Parsha Shemini

April 5, 2013
NISSAN 25, 5773

Candle-lighting Time:6:54 PM

This week’s Sparks of Torah is dedicated in honor of Batsheva Zussman’s birth, right before
Passover. Mazel tov to her parents, Rabbi Menachem and Tova Zussman, and family.


  • Kosher by Design in Denver, May 29th. Meet renowned cookbook author Susie Fishbein for demonstration and dinner. Call to register, (303) 316-6412.
  • Shavuos is celebrated from Tuesday night May 14th to Thursday night, May 16th
  • Last Call for Men’s Mission to Israel April 21-29. If we run out of room on the bus we’ll get another bus. Amazing itinerary at subsidized prices. Can’t beat the inspiration. Call quick.

Back Off

As my digestive system slowly recovers from the annual post-Passover Pharaoh’s revenge, I like to reflect on the more memorable moments from the spring holiday season. Flying rubber frogs,my mother’s fabulous Passover desserts (pareve, pesadik and proud) and some of my children’s insightful questions during the Seder. At our table we give treats and rewards for good questions,a policy which usually prompts quite a few insightful questions, especially from the hungrier children.
We also give special presents just for holiday use, to help make Passover something to look forward to, and to give them something to do during the more adult-oriented parts of the Seder.Many of these presents needed assembly this year, and I never fail to be amazed at the process.The instructions are perfunctorily reviewed and summarily dismissed in favor of more creative assembly, which generally results in frustration and diminished user satisfaction. I wish I could say I was talking exclusively about my three year-old nephew, but it’s just as accurate a description of the adult assistance he received putting his new gifts together. Not to mention this year’s new Passover kitchen gadgets. What is it about following the instructions that we find so challenging?

In Parshas Shemini, as the Tabernacle is finally about to be inaugurated, we read about a tragic event. Nadav and Avihu, two of Ahron’s four sons, lost their lives amidst the ceremony of the Tabernacle’s dedication and sanctification. At the culmination of the month-long national building project, after many parshas of detailed instruction, amongst the very first offerings that were ever brought, these two paragons of holiness put an unsolicited incense offering and a‘foreign fire’ on the altar. In response, a blast of fire descended from the sky to the altar and then consumed them.

I guess the final moment of welcoming the Divine Presence into our midst and inaugurating our national Temple wasn’t the moment to chuck the instructions and get creative. What could have induced these important Jewish leaders to make such a grave and seemingly obvious mistake?When the Jewish People stood at Mount Sinai, they were told to stand far back for the big event.They weren’t just told once, but twice, and just as Moshe was about to receive the tablets, G-dtold him to go down and make sure that no one approached the mountain while He gave the Torah. The three days before the upcoming holiday of Shavuos are even called the Shaloshes

Yimei Hagbala — literally, the Three Days of Boundary. Why all the attention and focus on
staying back?

A well-known Medrish tells how G-d originally offered the Torah to each of the nations of the world. Each one in its turn asked what was in the Torah, was told about one particular mitzvah that was antithetical to its national character, and politely declined. Only the Jewish People said,‘we’ll take it sight-unseen.’ The Medrish indicates that in each nation’s spiritual nature is something that opposes accepting the Torah. Is there nothing equivalent in our national character? Did we just happen to be the people without any internal obstacle or hindrance to receiving the Torah and that’s why we got it?

I once heard an insightful explanation into our national character that answers the question. We also have a certain challenge to overcome, a trait that opposes accepting the Torah — ourpassionate and almost uncontrollable desire to draw close to our Creator, to strive for spiritual greatness and approach the Source of all light and goodness. That’s also an obstacle to keeping the Torah. To control that desire and to keep us from rushing Mount Sinai when the Ten Commandments were being given required repeated warnings and even the threat of punishment.And that’s perhaps the underlying cause of the awesome mistake and terrible deaths of Nadav and Avihu, who wanted so much to bring glory and honor to G-d that they failed to follow His instructions for doing so.

We are a holy people. Deep within each and every one of us lies the desire to take spiritual steps forward, to improve our character, to build a relationship with the Creator of the Universe, to bring peace and perfection to the world. In every aspect of our lives, as we go about doing so, we must simply remember to follow the instructions, the Torah, our guide to all of life’s holy pursuits.


Eating is one of the most favorite American pastimes. It has also become one of the worst enemies of our society. Obesity and weight related diseases have become so prevalent today that they are preventing our work force from being efficient and available. How does the Torah view eating?

There are many eating relating mitzvos, such as eating matzoh on Pesach, festive meals on Shabbos and, of course, a wedding feast. However, regarding regular non-mitzvah consumption of food is there a definition for the right or wrong of overeating or of indulgence in general? The entire beginning of parshas Shemini is devoted to a description of kosher animals, fowl, fish and even insects. Certainly it would seem that the Torah promotes consumption of these animals if so much space is allocated to the discussion. On the other hand, the language used by the Torah when the topic is introduced alludes to a very important aspect of eating. The word for ‘life’ in Hebrew is ‘chaim’, and that very word prefaces this parsha in the Torah. Rashi further emphasizes this point stating that since we, the Jewish people, are strongly linked to Hashem therefore we deserve to live an enriched life. Subsequently, the types of creatures that sully and besmirch our inner being are prohibited. This perspective casts an entirely different light upon the subject. Eating is not to be viewed only as a way to nourish the body. Consumption of food also nurtures the soul and brings a person closer to Hashem. How is the mere act of ingesting food so productive and significant?

The Torah prohibits eating certain animals that would exert negative influences upon us philosophically or behaviorally. When we absorb the flesh of these organisms, they integrate and fuse with our very being. It is aptly said, we are what we eat. Additionally, the concept of forbidding the ingestion of certain animals and permitting others harkens back to the notion that certain actions are permissible while others are banned. We have mitzvos, which we are obligated to fulfill, and sins, which we are not allowed to do. Often it is obvious which actions are within the realm of permissibility and which are not. When it comes to eating, it is not so evident. Perhaps the Torah advances the notion of right and wrong within the context of food consumption in order to emphasize that the standards of the Torah are not humanly devised. On the contrary, every mitzvah was ordained by Hashem and then conveyed to us through his faithful emissary Moshe.

Furthermore, perhaps the Torah transmits this concept of wrongdoing specifically within the context of eating to stress that we must overcome our physical desires and on the contrary, vanquish them to serve Hashem. We, as physical beings, are naturally obsessed with fulfilling our earthly cravings and passions. Just as one who strives to strengthen his muscles and boost his physical power will follow a protocol of training, so too, we must follow a similar procedure concerning overwhelming our yearnings and channeling our energy in a productive fashion. The

training technique that the Torah instituted is based upon controlling our food consumption. Using this method, we can realize that although we must fulfill our physical needs in order to survive, nonetheless, we can successfully control them and harness them to be effective and triumphant in our lives.

A Question for the Rabbis

“And every small animal (insect) that teems (breeds) on the land shall not be eaten by you” (Leviticus 11:41). A number of years ago some people became aware that New York City drinking water contained small crustaceans called copepods. Rabbis were asked whether this posed a kashrut problem based on the prohibition against the consumption of insects. One issue is whether the insects can be seen with the naked eye. If they are too small to be seen by the naked eye, then they are permitted according to Jewish law. However if they are large enough to be seen, but because of their coloring or transparency it is difficult to see them, then they are prohibited according to most authorities. If they can be seen, but are not recognizable as insects, then there appears to be no clear ruling, but since an insect is a Biblical prohibition, we would generally have to be stringent in a case of doubt. Many authorities concluded that one should only drink filtered water in NYC, although there are authorities who are lenient. Obviously one should consult their local rabbi for a ruling (Minchat Asher, Vayikra, Section 16).

Joke of the Week

What kind of cheese is best for the Seder?

Although we put away our Pesach dishes, we should not retire the Yom Tov of Pesach. Pesach is just the beginning of our ascent to the Yom Tov of Shavuos. Indeed, the objective of our exodus from Egyptian bondage was to receive the Torah.