Photo of Rabbi Ettedgui

Parashat Shmini - 5773

My friends,

This Shabbat we read the portion of Shmini. In the preceding Parasha, we read how the Tabernacle was erected, all the items were put in place, the priests and Levites were given their assignments and at the end of the Parasha, Moses and the priests had seven days of rehearsals, practicing the various offerings. Shmini, meaning the 'eighth', describes what happened on the eighth day:

Moses tells Aaron and his sons and the elders of Israel that the preparations have been completed and that the priests are now ready to do the real thing. The entire congregation gathers to see the dedication of the Tabernacle and the service. Moses tells Aaron and his sons that if they do as they have been instructed, G-d's glory will appear to the entire congregation.

The service begins. Aaron and his sons bring the offerings, including the purification offering, the burnt offering and the peace offering. Moses and Aaron come out and bless the people. The Glory of G-d appears to the entire congregation in the form of a fire descending from Heaven and consuming all the items that were on the altar. All the people see this, they shout and fall upon their faces. What a beautiful and inspiring moment for the entire congregation! Their gifts for the building of this Tabernacle were well accepted. For Aaron and Moses, it must have been the most joyous day of their lives - to see their labor and preparations crowned in such a powerful way, a fire coming from heaven and accepting their offerings.

But in the midst of this great joy, tragedy strikes. Nadab and Abihu, two of Aaron's sons, walk into the tabernacle with two fire pans. They put fire in the pans, place incense on the fire and come close to the Holy of Holies. This was not part of the service, as no one had instructed them to burn incense. A fire descends from Heaven and consumes them, and they die before the L-rd. Imagine what a tragedy for Aaron, his family and the entire congregation. Moses tries to comfort Aaron, but Aaron keeps silent, and 'the show must go on' as he has to finish the service before turning to mourning for his loss. I believe that there is a real life lesson for all of us. We never know what the next moment might bring, even at the height of our joy and happiness.

As I write this, it is the day after film critic Roger Ebert passed away. I was touched by what he had to say when asked about his feelings about life after he had lost a jaw, and the ability to communicate. His answer (in writing) was, "We must try to contribute joy to the world, no matter what our problems, our health, our circumstances." He was happy, he said, to have lived long enough to find that out.

It's a tough Parasha. But each one of us can find a message of hope in the dramatic event that took place thousands of years ago to our ancestors, and that we continue to see in so many different situations.

Shabbat Shalom,