Shemini (Lev. 9:1 – 11:47), Shabbat Parah (Num. 19:1-22)

This week, the priests’ ordination is followed by tragic consequences. Then we learn about kosher and unkosher animals and ritual impurity (hey, this is Leviticus, after all).  And it’s another special Shabbat on the way to Passover (3rd of 4) with a second scroll reading and special haftarah, each on the themes of ritual and spiritual purification.

At first, all goes spectacularly well at the finale of the ordination proceedings. Aaron offers the sacrifices flawlessly.  Moses and Aaron bless the people, the glory of the Lord appears to everybody, divine fire consumes the offerings on the altar, and the people burst into song and prostrate themselves.

Then, tragedy:  Nadav and Avihu, Aaron’s oldest sons, take it on themselves to offer incense in their fire pans and are consumed by a fire from heaven.  We are not told explicitly why they ad libbed during such an important ritual.  Did they lose control in spiritual ecstasy?  Were they demonstrating that they were next in line? Did they not understand the need for precision and though it OK to go off script?  Were they rebelling?  Were they drunk?  (The rabbis who think so point to commands concerning the need for the priests to stay sober on the job which immediately follow the story.)  At a word from Moses, Aaron remains silent, maybe in shock, maybe simply in acceptance.  Further, so as not to overshadow the joy of the occasion, Aaron and his remaining sons are forbidden to display outward signs of mourning.  They carry on.

Now we get to kosher (“fit,” i.e., for food) and unkosher animals.  This is all part of being “holy” in imitation of the Lord, which we really get into in Parashat Kedoshim, later in Leviticus.  The designation of fit versus unfit, permitted versus forbidden, forces one to impose order and mindfulness on the most mundane of activities, eating.  We are not told why specific rules are laid out (yes, I know some think it’s hygiene, but you can still get sick from kosher animals).  Sometimes animals are named explicitly (ironically, that can make identification problematic, since names vary) and sometimes described by certain characteristics, like chewing the cud and having split hooves.  There are kosher and unkosher land animals, fish, birds, and insects (yum).  Eight named creepy crawly animals (e.g., lizards) are out.  In fact, when they are dead, they are ritually contaminated and can transmit that contamination to people and objects.  This leads to an introduction to the laws of ritual contamination (tumah), e.g., what can be contaminated, degrees of contamination, how large does the contaminating item have to be in order to transmit tumah, how is tumah transmitted, in what cases and how can one decontaminate, and so on and on and on and on.  If you think these are intricate details, check out the Mishnah.

And while we’re on the topic of ritual contamination and purity, tonight begins Shabbat Parah, named for the red heifer (parah adumah), which is the subject of the second scroll reading, Numbers 19:1-22.  A young, unyoked cow, unblemished, totally red-haired, is slaughtered and burned completely, along with cedar wood, hyssop, and crimson thread.  The ashes are kept outside the camp and are mixed with water as needed for ritual purification.  More on that when we get to Parashat Chukat (Numbers 19:1-22:1).  The special haftarah, Ezekiel 36:16-38, uses the ritual metaphorically in describing the spiritual cleansing that will accompany the return from exile.

Shabbat shalom,

Quotes about Remaining Silent

“I don’t think…”
“Then you shouldn’t talk,” said the Hatter.
― Lewis CarrollAlice in Wonderland

“Speak when you are angry and you will make the best speech you will ever regret.”
― Ambrose Bierce

“Silence is only frightening to people who are compulsively verbalizing.”
― William S. BurroughsThe Job: Interviews with William S. Burroughs

“If I were to remain silent, I’d be guilty of complicity.”
― Albert Einstein

“Speak only if it improves upon the silence.”
― Mahatma Gandhi

The Remedy for Bacon (abridged)
Submitted by Aaron Eby on Fri, 02/24/2012 – 11:40

David was a baal teshuvah (newly observant Jew). He was studying with a rabbi who was helping him to learn about Judaism and the Torah. He began to eat only kosher food, and he made an effort to keep Shabbos the best he could.

One morning, an irresistible smell wafted in through the vent. The neighbor in the apartment next door was cooking bacon. David couldn’t help himself.  The neighbor was amused, but generously shared his breakfast.

Afterward, David was tormented by guilt. Desperate, he called his rabbi.

“Rabbi…I did something terrible,” David said.

“David, what’s the matter? What did you do?” the rabbi asked.

” I…I…I ate some bacon.”

“David, I’m sorry to hear that, but it’s not so terrible. Just repent and don’t eat it any more. God will forgive you.”

“But Rabbi, God must hate me now. There has to be some way to make up for what I did.”

“No, David, Judaism does not work like that. We all make mistakes. We repent, admit our errors, and work on trying to do better next time. God is happy to forgive us.”

“But Rabbi, there must be something I can do.”

“David, you don’t need to try to appease God, but there are some positive steps you can take. How much bacon did you eat?”

“Four strips,” David admitted.

“Then commit to reciting four Tehillim (psalms) every day. Then you will be on a path to improvement,” the rabbi advised.

The next morning, David went to the synagogue to recite the Tehillim. Next to him there was a man swaying back and forth as he chanted Tehillim, turning page after page at a rapid pace, one after the next, after the next.

David thought, “What an amazing, righteous man. That man must know so much about Torah, and must be so close to God. And to think that he would eat that much bacon!”

Top Ten Signs Your Kosher Butcher May be Treif
by Doheny Kosher Deli and the bangitout staff Posted: 04-05-2013(Viewed 1794 times) 

10. “100% kosher beef” stamp suddenly changed to ”73.5% kosher beef”
9.   Big sale sign outside reads: “Glatt Kosher Prosciutto”
8.   Not only guarantees it’s Glatt Kosher, but assures you it is also cholov yisroel, pas yisroel, bli kitniyot and pareve!*
7.   Swears he checks each individual cow for both fins and scales
6.   He’s selling “Glatt”** kosher cheeses
5.   When asking to see the Kosher symbol, he points to the circle R
4.   Quietly mumbles the word “style” to himself each time he says “kosher”
3.   Thought Kosher was just Hebrew for “wrapping it in loads of tin foil”
2.   Store named “Goldberg’s Finest Hallal Meats”
1.   Thought the two sets of knives thing was for decorative purposes

*These terms, respectively, relate to the kashrut of milk, grain products made by an observant Jew, grains and legumes Ashkenazi Jews don’t eat during Passover, and food that is neither meat nor dairy. IGP
**Concerns whether an animal’s internal organs (e.g., lungs) have lesions or blemishes or not.

Parshas Shmini On 1 Foot
by S. Galena Posted: 07-09-2006(Viewed 852 times) 

God: Animals must chew their cud and have split hooves. Fish must have fins ‘n’ scales….
Jews:  So, when will Oreos become kosher?*

*1998.  See  IGP


Parshas Chukas (source of the second scroll reading for Shabbat Parah) On 1 Foot
by S. Galena Posted: 07-09-2006(Viewed 1123 times)

Impure Person: So I mix the red heifer ashes with water and I am pure. holy cow! Why?Red Heifer: Mooo
God: Don’t ask.


Everything for Redheads • 6 weeks ago

Redheads….respect us…fear us…

Q. How can you tell when a redhead has been using a finicky computer?
A. There’s a hammer embedded in the computer monitor.

Q. Why aren’t there more redhead jokes?
A. Someone made the mistake of telling them to a redhead.

Q. What is the difference between a redhead and a terrorist?
A. You can negotiate with a terrorist.

Q. How do you get a redhead to argue with you?
A. Say something…

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