This week, as we complete Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Memorial Day), I study in memory of my great-grandmother, Rachel Leah Chodesh Poliakoff and her daughter, who were killed during the Holocaust.
For several weeks before Passover, we learned about the building of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) that would serve as the place where the Children of Israel would worship God, the offerings to be made there, and the duties of the Kohanim (priests) in performing the services. In Parsha Tzav, just before Passover, we learned about the first seven days of the eight-day celebration of the first services in the Mishkan.
Now, in Parsha Shemini, we learn of the final day of celebration. As the service began, Moses summoned his brother, Aaron, the High Priest, to make the offerings. He said to Aaron, “This is the thing God has commanded you to do.” Our Sages interpreted this verse to mean that Aaron hesitated to approach the Altar, and Moses had to encourage him.
Aaron was ashamed to come forward, because of his sin in making the Golden Calf. Moses pointed out to him that God knew of his sin, but still wanted him to serve as High Priest. Because Aaron showed shame, many rabbis point out this is just the sort of person God wanted ministering to the people, because he was humble.
Then, the parsha gives us a very sad example of what happens when people are not humble. Aaron’s sons were also priests, and two of them, Nadav and Avihu, brought fire and incense as an offering. Tragically, because God had not commanded this offering, both men died. The parsha does not explain why this happened, but some of our rabbis point out Nadav and Avihu did not act humbly. They assumed they could bring “strange fire”, as the Torah describes their offering, without consulting whether this was proper with their teacher Moses or with each other.
The parsha ends with another example of humility – God gave us the laws of kosher animals, including mammals, fish, birds and insects. After giving these laws, God explained “For I am the Lord your God – you are to sanctify yourselves and you shall become holy, for I am holy.”
Even though God gave humanity control over the animals as far back as the Garden of Eden, if we are to be holy in what we eat there are certain rules we must follow. What we eat is not only meant to nourish our bodies, but also our souls.