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Parsha Shemini Leviticus 9:1-11:47

Parsha Shemini Leviticus 9:1-11:47

In this week’s Torah portion we read about the end of the Priests ordination. For seven days the Priests have been ministering inside the “Mishkan—Tabernacle.” This portion immediately launches into what happened “…on the eighth day…” For this observation, I want to jump straight into the first verse of this portion and work our way to the end. Leviticus 9:1 starts out, “It came to pass on the eighth day that Moses called Aaron and his sons and the elders of Israel.” God created the world in seven days and after every seven days comes…the first day. But in this verse we read about an “eighth day.” Why is this important to note? Because if God fit all of creation into seven days, then anything done on an eighth day could be considered, “out of this world” right? The number eight represents the things beyond our realm.
Think about it; if you flip the number 8 sideways you get the symbol for infinity. King David was the eighth son of his father and the Festival of Sukkot (Tabernacles) is eight days long. Both David and Sukkot, along with the number 8, represent the coming Kingdom of God to earth. Eight stands for the Kingdom of God manifest on earth; the eighth day referred to in this verse, was when “God’s House,” His tabernacle was finished, so He could dwell among His people. The eighth day mentioned in this verse was a picture of the ultimate eighth day when the whole world will become “God’s Home.” There was something about the completion of the Tabernacle and the consecration of the priests that brought Israel into this new and higher dimension.
It is written in the Talmud concerning the dedication of the Tabernacle, “On that day there was joy before the Holy One, Blessed be He, similar to the joy that existed on the day on which the heavens and earth were created.” (Megilah 10b) That is to say, God rejoiced at the completion of the Tabernacle as much as He had rejoiced when the creation of the world was accomplished. Why? The creation of the world and the creation of the Tabernacle served the same functions. They both allowed God to dwell among humanity.
In the next verse, Leviticus 9:2, it tells us, “Take for yourself a young bull as a sin offering and a ram as a burnt offering, without blemish, and offer them before the Lord.” Interestingly enough, the word used here for “young bull” is not the Hebrew word “Parah—Cow,” or the word “Shor—Ox,” or the word “Bakar—Bull/Herd.” Instead, the Hebrew word used in this verse is the word “Egel—Calf.” Do you recognize this word? Looking throughout the entire Torah, this word is used in reference to only one other story in Israel’s history. What was that event? The “Egel Masecha—Molded Calf.” The priests were instructed to offer an “Egel” as a sin offering to counter the sin of the “Egel Masecha—Molded Calf.” God reminds His people of their sin, to remind them of His mercy. It demonstrates to all of us, this important fact; the very things that once drew Israel away from God, in the end, were what brought Israel closer to God. Our goal should be to learn how to turn our sinful habits into sacrificial offerings for God. Learn how to turn the “Molded Calves” of life, into sacrifices of service upon God’s altar.
 
At the end of Leviticus 9, we read about the fire of God consuming the offerings made by Aaron the priest and his sons. Verse 23-24 says, “Then the glory of the Lord appeared to all the people, and fire came out from before the Lord and consumed the burnt offering and the fat on the altar. When all the people saw it, they shouted and fell on their faces.” This was a euphoric moment as the whole nation experienced God’s presence in a tangible and inspiring revelation of glory. Rabbeinu Bahya, in his commentary on this verse writes “‘Fire emanated from heaven and consumed the burnt-offering on the Altar…’ This fire remained a constant phenomenon until the generation of Solomon when he built the Holy Temple. (Zevachim 61). In fact it did not cease until that Temple was destroyed…we find an allusion to this in Leviticus 6,6: ‘the fire on the Altar will remain constant, it shall not be extinguished.’” What is being communicated is the understanding that “the fire” that was on the sacrificial altar in the Tabernacle was started by God Himself. The fire we just read about in the above verse, the “fire from God,” is the very fire that remained on the altar until the times of the Kings of Israel. 
In this passage it says, all the children of Israel saw “Kavod Hashem—the Glory/ Presence of God.” It was a national revelation of God and the whole nation was in awe.
 
When suddenly, mid-story, we confronted with the deaths of “Nadav and Avihu—Nadab and Abihu.” What went wrong? In the middle of a beautiful ceremony, God’s presence is being revealed, the Tabernacle is finally dedicated and wait, what…two priests die? As I read through different commentaries concerning this story, each had their own “sin” to pin upon this pair, from drunkenness and celibacy, to power-hungry and disrespectful. Yet, as I read through their story, nowhere in the passage is the word “sin” ever mentioned. None of the “transgressions” I found listed actually made any sense. Obviously, they did something very wrong and were judged accordingly…but what if their intentions were pure and they actually got what they desired?
The Lubavitcher Rebbe writes in his commentary, “Nadav and Avihu were swept up in the ecstasy of the moment. In their intense desire to cleave to G-d, which they expressed through their unauthorized incense offering, they rose through spiritual heights even as they felt their souls leaving them. From this perspective, their death was not a punishment but a fulfillment of their wish to dissolve into G-d’s essence. Nevertheless, we are not intended to imitate their example…”
From this perspective, Nadav and Avihu thought that the whole purpose of life was to become totally encompassed in a sea G-dliness. The Rebbe goes on to describe their deed as “Spiritual suicide.” They thought the goal was to be completely consumed into the celestial essence of the Divine, in a constant “spiritual high” of sorts. Through their offering of “strange fire” (as it is translated from the Hebrew) they wanted to show their unique appreciation of God through their own imaginative inspiration. But as Michael Chighel from Chabad points out, “…a life dedicated to religious rapture is not really about what God wants, it’s about what you want. Even if what you want is to be close to God.” The fire from God that fell upon the altar and consumed the sacrifices is the very same fire that fell upon Nadav and Avihu, taking their souls from them. It is interesting because both of these verses start out with the same 5 words, “V’tetze esh milifnei Hashem vatochal…—And fire went out from before the Lord and consumed…” Nadav and Avihu saw what happened to the sacrifices and thought that God desired the same from themselves. It says in Hebrew that they “Vayakrivu lifnei Hashem—Drew near before the Lord.” They literally offered themselves as sacrifices to be consumed but they missed what God truly desired. God didn’t command Moses and Aaron to build a sanctuary that they could dwell with Him, but rather vice versa. God said, “Make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among/inside you.”  I have written quite a bit about becoming a “Spiritual Sacrifice” and within its proper context, it’s good. But we must be careful not to become “too heavenly minded and no earthly good,” or worse…God desires to dwell with us, in our daily lives. People wonder why God’s laws can be meticulous and detailed at times. Maybe it’s because He wanted to elevate life to an experience with Him. People are constantly running from conference to church to bible study to mission work to service group looking for some spiritual high, when all God really wants is for us to invite Him into our busy, daily routines.
” The Sin of Nadab and Abihu”
Illustration from a Bible Card (1907)
Our calling is not to be “consumed by God” but to “consume God.” Meaning we don’t float off into some heavenly dream of God consciousness, but we bring God consciousness into the daily reality we live in. God should not be separate from life. Nadav and Avihu wanted to cleave to God, but God wanted to experience life with them; He wanted to dwell in them on this earth, rather than them in Him elsewhere. Nadav and Avihu were “Kohanim—Priests.” A priest’s role is to unite heaven and earth by inviting God into the world and by inviting humanity into God’s presence. Their job was to make this world into “God’s Home.” But instead of fulfilling their calling and mission, Nadav and Avihu were euphorically raptured to cloud nine.Great way to go, but life isn’t all about spiritual highs and euphoric ecstasy with God. Life is about making God a place to dwell here, as it is beautifully conveyed by the Prophet Isaiah in one word, “Immanuel—God with us.”
 
But before you go and think life is all about living in the here and now. Think again. Right after this story about Nadav and Avihu, God speaks to Moses saying, “Speak to the children of Israel, saying, ‘these are the animals which you may eat among all the animals that are on the earth…” So we understand that God has rules we need to live by. But why on earth does He put the “Kosher” dietary laws right after the story about the death of two priests? I think it is no accident we have these laws here. The whole story concerning Nadav and Avihu basically tells us, “Don’t get over-spiritual.” Try and elevate this realm instead attempting to elevate yourself. The Kosher laws I believe, give us the other side of the story. Everyone knows the saying “You are what you eat?” From the Kosher laws, God isn’t just telling us, “Don’t eat this and don’t eat that.” The Ramban makes a statement concerning the kosher laws stating, “The birds and many of the mammals forbidden by the Torah are predators, while the permitted animals are not. We are commanded not to eat those animals possessive of a cruel nature, so that we should not absorb these qualities into ourselves.”
The kosher laws weren’t just about our eating habits; they were also to remind us that we are not to live the lifestyles of vultures and swine. Just because we aren’t always “spiritually flying in heavenly heights” doesn’t give allowance for us to walk in our natural and animalistic desires.
 
I had a dream a few years back that really shook me, and while the dream itself is for another time, at the end of it God truly spoke to me. It is one of the only times I can truly say, “I heard from God.” And this is what He said, “Choose your reality, choose your reality, choose your reality.” I think this may be one of the hardest life-choices of all, because it is a daily choice. And not only is it a daily choice, but I’m still in the process of daily figuring out what that reality even is. But I do know one thing; it has to do with shedding the lies I’ve believed and trusting what God has spoken over me in His word.
 
He called the nation of Israel in Exodus 19 and He called all of us as His followers in 1 Peter 2, “Mamlechet Kohanim—A Kingdom of Priests.”
Don’t be the kind of priests that Nadav and Avihu were, people who live for spiritual experiences. Neither be a “pig” who lives just for the moment. Choose your reality as a child of God and a priest in His Kingdom. And think on this: “God doesn’t want to invite us into His realm, He wants us to invite Him into this realm.” Because, It takes the mundane and ordinary to bring in the freight train of extraordinary. Coming to a stop near you!
 
Grace and peace from God’s bondservant,
Shabbat Shalom,
Samuel

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