By Rabbi Avraham
Fischer. A publication of the Orthodox Union in cooperation with the Seymour
J. Abrams Orthodox Union Jerusalem World Center
26 Nisan 5764 - April 16, 2004
The “eighth day” (Shemini) which gives this portion its name marks a great
moment in the history of the world. After the seven days of initiation, the
eighth day is the beginning of the full functioning of the Mishkan. From this
day forward the Kohanim, Aharon and his sons and their descendants, will
minister before Hashem. They will offer the sacrifices that bind man to Hashem,
that join heaven and earth and thereby fulfill Hashem’s purpose in creating
But, as is well-known, the eighth day is also a day of tragedy. Aharon’s two
oldest sons, Nadav and Avihu, will meet their death for bringing a “strange
fire” on the Altar. The day of glory will turn into one of grief.
Let us therefore examine the zenith of those last moments of glory, shortly
before the catastrophic death of Nadav and Avihu. Aharon and his sons have
concluded the first three offerings for this special day, and everyone awaits
the emergence of the divine fire that will consume the sacrifices.
And Aharon raised his hands (YADAV) to the people, and he blessed them, and he
descended (VAYEIRED) from performing the sin-offering, and the burnt-offering,
and the peace-offering. And Moshe and Aharon came to the Tent of Meeting, and
they left, and they blessed the people, and the glory of Hashem appeared to
the entire people (Vayikra 9:22-23).
The first problem raised by the commentaries is the sequence of events. A
straight reading suggests that first Aharon blessed the people, and then he
descended; this, in fact, is the interpretation of Malbim (R. Meir Leib ben
Yechiel Michael, 1809-1877). However, the Sages (see Torat Kohanim, Megillah
18a, Sotah 38b) assert that Aharon first descended from his service, and then
blessed the people.
In fact, this is the basis for the order of blessings in our Shemoneh Esrei:
first we complete our service — namely, the prayer — and then we invoke the
blessing of the Kohanim. Furthermore, as Rashi says, Aharon’s blessing here is
the very blessing that the Kohanim would be commanded to utter for all time:
May Hashem bless you and protect you.
May Hashem cause His countenance to shine upon you, and be gracious to you.
May Hashem lift His face towards you, and grant you peace (Bamidbar 6:24-26).
Consequently, the Sages’ reading of the verse would be:
And Aharon raised his hands to the people, and he blessed them, after having
descended (VAYEIRED) from performing the sin-offering, and the burnt-offering,
and the peace-offering.
Even the great grammarian Ibn Ezra supports this reading.
Still, insists Haamek Davar (R. Naftali Tzvi Yehudah Berlin, 1817-1893), we
cannot ignore the simple meaning of the text. He says that all of Aharon’s
actions up to this point culminate in the sacrifices being placed on the Altar
before the divine fire came. In this he defends Rashbam, who translates the
frequently used word VAYAKTEIR (verse 13, etc.), not in its usual sense of
“and he made [the offering] smolder,” but “and he placed [the offering on the
Altar] in position for later smoldering.”
When he descends at this point in the preparations, it is Aharon’s own idea to
ascend the Altar again to bless the people. However, since the Altar is not a
simple platform (duchan), it would be inappropriate to mount it for no
inherent purpose. Thus, Aharon rearranges the pieces of the sacrifices on the
Altar, placing the sin-offering on the bottom, the burnt-offering above, and
the peace-offering on the top. In accordance with Yoma 12a and Shavuot 17b,
this too is a Temple service. In this way Haamek Davar succeeds in harmonizing
the Sages’ reading — which becomes the standard for the future — with the
simple reading of the verse.
Next is the matter of Aharon’s blessing:
And Aharon raised his hands (YADAV) to the people, and he blessed them…
The word YADAV is an example of “keri u’chtiv,” where the Oral Torah (Mesorah)
instructs us to pronounce the text differently from the way it is spelled; in
such cases, the pronounced version is the primary meaning (peshat), but the
written version can be the basis for exegesis (derash). YADAV is spelled
Y-D-O, which would mean “his hand,” although it is pronounced in a way to be
understood as his hands. In addition, we would have expected Aharon to raise
his hands over the people (after all, he was standing over them, atop the
Altar, 9 cubits from the ground). Why does he raise his hands “to the people”?
Haamek Davar (in the newer, corrected edition) answers that Aharon first
raised one hand towards the people as a signal for them to concentrate on the
blessing to come. This is in accord with the halacha (Orach Chayim 128:23):
The people should concentrate on the blessing, and their faces should be
towards the faces of the kohanim.
Afterwards, he raised both hands in order to pronounce his blessing.
And Moshe and Aharon came to the Tent of Meeting…
Rashi, based on Torat Kohanim, says now Moshe teaches Aharon the procedure for
offering the incense, which Aharon did not see during the seven days of
and they left, and they blessed the people…
This second blessing is the basis, say Tosafot (Berachot 11b) for the practice
in the Temple that the Kohanim say their blessings twice, once before the
sacrifices and once after. On this occasion, however, explains Haamek Davar,
the second blessing was pronounced by Moshe and Aharon earlier, in order to
prepare for the manifestation of the Divine, as the verse concludes:
and the glory of Hashem appeared to the entire people
Thanks to Haamek Davar, we can see that this moment is simultaneously a unique
event and a standard for future service to Hashem. We preserve the moment that
stands both within its time and exists for all times.
Torah K'Torat Eretz Yisrael!"- Torah from Aloh Na'aleh*
The parshah of Shemini closes the section that
lists the animals that may be eaten with the verse: "Sanctify yourself and
you shall be holy... For I am God who elevates you from the land of
Egypt…(Vayikra 11:44-45)." Holiness is the Jewish mission statement, as
God informed Moshe before the giving of the Torah (Shemot 19:6): "You
shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation." And there is a
formal commandment which we will read in two weeks, "Kedoshim tiheyu, be
holy (Vayikra 19:2)."
The Kabbalists teach us that creation is composed of olam, shanah, and
nefesh - place, time and man. Each of these elements has a manifestation
of holiness. Holiness of "time" is manifested in Shabbat, holiness of
"man" is manifested in one who rises above his animal drives (even those
that are permitted). Holiness of "place" is manifested in the Land of
Man achieves holiness by separating himself from indulgences that are
permitted, thus elevating himself through the control of his physical
desires (Yevamot 20a). This is the meaning of being "elevated
How does holiness manifest itself in time and place? When activities
performed in the physical world are motivated by an elevated purpose, they
become sanctified. Celebratory eating, drinking and wearing fancy clothes
in order to demonstrate respect and appreciation for Shabbat Kodesh all
take on a dimension of holiness. The Land of Israel has a unique quality,
where every physical activity has the potential to be holy, when done to
enable Jews to live there according to the Torah. It is the only place in
the world where every mundane activity can be imbued with holiness, which
is the reason why the mission statement of the Jewish people can truly be
implemented only in the Land of Israel.
Rabbi Shaya Karlinsky
Rosh Yeshiva, Darche Noam
*D’var Torah from Aloh Na'aleh:
an initiative of former North American Rabbis and laymen who successfully
made Aliyah, aimed at highlighting the centrality of Israel and promoting
Aliyah. They send emissaries – Rabbis, academicians, and others – on
speaking-tours throughout the U.S. and Canada.
Rabbi Yerachmiel Roness , Exec. Dir., Aloh Naaleh,
At the OU Center, 22 Keren HaYesod
Tel.(02) 566-7787 ex. 254