At first glance, the two halves of this parasha do not appear to correspond.
first half relates what transpired on the 1st of Nisan –
nearly one year since the Exodus – the fateful eighth day of the Mishkan
dedication ceremonies. For seven
days Moshe had instructed Aharon and his four sons in the service of the Mishkan.
On the eighth day Aharon and his sons are invested as Kohanim
and begin their own service. However,
Nadav and Avihu, offered strange fire before Hashem, which He had not
commanded them. And there went out a fire from Hashem, and devoured them, and
they died before Hashem (Vayikra 10:1-2).
and his two surviving sons must continue the service despite their
grief. Aharon is taught the law
must remain sober while performing their duties. Moshe rebukes Elazar and Itamar for apparently deviating from
the service, and Aharon defends their actions, which Moshe accepts.
second half of Shemini delineates the fundamental laws of Kashrut.
Hashem spoke to Moshe and to Aharon, saying to them:
Speak to the Children of Israel, saying:
These are the living things which you shall eat, from among all the
animals that are on the earth . . . (Vayikra
seems jarring and anticlimactic that this section follows immediately
after the tragic events of the Eighth Day.
One might have expected a discussion of the proper service in the Mishkan,
rather than the somewhat mundane subject of keeping kosher!
the opening of this section is more detailed than the usual “And
Hashem spoke to Moshe”. Rashi
Moshe and to Aharon: He spoke to
Moshe, telling him to speak to Aharon; saying to them: He told
them to speak to Elazar and Itamar; followed by, “Speak to the Children
is describing the chain of tradition of Torah (mesorah), a more
detailed version of which is described in Eruvin 54b:
Moshe learned directly from Hashem.
Then Aharon entered, faced Moshe and Moshe taught him the lesson.
Then, Aharon’s sons entered and Moshe repeated the lesson for them
and Aharon. The Elders entered and Moshe repeated the lesson.
All the people entered and Moshe repeated the lesson.
Moshe left and Aharon reviewed the lesson.
Aharon left and his sons reviewed their lesson.
His sons left and the Elders taught their lesson..
As a result everyone had four reviews.
then was the method of instruction for every part of the Torah,
including the Oral Law. And yet,
the Torah chooses the section of permitted and forbidden species, the Kashrut
laws, to serve as the prototype for the “order of teaching” the Torah.
Why, specifically, after the devastating loss of Nadav and Avihu are we
given the prototype of the mesorah?
raison d’etre of the Kohanim is far more than to be ritual
functionaries. They are the role-models for Torah instruction:
the Kohen’s lips should keep knowledge, and they should seek the law at his
mouth, for he is a messenger of Hashem of Hosts
requires a readiness to teach, and to rule in all areas of
Jewish life, beginning with the most fundamental:
differentiate between the holy and the profane,
and between the unclean and the clean;
and to teach the Children of Israel all the statutes which Hashem has
spoken to them by the hand of Moshe (Vayikra 10:10-11).
Kohanim/scholars are essential to the process that enables the Jewish
people to imitate Hashem and to achieve sanctity, which is nothing less than
the goal of the Exodus from Egypt:
I am Hashem your G-d, and you shall sanctify yourselves, and you shall be
holy, for I am holy; and you
shall not defile your souls with
any swarming thing that creeps on the earth.
For I am Hashem Who brings you up from the land of Egypt to be your
G-d, and you shall be holy, for I am holy.
This is the teaching of the beast, and the fowl, and every living
thing…to distinguish between the unclean and the clean, and between the
beast that may be eaten and the beast that may not be eaten
(in Gevurot Hashem ch. 45) explains that the purpose of
separation from unclean creatures is to purify the body, thereby preparing the
Jew for attachment to Hashem: I am Hashem Who brings you up from the
land of Egypt to be your G-d. This
is a prerequisite for Divine connection, while other commandments that
mention the Exodus (e.g., the Pesach seder and tzitzit) are
decreed upon the Jewish people as a consequence of the Exodus.
Davar says that Kashrut questions exemplify the process of rendering
Torah decisions, which requires clarifying every possible doubt, to determine
the truth of every unclear situation. Just as it is forbidden to be lenient
when a doubt leans towards stringency, or to refrain from clarifying a doubt
and to treat it as though permitted, so is it forbidden to be strict when it
is possible to be permissive.
requires clarity of thought, patience, the strength of tradition,
respect for authority and service of Hashem.
Nadav and Avihu forgot this: they
ruled without consulting Moshe or
Aharon, and entered the Sanctuary inebriated (Rashi on 10:2).
On the other hand, says Haamek Davar, Elazar and Itamar deserved
to be part of the original chain of Torah tradition because they listened
reverently to Moshe’s rebuke, accepting his greater authority even though
they possessed the knowledge to respond to him.
its most basic elements to its most complex, the process of Torah must
reinforce the unbroken chain that extends back to the Revelation and the
Exodus. The service of the
Sanctuary and Torah complement each other in connecting the Jewish people to
the first half of the parasha complements the second half perfectly.