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Parasha Shemini (Eighth): The Ordination of Aaron

SHEMINI (Eighth)
Leviticus 9:1–11:47; Numbers 19:1–22; Ezekiel 36:16–38; 2 Corinthians 5:11–21

Shemini (Shmini or Sh’mini), means eighth.  The name arises from the opening verse of the Torah portion:

“On the eighth [shemini] day Moses summoned Aaron and his sons and the elders of Israel.”  (Leviticus 9:1)

Torah, Bar Mitzvah, Jerusalem

A 13-year-old Jewish boy wearing tefillin (phylacteries) and a tallit (prayer shawl) reads from the Torah at the Western (Wailing) Wall. (Israel Ministry of Tourism photo by Yonatan Sindel).

Last week in Parasha Tzav, God instructed Moses to command Aaron and his sons in how to prepare for their duties and rights as kohanim (priests).

For seven days, Aaron and his sons stayed at the Tent of Meeting as part of their ordination process.  On the eighth day, Moses called for them to begin presenting the offerings (קָרְבֳּנוֹת, korbanot) to the Lord.

These offerings were given as a kind of “welcoming ceremony” to greet the arrival of God’s Shekhinah (Glory or Divine Presence):

“Then Moses said, ‘This is what the LORD has commanded you to do, so that the glory of the LORD may appear to you.’”  (Leviticus 9:6)

It took a full seven days of preparation before they could begin this new and holy function as priests who serve Adonai in the Mishkan (Tabernacle), where the Glory of the Lord came to reside.

"Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the Tabernacle." (Exodus 40:34) (Image from page 10 of the 1874 Jewish Tabernacle and Priesthood)

“Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the Tabernacle.” (Exodus 40:34) (Image from page 10 of the 1874 Jewish Tabernacle and Priesthood)

While the number seven represents completion (such as God’s creation of the universe), the number eight often represents new beginnings:

  • On the seventh day, God rested and blessed it, declaring it as a set-apart, holy day of rest.  On the eighth day, however, work resumed once more — only this time, human beings began stewardship of God’s creation by tending and caring for the Garden of Eden.
  • The eighth day is, therefore, a type of anniversary of the Creation.
  • Eight souls were saved during the Mabul HaGadol (Great Flood).
  • The eighth day is considered a day of covenant (brit), for it is on this day that every Jewish male infant is to be brought into covenant with the Almighty God through the rite of circumcision (Brit Milah).
  • David was the eighth son of Jesse and Israel’s first great king from whose lineage HaMashiach (the Messiah) would come.
  • On the eighth day (first day of the week), Yeshua (Jesus) rose from the grave and became the bikkurim (firstfruits) of all those who will be resurrected on the last day.

Other occurrences of eight include the following:

  • There were eight spices of incense.  As well, the Cohen HaGadol (High Priest) had eight articles of clothing.
  • Often the weeklong festivals of Passover and Sukkot (Tabernacles) are given an additional eighth day of celebration, such as Acharon shel Pesach (Final Day of Passover) and Shemini Atzeret (Eighth Day of Assembly) on Sukkot.
Jewish prayer, Western Wall, Kotel, family, father, daughter

A child sits at her father’s feet as he prays at the Western (Wailing) Wall in Jerusalem.  (Israel Tourism photo by VuTheara Kham)

The Beginning of the Year

Coming into active service in the Mishkan on the eighth day was not the only indication of new beginnings in this Parasha.

The consecration of Aaron and his sons, as well as the desert Tabernacle, took place exactly one year after the Exodus from Egypt, in Nisan—the first month.

Nisan is the beginning of spring, when the rainy season comes to an end, the fruit trees begin to blossom, and the fields are carpeted in wildflowers.

The Hebrew word for spring is aviv.  This word can be divided into two parts: av, which means father; and iv, which has a numerical representation of 12.  Thus, aviv (spring) is seen as the father of the twelve months of the year.

Passover, which occurs in this first month of Nisan, is the symbolic “father” of the twelve tribes of Israel as a new nation.  (Joe Bobker, Torah with a Twist of Humor, p. 231)

Therefore, the entire Hebrew calendar has a spiritual connection to the formation of the twelve Hebrew tribes, and the service of the priests represents a new beginning for all Israel.

Lederman Synagogue, Bnei Brak, Israel, Jewish worship, Torah study

Lederman Synagogue in Bnei Brak, Israel

The Beginning of Wisdom

On the eighth day, the preparations for God’s glorious entry into the Mishkan (Tabernacle) were over, and Aaron and his sons began their priestly ministry. (Leviticus 9:1)

But something went terribly wrong!

Nadab and Abihu, Aaron’s two eldest sons perished in the blink of an eye — devoured by the consuming fire of God’s wrath.  Why?  The Torah says they offered “strange fire,” which God had not commanded.

“Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu took their censers, put fire in them and added incense; and they offered strange fire [zarah] before the LORD, contrary to His command.  So fire came out from the presence of the LORD and consumed them, and they died before the LORD.”  (Leviticus 10:1–2)

The Hebrew word zarah (זָרָה) carries the connotation of being foreign or another kind.

What was Aaron’s response to such a disturbing family tragedy?

Silence.  (Leviticus 10:3)

Nadab and Abihu Destroyed (Phillip Medhurst Bible Pictures)

Nadab and Abihu Destroyed (Phillip Medhurst Bible Pictures)

Aaron’s response to this tragedy is perhaps an illustration of the well-known saying that “silence is golden.”  At a time of great grief, Aaron remained silent rather than speak out in angry accusation against God.

When we go through painful trials in life or when tragedy strikes unexpectedly —  whether illness, accident or even death — one of the best initial strategies may be to keep our mouths closed until we have control over what we will say.

Solomon, in all of his wisdom, penned the verse:  “Even a fool, when he keeps silent, is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is considered prudent.” (Proverbs 17:28)

We see this truth with Job’s friends.

After witnessing his terrible situation, they just sat beside him in silence.  It is probably the best thing because when they finally opened their mouths to speak, foolish accusations poured forth.

Job Rebuked by His Friends, by William Blake

Job Rebuked by His Friends, by William Blake

Although it is not clear the exact nature of Nadab and Abihu’s sin, God’s command soon after their death may suggest that they went into the Tent of Meeting in an inebriated state.

Just a few verses later, God tells Aaron, “You and your sons are not to drink wine or other fermented drink whenever you go into the Tent of Meeting, or you will die.  This is a lasting ordinance for the generations to come.”  (Leviticus 10:8–9)

Although the Bible permits the drinking of wine and alcohol in moderation, it has no place among those in position of spiritual leadership while they are actively serving the Lord.  Alcohol can dull one’s senses and prevent a person from distinguishing between right and wrong, clean and unclean — one of the specified functions of the priesthood.

Just as it is unwise to “drink and drive,” it can be equally dangerous in a spiritual sense to “drink and serve the Lord.”

In any event, it is evident that these sons of Aaron were careless in the face of God’s holiness.

Torah scroll, Budapest

Torah scroll in Budapest (photo by ParisSharing)

The Fear of the Lord

Some think that God’s wrath for disregarding His holiness is limited to the Old Testament God of “law and justice.”  They think that under the Brit Chadashah (New Testament), we are “under grace” and, therefore, immune to God’s judgment.

However, the account of Ananias and Sapphira reveals that this is a fallacy.

This New Covenant couple brought an offering to the apostles in Jerusalem, and lied to the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) about how much money they received for the sale of their property.

“Now a man named Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, also sold a piece of property.  With his wife’s full knowledge he kept back part of the money for himself, but brought the rest and put it at the apostles’ feet.”  (Acts 5:1–2)

For lying to God, both Ananias and Sapphira were struck dead (Acts 5:4–11).

Although God is merciful, patient, compassionate, and slow to anger, we must not take these qualities for granted, nor test the Lord our God by treating His holiness carelessly.

God is equally just and holy.  For this reason He is called a “Consuming Fire” throughout the Tanakh (Old Testament) and Brit Chadashah (New Testament).

May we all walk in a healthy fear of the Lord, which will keep us on the narrow road that leads to life.

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”  (Proverbs 9:10)

Jewish prayer, Western Wall, Jerusalem

Jewish men gather to pray at the Western (Wailing) Wall in Jerusalem.  (Photo by Israel Tourism)

Shabbat Parah: the Sabbath of the Red Heifer

“Then the LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying, ‘This is the statute of the law which the LORD has commanded, saying, “Speak to the sons of Israel that they bring you an unblemished red heifer [parah adumah] in which is no defect and on which a yoke has never been placed.  You shall give it to Eleazar the priest, and it shall be brought outside the camp and be slaughtered in his presence.”’”  (Numbers 19:1–3)

In preparation for Passover, a special portion of Scripture from Numbers 19:1–22 is added today.

It describes the sacrifice of the Parah Adumah (Red Heifer).

This Sabbath, therefore, is called Shabbat Parah (Sabbath of the Red Heifer). Shabbat Parah always occurs on the Sabbath after Purim and begins the formal preparations of the Passover (which falls Nissan 15–22 on the Jewish calendar, which is April 23–April 30 this year).

Passover, Pesach, Jewish holiday meal

A family enjoys a Passover seder, the ritual meal in which the Passover story is recounted.

Through it the Jewish priests (kohanim) and the Jewish People purify themselves before the festival of Passover.  The Red Heifer brings about the ritual purity (tahor) necessary for sacrificing the Paschal lamb.  The Red Heifer sacrifice is an essential part of the Temple services.

Anyone who had been defiled through contact with the dead and had not been cleansed with the sprinkling of the waters of purification containing the ashes of the Red Heifer would be disqualified from celebrating the Passover and cut off from the community of Israel:

“But the man who is unclean and does not purify himself from uncleanness, that person shall be cut off from the midst of the assembly, because he has defiled the sanctuary of the LORD; the water for impurity has not been sprinkled on him, he is unclean.”  (Numbers 19:20)

One of the great enigmas of this ceremony is that while these waters of purification make the defiled person clean, the one performing the ritual becomes unclean until evening.

We can understand this irony by comparing it to cleaning a dirty house — the house becomes clean, but the once clean rag or sponge becomes dirty as, perhaps, the person doing the cleaning does as well.

Passover, hagalah

In the above photo, metal vessels are being prepared for Passover through a 30-second koshering procedure called hagalah (purging).

The rabbis consider the ritual of the sacrificial Red Heifer to be one of Judaism’s greatest mysteries; even so, the Brit Chadashah gives us great insight into it.

The book of Hebrews refers to this special ritual when explaining how we are cleansed (not just outwardly but to the depth of our inner being) through the blood of Yeshua the Messiah.

“The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of the Messiah, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the Living God!”  (Hebrews 9:13–14)

The Messiah, who was totally clean and pure of all sin, took our sins and impurities upon Himself so that we may become the righteousness of God in Him. (2 Corinthians 5:21)

Though our sins may have made our souls look like scarlet, they will become white as snow, as the Hebrew Prophet Isaiah prophesied thousands of years ago:

“‘Come now, let us settle the matter,’ says the LORD. ‘Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.’”  (Isaiah 1:18)

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