The Torah portion of Shemini relates how Aharon’s elder sons, Nadav and Avihu, were consumed by a heavenly fire when they brought an unauthorized offering on the Altar (Vayikra Ch. 10; see also commentary of Rashi). As a result, Aharon’s remaining sons, as well as Aharon himself, felt it was improper to eat the sin offering presented at that time, which is also brought every Rosh Chodesh. They did, however, eat the special one-time sin offerings.
When Moshe discovered their abstention, “he was angry with Aharon’s surviving sons . . .” and said to them: “Why did you not eat the [Rosh Chodesh] sin offering . . . ?” Aharon explained that since this was a regular offering and such a terrible tragedy had befallen them that day, it would have been inappropriate for them to eat it. “When Moshe heard this, he approved.”
Moshe understood that there was no difference between regular and one-time offerings, while Aharon and his two surviving sons felt that there was. Why did they differ?
Furthermore, since Moshe originally maintained that no difference existed between regular and one-time offerings, what caused him to change his mind when he heard Aharon’s response, since Aharon seemingly supplied no innovative reasoning?
The difference between Moshe and Aharon is expressed by our Sages thus: “Kindness—that is Aharon . . . Truth—that is Moshe” (Sh’mos Rabbah 5:10). Truth is not subject to change—at all times and in all places it remains the same (see Tanya Ch. 13; Likkutei Torah, Masei 93b, et al.). Kindness, however, must consider the circumstances of the recipient. Since no two people and no two circumstances are ever entirely alike, it follows that there are differences in the beneficence radiated by the attribute of kindness.
Moshe’s logic, resulting as it did from the viewpoint of Truth, dictated that whenever an issue was in doubt, there should be no change from one time and circumstance to the other. He therefore saw no difference between regular and one-time offerings.
Aharon’s trait of kindness resulted in his being “a lover of peace, a pursuer of peace, a lover of creatures, [a person] who drew them close to the Torah” (Avos 1:12). That is, Aharon’s devotion to his fellow Jew was such that he dedicated himself even to those individuals who could only be described as “creatures.” Aharon saw to it that even such people should have their needs met according to their level and status.
He therefore said there was a difference between “sacred one-time offerings” and “sacred regular offerings.” From the perspective of the beneficiaries who are in need of the kindness resulting from a sacred offering, it is impossible to expect that sanctity will come in the same manner and degree for all people at all times.
Moshe, however, influenced the Jewish people by causing holiness to descend upon them from Above, so that it was felt below with the same intensity with which it was felt Above (Likkutei Torah, Bamidbar 2d and onward, et al.). Relating to the Jewish people in this manner caused him to feel that the same degree of sanctity could be showered upon all Jews at all times and in all places.
Aharon then explained to Moshe that while Moshe’s intentions were surely the best and the noblest, Jews in this physical world differ from each other, as do their spiritual levels; it would prove nigh impossible for them to all be permeated with the same degree of sanctity.
When Moshe perceived Aharon’s reasoning, he readily agreed. (Based on Likkutei Sichos Vol. XVII pp. 113–114) v
When In Doubt . . .
The Torah portion Shemini concludes: “To distinguish between the unclean and the clean . . .” (Vayikra 11:47). Rashi (ibid.; Toras Kohanim) explains this to mean: to distinguish between a kosher animal that had only half its windpipe severed during ritual slaughter (thus rendering it non-kosher, or ritually unclean) and an animal that had the majority of its windpipe severed (thus rendering it kosher, or ritually clean).
Thus, the conclusion of Shemini informs us that such an infinitesimal difference more than suffices to bring about a distinction between tamei and tahor, unclean and clean.
The title of a Torah portion applies to all its verses (see Likkutei Sichos VII, p. 25, n. 40). In fact, because “the beginning is embedded in the end and the end in the beginning” (Sefer Yetzirah 1:7), the title is particularly reflected in a portion’s conclusion.
This being so, we must understand the connection between the conclusion of the portion which deals with the concept of clean and unclean and the title Shemini, “Eighth”—the day that followed the seven days of the Tabernacle’s consecration.
Especially so since eight signifies a concept that far transcends the numbers one through seven, for as the K’li Yakar explains (beginning of Torah portion Shemini; see also Rabbeinu Bachya, loc cit.; responsa of the Rashba I-9), all aspects of creation fall within the cycle of seven—the Seven Days of Creation—while eight is “unique to G‑d Himself.” Indeed, this is why this eighth day “received ten crowns” (Seder Olam Rabbah ch. 7; quoted by Rashi, beginning of Shemini).
As further elucidated by our Sages (see Maamarim, “Vaye’hi Bayom HaShemini,” of 5704, 5705; see also Likkutei Sichos III, p. 974), the cycle of “seven” includes not only those things encompassed by creation, but also the degree of G‑dliness vested within creation. “Eight,” however, alludes to a level of G‑dliness that transcends creation.
Since Shemini relates to so lofty a level, concerning which the verse states, “Evil does not dwell with You” (Tehillim 5:5), how does the “unclean” enter the picture?
The difference between unclean and clean dealt with at the conclusion of Shemini is minuscule: sever exactly half the windpipe and the animal is non-kosher; anything more than that and the animal is kosher.
In such a situation it is easy to err and think that unclean is clean. In order to be able to determine an unclean state and cast it aside one needs the ability which emanates from the exalted level of Shemini.
When an individual is aware of only the limited degree of G‑dliness that descends within creation, then when in doubt concerning a fine point he may easily err. The person’s evil inclination may say to him that since he has the opportunity of elevating the Divine spark found in the doubtfully kosher object, what right does he have to cast it aside?
The evil inclination may well go on to say there is no need to worry about the object or animal being non-kosher in such an instance, for usually when an animal is slaughtered the slaughter is properly performed and the animal is kosher. Is it right that such a minute doubt should cause one to cast aside an animal and miss elevating the Divine spark found within it?
However, when a Jew is sensitive to the G‑dliness that transcends creation, he will be loath to deviate from the Divine Will in even the slightest way. Moreover, this desire to be holy is so powerful that it will transcend the intellect. It enables a Jew to rise above all blandishments of the evil inclination, for a Jew’s essential desire to be one with G‑d is far stronger than any doubts generated by his evil inclination.
Thus it is specifically the qualities of Shemini that enable a person “to distinguish between the unclean and the clean.” (Based on Likkutei Sichos, Vol. VII, pp. 65–73)
Based on the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, zt’l; adapted by R’ Sholom B. Wineberg. Find more Torah articles for the whole family at www.chabad.org/parshah.