON plated with gold, gold rod-rings, gold covered poles, a solid gold lid, and K’RUVIM of gold. Bottom line: G-d is the Boss. If He commands us to use gold, we use it. If He says no, we don’t. Calf, cow, yes, no. Fine with us. Yes AND no, just as G-d commands. Apply your own logic and do what you decide is best – WRONG. Not up to us. Halacha tells us what is appropriate.

Levi – second Aliya – 7 p’sukim – 9:17-23

The Torah continues the details of the opening set of sacrifices, the accompanying Mincha, the Sh’lamim, what parts go on the Mizbei’ach. This short Aliya concludes with Aharon raising his hand(s) to the people and blessing them.

The Torah spelled YADAV, his hands, without the second YUD, making the word resemble YADO, his hand. From here comes the tradition of the kohanim holding their two hands together as one during Birchat Kohanim.

[SDT] Baal HaTurim says that the three parts (3 p’sukim) of Birchat Kohanim correspond to the three kinds of korbanot that Aharon brought on this first day of official functioning of the Mishkan. May G-d bless you and protect you… from sin (CHATAT), the second pasuk uses words that tie in with OLAH, and the SHALOM of the fional pasuk corresponds to SH’LAMIM.

Sh’lishi – third Aliya – 12 p’sukim – 9:24-10:11

A Divine Fire descended and consumed all that was on the Mizbei’ach. The people reacted to this miracle with prayers of praise to G-d and reverence for Him.

Then Nadav and Avihu, two sons of Aharon (who had been assisting Aharon), took censers with fire and offered incense before G-d. The fire was their own, not that of the Altar. A Divine Fire struck them dead, consuming them from within, leaving them outwardly unmarked. Moshe’s words of consolation to Aharon are met with Aharon’s silence.

Moshe calls two cousins, Misha’el and Eltzafan, sons of Uziel, to remove the bodies. (That Aharon would not be allowed to become TAMEI to his sons is known from the rules of Kohein Gadol. But neither were Elazar and Itamar allowed to tend to the bodies. Although they were not kohein gadol, they had been anointed to the k’huna which gave them the status of Kohein Gadol. Hence, the cousins had to be called.

(Almost in reaction to the terrible tragedy,) the Torah next sets down several rules (mitzvot) for kohanim to save them from endangering their lives. Kohanim may not enter the Mikdash with long hair (a monthly trim was required) [149], nor with torn garments [150]. They may not leave the Mikdash while performing their sacred work [151]. Furthermore, kohanim may not enter the Mikdash while under the influence of wine [152]. Violations of any of the above would be a show of disrespect to G-d.

Some commentators infer from this last prohibition that Nadav and Avihu had drunk wine before they entered the Mishkan. Others offer different reasons for their deaths.


With Mitzva #152, we have an example (there are others) of a mitzva that has a specific context and application from the Torah, but the scope of the mitzva is much wider.

The Written Word forbids a Kohen from doing sacred service while having recently drunk wine. Sefer HaChinuch gives a second definition for mitzva, based on the Oral Law. Namely, a halachic authority may not render a decision (psak) while under the influence of alcohol. (It seems that this prohibition does not apply to divrei Torah and the like – only to halachic decisions.)

This is NOT an example of Rabbinic extension of a Torah Law. In this case, the Chinuch is stating that the D’Orayta level of this prohibition applies beyond the written context from which the mitzva is drawn. There is a subtle point here that is easy to miss.

Look at it this way: May a psak halacha be rendered by someone who has drunk wine? The halachically correct answer is: No, and it is TORAH LAW. But where does it say that? It’s talking about a kohen in the Mikdash? The answer comes from the very nature of the Oral Law.

The Chinuch, in his last paragraph of this mitzva, says that the first definition applies in the time of the Mikdash, to men and women – no one may enter the Mikdash under the influence. The second definition of the mitzva, he says, applies to men AND WOMEN WHO ARE QUALIFIED TO ISSUE HALACHIC RULINGS. It seems to be the opinion of the Sefer HaChinuch, written more than 700 years ago, that there can be women poskim (poskot). So when in our own time we see the “birth” of the concept of YO’ETZET HALACHA, that this isn’t such a new-fangled thing after all.

[SDT] Two of the other “traditions” as to what Nadav and Avihu did wrong are that they decided a point of halacha on their own, in the presence of their “rebbi” (Moshe), and that they did not consult with anyone in this halachic matter. It behooves us to learn a serious, sober (purposeful choice of the word) lesson from all of the possible flaws in the actions of Nadav and Avihu. Could we apply this point to deciding halacha for oneself using Art Scroll or the like?

R’vi’i – fourth Aliya – 4 p’sukim – 10:12-15

Moshe next commands Aharon, Elazar, and Itamar to eat from the various offerings of the day.

Chamishi- fifth Aliya – 5 p’sukim – 10:16-20

The traditional midpoint of the Torah in words is DAROSH DARASH, one DALET-REISH-SHIN on one side of the divide, and another on the other side. Aside from the fact that this twin pair is not really the halfway mark for words (see PPP sort of), one commentator sees a hint (REMEZ) to the concept that without DRASH (textual analysis, especially as presented in the Oral Law), we only have half a Torah.

Moshe gets angry with Elazar and Itamar for not eating of the korbanot, as they were instructed to do. Aharon defends his sons’ behavior by explaining that the loss of their brothers would make a “business as usual” attitude unacceptable in G-d’s eyes. Moshe accepts Aharon’s words.

Our Sages teach us to learn from Moshe Rabbeinu. Just as he was not embarrassed to admit that he did not know (or did not remember) learning a point, so should we readily admit it when we do not know something.

Shishi- sixth Aliya – 32 p’sukim – 11:1-32

Two and a half sedras devoted to sacred meat, so to speak, and now we have the presentation of the animals we may and may not eat.

There is a positive mitzva to check the signs of kashrut of a mammal to determine its kashrut status [153]. It is forbidden to eat of animals that lack one of the signs of kashrut (split hoof and cud chewing), and certainly those that lack both [154]. The Torah names three animals that chew their cud but do not have split hooves – the camel, shafan, arnevet, and one that has a split hoof but is not a ruminent – the pig. We may not eat their meat, and handling their carcasses renders one TAMEI, ritually unclean.

Notice that Shafan and Arnevet are not translated. Rabbit and hare are from modern Hebrew and are probably not what the Torah was referring to. Coney and rock badger are popular translations, but we’re not sure. Rabbi Moshe Tendler thinks that they might be the alpaca and llama. (Llama llama? You’ll have to ask him why.) Hyrax and Jerboa are other candidates.

Some scholars explain that we can consider rabbit and hare-like mammals to be cud-chewers because the regurgitate their partially digested food and eat it again later on or excrete partially digested matter and eat their first waste. Digestion is completed this second time around. This resembles the process of chewing the cud and can conceivably be considered as such.

Likewise, one is required to examine fish for scales and fins (scales is enough, since there are no fish with scales and no fins. Vice versa, of course, there are [155]. It is forbidden to eat non-kosher fish [156].


Think about this: If the Torah only prohibited fish without scales (for example), then we would examine fish for scales to determine if they are kosher. Why, then, is examining fish for its kosher signs a mitzva among the 248 positive members of the 613 club? The question, and the answer as well, is that there are some mitzvot that it was “unnecessary” for G-d to command us; we’d be doing them anyway. “G-d wants to benefit Yisrael, therefore He heaps upon us Torah and Mitzvot”, even when we’d do them anyway. This is the statement of Rabbi Chananya b. Akashya in the Mishna in Makot, the one borrowed to end each chapter of Avot.

The positive mitzvot and prohibitions of kashrut interact as in the following example: A person goes into a restaurant for dinner and has a delicious meal. On is way out, he meets someone who asks him if the restaurant is kosher. He embarrassingly admits that he assumed it was but didn’t check for a Certificate when he went in. He looks around and discovers to his relief that in fact the restaurant has a reliable hashgacha. He would be in no violation of the prohibitions, but he would be in non-fulfillment of the (spirit of the) positives.

With birds, the Torah lists about 20 kinds of birds (not species, families, genus, etc. – kinds) that are not kosher [157]. All the rest of the birds are kosher. So how do know if a particular bird is in one of the forbidden families or not? Usually, the answer is TRADITION. We eat chicken because we have an unbroken tradition that it is kosher.

Finally, the Torah specifies four types (8 families) of locust and grasshoppers that we are permitted to eat. Checking their identities is a mitzva [158]. All other insects are not permitted to us. We have lost the ability of identifying kosher locust, so we don’t eat any of them. Those with a desire in that direction will be able to clarify the issue with a Sanhedrin of the future. Some Yemenites claim they have the necessary traditions to identify the kosher varieties, and you can find directions of preparation and recipes for locust dishes (e.g. Crispy French-fried Grasshoppers) in some kosher Yemenite cookbooks.

Next the Torah deals with the ritual impurity of “creeping things” [159].

Sh’vi’i – 7th Aliya – 15 p’sukim – 11:33-47

Minding the laws of “purity” of food and drink is a mitzva [160]. (It is one of the details of these laws that “requires” us to wash for karpas at the Seder table, and in general before wet food, all year round.) Once again, the Torah presents the rules of the carcass of animals and the resulting ritual impurity from contact of various types [161]. The Torah reiterates the prohibition of eating “creepy things [162], as well as worms and insects that infest fruits and vegetables [163], seafood and other life-forms that enhabit the water [164], and maggots that develop in rotting food material [165].

All of the above is meant to elevate the Jew’s soul to the sanctity that G-d wanted us to attain. For us, there is a direct link between body and soul, the spiritual and the mundane. The laws of kashrut bring the point home.

Maftir (2nd Torah) 20 p’sukim Sh’mot 12:1-20

This is the fourth of the Four Parshiyot. Parshat HaChodesh is the Shabbat of or the Shabbat right before Rosh Chodesh Nissan.

We read of the mitzva to establish the Jewish Calendar (the first two p’sukim), followed by the commands concerning Pesach – the Korban Pesach, Matza, Chametz, etc. (the rest of the 20-pasuk maftir).

Unlike the portions of the Torah from B’reishit until Bo in which stories of our ancestors are the main themes, and unlike the books of Vayikra and D’varim, in which mitzvot are the main themes, in this portion (as in much of Sh’mot) we find a blend of story and mitzva. Where one ends and the other begins is not always easy to tell. That is, without the Oral Tradition. Do all future Korbanot Pesach have to be roasted? Or is that a requirement only for the original Exodus night? Do we have to eat K.P. with our belts tied and in haste? Or was that just then? The blood on the doorpost? Etc. Etc. The answers are clearly presented in the Talmud. The point is that the Written Word alone is not the whole Torah. this is another of many examples of this very important element of Judaism.

Haftara – 28 p’sukim – Yechezkeil 45:16-46:18

The Haftara contains the prophecy of the building of the Beit HaMikdash and the restoration of Korban Pesach – hence the connection to the Maftir.

Both the Torah and Haftara announce the holiday of Pesach, in very similar words, and both speak of putting blood on the doorpost. Not only do both readings talk about Pesach, but both focus on Rosh Chodesh Nissan.