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Parasha Shemini (Eighth): The Manifestation of the Presence of God

Parasha Shemini (Eighth)
Leviticus 9:1–11:47; 2 Samuel 6:1–7:17; Hebrews 7:1–19
Shabbat Parah: Ezekiel 36:16–36:38; Numbers 19:1–22

Last week, Parasha Tzav described the ordination of Aaron and his sons and their seven-day consecration period.

The name of this week’s Torah reading is Shemini (שמיני), meaning eighth, which is taken from the first words of Leviticus 9:1:  “On the eighth day Moses summoned Aaron and his sons and the elders of Israel.”

 Synagogue-hagbah-Torah-stained glass windows

After the Torah is read, one person is honored with lifting up the Torah (hagbah) so the congregation can see at least three columns of text.

While seven is the number that represents sacred purpose and the holiness that is infused into creation, eight is the number of transcendence, symbolizing humankind’s ability to rise above the limitations of physical existence.  (Jewish Wisdom in the Numbers)

Eight is an important number in Hebrew representing covenant (brit).

The rite of circumcision (Brit Milah), which brings every male child into an eternal covenant with the Almighty God, as commanded to Abraham and his descendants forever, is performed on the eighth day.  Yeshua Himself was circumcised on the eighth day.

“On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise the child, He was named Yeshua, the name the angel had given Him before He was conceived.”  (Luke 2:21)

The number eight also corresponds to the Hebrew letter chet (ח), which can stand for both chet (sin) and chaim (life).  (Wisdom in the Hebrew Alphabet)

God provided a remedy for the sin that leads to death.  Through the law of the Spirit of life in Yeshua HaMashiach (Jesus the Messiah), we can transcend the law of sin and death to live an abundantly blessed life in Him!  Halleluyah!


Jewish girls pray in Jerusalem at the Western (Wailing) Wall, the last remnant of the Second Temple.

Manifestation of God’s Presence: Aaron Begins His Ministry

“This is what the Lord has commanded you to do, so that the glory of the Lord may appear to you.”  (Leviticus 9:6)

On the eighth day, the day following an entire week of purification, Aaron and his sons began their ministry by offering the required sin offering, burnt offering and fellowship offering.

After Aaron had done all that the Lord had commanded through Moses, he stretched out his hands and blessed the people before stepping down from the altar.

But the people were not only blessed once.  Moses and Aaron blessed them again after they returned from the Tent of Meeting.  At this, the fire of God came upon the offerings and consumed them.

“Then Moses and Aaron entered the Tent of Meeting, and when they came out, they once again blessed the people.  Then fire issued from the presence of the Lord and consumed the burnt offerings and the fat portions on the altar.”  (Leviticus 9:23–24)

With this remarkable manifestation of the Glory of God, the people felt such an awesome experience of being in the presence of the Lord that they shouted for joy and even fell down on their faces!

Torah-reading-Czech Republic-tallit

Reading the Torah during the rededication of a synagogue in the Czech Republic.

Sadly, this incredible time of worship was followed by sorrow because of a tragic incident in which fire from the presence of God also came in judgment.

The sons of Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, who had just a short while earlier been instructed on the Temple service, changed the pattern of worship given to them by God through Moses.

In perhaps a grandiose, irreverent or drunken display of their ministration before the people, they offered unauthorized fire before the Lord (maybe offering incense at the wrong time) and, therefore, they perished:

“So fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord.”  (Leviticus 10:2)


Holding up the Torah for all to see

After reading about the spectacular event of God’s fire consuming the offering and other miraculous, supernatural events in the Bible, some of us long for a dramatic manifestation of the Shekhinah glory of Adonai; however, we must keep in mind that the experience of the Israelites at this time was out of the ordinary.

The fire of God did not consume the offering on a daily basis.  The people continued their worship, sacrifices, and offerings even when they did not “feel” anything special and nothing exceptional happened.

Likewise, our spiritual life should not be a pursuit of supernatural, dazzling encounters; neither should we think something is amiss in our relationship with the Lord if we are not continually riding an emotional “high.”

Just as a marriage relationship should not require continual thrills to stay committed, so should our hearts remain steadfast in our relationship with the Lord even when there seems to be no fresh fire.

Israel-Defense-Forces-Western Wall-Jerusalem

An Israel Defense Forces captain and his wife visit the Kotel Plaza in the Old City of Jerusalem.  The Kotel is also called the Western Wall.

Haftarah Shemini

“I am the LORD your God; consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am holy.”  (Leviticus 11:44)

Like the Torah portion, Haftarah Shemini (prophetic reading for Shemini) illustrates the need for proper reverence for the holiness of God.

We read in the prophetic portion that King David was bringing the Ark of the Covenant to Israel’s new capital of Jerusalem on a cart pulled by oxen.

The Ark had been in storage since the destruction of the Tabernacle in Shiloh, so the people on the journey with David were rejoicing.

When the oxen stumbled, a man named Uzzah reached out to steady the ark.  In a manner reminiscent of Nadab and Abihu, he was immediately struck down by the Lord.

“The Lord’s anger burned against Uzzah because of his irreverent act; therefore God struck him down and he died there beside the ark of God.”  (2 Samuel 6:7)

The Chastisement of Uzzah, by James Tissot

The Chastisement of Uzzah, by James Tissot

Although we tend to think that these kinds of instant-death judgments for irreverence, insincerity, or hypocrisy happened only in the Tanakh (Old Testament), God demands holiness in both the Tanakh and the New Covenant.  After all, He does not change.

“For I am YHVH, I do not change.”  (Malachi 3:6)

And so we find in the Brit Chadashah that a husband and wife named Ananais and Sapphira conspired to deceive the Apostles with a show of religion—faking that they were donating the entire proceeds from the sale of their field.

Peter discerned the truth and told them that they were lying to the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit), and they instantly died.  (Acts 5:1–11)

The Death of Ananais, by Raphael

The Death of Ananais, by Raphael

Because of incidents like these, God is quite often misrepresented as being an angry, vengeful, divine being who would gladly strike us down for the least infraction of His strict rules.  But this is not accurate.

Judgment is actually a sign of God’s love.  We can understand this better if we consider that only parents who love their offspring invest their time in disciplining their children.

God does not delight in destroying the wicked, especially not His own children:

“As surely as I live,” declares the Sovereign LORD, “I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live.  Turn!  Turn from your evil ways!  Why will you die, people of Israel?”  (Ezekiel 33:11)

open Torah scroll-yad-tallit

The Torah scroll is usually read using a yad (literally, hand) to avoid marring the dignity of the sacred text by touching it, as well as to avoid obstructing the sightline of those standing on the bimah (elevated platform) following along with the reading.

God is holy and sin breaks our fellowship with Him, and often causes others to sin, as well.  The history of Israel and the early Believers in Yeshua helps us to understand the holiness of God so that we can live in His presence.

Ananais and Sapphira personally saw the work of the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) and, yet, they lied in His presence.  Uzzah was entrusted with the Ark of the Covenant—a symbol of God’s holy commandments; yet, He defied God’s direct instructions on how to handle it.

The greater our experience of God’s grace, mercy, and holiness, the greater our responsibility to not take advantage of it—and the greater the consequences when we do.

Conversely, some present our Heavenly Father as a God of love without justice—a liberal, lenient God who will always give us what we ask for and never holds us accountable for our wrong actions.  Such sentimental views of the love of God are out of step with the Word of God.  God’s wrath and His love are entirely in keeping with one another.

“Surely His salvation is near to those who fear Him, that His glory may dwell in our land.”  (Psalm 85:9)

Woman of the Wall_kippah_tallit _Torah_Robinson's Arch_Jerusalem

A Woman of the Wall (WOW) wears a kippah (head covering) and a colorful tallit (prayer shawl) as she prepares to unroll the Torah scroll at Robinson’s Arch, next to the Western (Wailing) Wall.  Although women are not permitted to read the Torah at the Western Wall, in April 2013, the Jerusalem District Court upheld a decision allowing women to wear tallit there.

Holiness: Keeping It Kosher

“The LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “Say to the Israelites:  ‘Of all the animals that live on land, these are the ones you may eat:  You may eat any animal that has a divided hoof and that chews the cud.”  (Leviticus 11:1–3)

This week’s Parasha provides the laws of kashrut (Biblical dietary laws).  In Leviticus 11, God outlines which animals are edible and which are not.

Why should the God of the Universe care about what we eat?

The main purpose of the dietary laws is not for hygienic or health reasons; they set the Israelites apart as a holy people.  What we eat not only affects our physical body and mind, but also our soul.

“Do not defile yourselves by any of these creatures.  Do not make yourselves unclean by means of them or be made unclean by them.”  (Leviticus 11:43)

The Torah seeks to bring holiness and purity into basic daily activities, such as eating and drinking.

However, God does not expect or even encourage His people to bring about this holiness by withdrawing from the world in a monk-like existence:  He expects them to bring the holiness of God into every moment of their life, including meals.


A kosher McDonald’s in Ashkelon, Israel

Shabbat Parah: Ritual Purification

Because this Sabbath follows Purim and marks the beginning of the formal preparations for Pesach (Passover), it is called Shabbat Parah (Sabbath of the Red Heifer).

For this Sabbath, a special Torah reading (Numbers 19:1–22) highlighting ritual purification through the red heifer (parah adumah) is included.  In addition, a corresponding Haftarah portion (Ezekiel 36:16–38) discussing purification is read.

The ashes of a red heifer purified the Jewish people and priests (kohanim) in order that they could offer the Passover sacrifice (korban) in holiness.

Red Angus-Heifer

A red heifer

As disciples of Yeshua the Messiah, we can rejoice that the perfect sacrifice of Yeshua cleanses us from sin.

“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 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)

May the Word of God and His Ruach (Spirit) continue to lead and guide us in Truth, teaching us how to live a life that is holy as He is holy.

May we truly become a kingdom of kohanim (priests), a holy nation, called out of darkness into His marvelous light.

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