Parshat Shemini (5774)


Leviticus 9 – 11

Because Creation is a Process

Life most definitely has its ups and downs. Even more frustrating to many of us is when we feel that we aren’t making progress, or even like we are going backwards from the goals that we most aspire to. This is common to most people, and that is what we are going to talk about. You aren’t alone in this, my friends.

The children are waiting for seven day's for the presence of G-d to appear. And so far nothing happened. How would you feel?As we get into this weeks lesson I want to start by reminding us that even though we are still early on into a new book of the Torah, Vayikra – the book of Leviticus – this is really a continuation of the story we were following in Shemot – in Exodus. Later books are often regarded as repetitions by scholars, but these are the original instructions. So in this book we will find many signs and hints to the basic groundwork of the ritual worship, and the philosophy driving them. I want us to keep this in mind as we read this book. There is so much we can learn if we slow down and just consider it.

Let us begin with the key verse we will focus on from this week’s parsha:

“Moses and Aaron went into

the Tent of Meeting,

and when he came out

they blessed the people.

And the glory of Hashem appeared

to all the people.”

| Vayavo Moshe ve’Aharon

| el-Ohel Mo’ed

| vayetse’u

| vayevarechu et-ha’am

| vayera chevod-Hashem

| el-kol-ha’am

Leviticus 9:23

In the previous verse we learned that Aharon lifts up his hands to extend the priestly blessing, he gives the birkat kohanim. “May Hashem bless you and keep you – May Hashem make His face to shine on you and be gracious to you – May Hashem lift His face unto you and give you peace.” (Numbers 6:24-26; see Rashi to Lev. 9:22; see Parshat Nasso 2012)

And then there is a second blessing that is also given, we aren’t exactly sure what that is. (see Parshat Shemini 2011) However, according to midrash we are given a suggestion of what the second set of blessings are. We discussed this a few weeks ago. (see Parshat Pekudei 5774)

Rashi repeats these blessings again in his commentary upon this verse as well:

Then they came out and blessed the people: They said: “May the pleasantness Hashem, our G-d, be upon us (Ps. 90:17); May it be Gd’s will that the Shechinah rest in the work of your hands.” [And why did they choose this particular blessing?] Because throughout all seven days of the investitures, when Moses erected the Mishkan, performed the service in it, and then dismantled it daily, the Shechinah did not rest in it. The Israelites were humiliated, and they said to Moses, “Moses, our teacher, all the efforts we have taken were only so that the Shechinah should dwell among us, so that we would know that we have been forgiven for the sin of the [golden] calf!” Therefore, Moses answered them (verse 6), “This is the thing Hashem has commanded; do [it], and the glory of Hashem will appear to you. My brother Aaron is more worthy and important than I, insofar as through his offerings and his service the Shechinah will dwell among you, and you will know that the Omnipresent has chosen him.”

ויצאו ויברכו את העם: אמרו ויהי נועם האלהינו עלינו (תהלים צ יז), יהי רצון שתשרה שכינה במעשה ידיכם. לפי שכל שבעת ימי המלואים, שהעמידו משה למשכן ושמש בו ופרקו בכל יום, לא שרתה בו שכינה, והיו ישראל נכלמים ואומרים למשה משה רבינו, כל הטורח שטרחנו, שתשרה שכינה בינינו ונדע שנתכפר לנו עון העגל. לכך אמר להם זה הדבר אשר צוה התעשו וירא אליכם כבוד ה‘ (פסוק ו), אהרן אחי כדאי וחשוב ממני שעי קרבנותיו ועבודתו תשרה שכינה בכם ותדעו שהמקום בחר בו:

Rashi to Leviticus 9:23

We see these two blessings repeated again for us, as they were in the commentary for Exodus as well. However, if you notice the order is actually reversed to what it was before. In the commentary for Parshat Pekudei we saw the lines of “Yehi ratzon / May it be Your will…” first, and then followed by a verse of Psalm. Here they are reversed. In fact the section of “yehi ratzon” is also truncated here, so I believe this text is just mentioning all this in passing. And therefore does not give much consideration for the actual decorum of the process. That or it is not defined firmly one way or the other because of speculation. One can’t exactly be sure.

As when previously discussed both then and also last week, when we have been talking about the Mishkan (tabernacle) we have most often been talking about the people having an outlet for their spiritual and creative expression. That they people felt the need to create this sanctuary in order to pro-actively do something about their need to feel close to G-d. We have talked about how we should thus encourage people to be active, and how to respond to people’s creativity. But we have really sidestepped around the issues of why they are doing all of this, only mentioning it in passing.

I want us to step back and remind ourselves once again. It is because there was a rift made between the children and Israel and G-d on the day that they made, and worshiped, the Golden Calf. The presence of Hashem which hung around and guarded them, it was no longer with them in that manner. They felt alone and exposed. They felt the shame and consequences of their error. Now they desperately wanted to feel that closeness to G-d once again.

There are some ironies of both to stories of the egel (the calf) and the making of the Mishkan. You don’t have to think too hard to come up with a few. Like how is it that the people are this captivated with their construction of all of this, when they had previously been punished for also constructing items of worship? Then they made an egel of gold, and now they are making angelic figures and the like as well. Didn’t this get them in trouble before? So what’s the difference?

The difference was that they intended to make items to help them worship, but instead they made items which became idol focuses of their worship. Our rabbis tell us, as it is also pointed out in philosophical works such as the Rambam’s Mishneh Torah and the Kuzari of Yehuda haLevi, that the people were not really constructing items to necessarily worship, but to help them focus their worship toward G-d. The eygel being a way to meditate upon G-d, not to worship as a god. But it got twisted around, in a most horrible way.

What the scriptures and our sages reveal is that the people fell into error when they could no longer be patient and wait for Moses to return with the instructions of Torah. Instead they constructed something of their own, according to a design they were already familiar with from past idolatry. They couldn’t wait for G-d or Moses, so they went at it themselves in a disastrous spectacle.

A spectacle which harmed this people and left them alienated from the presence of G-d. This guiding presence departs during the entire incident of the eygel.

Because the children of Israel couldn’t wait and be patient, they literally took matters into their own hands. And in doing so, they didn’t progress. They instead lost the presence of G-d which had guided them and comforted them.

Now that the Israelites had the instructions from Moses on how to do this worship right, this was what consumed them. And now in line with these commandments the Israelites are also desperately trying to atone for themselves as well. Something which can only be accomplished through a true act of worship, as described by Moses in the revelation of Torah. They need the temple worship, in order to atone for their sins.

This was the cause of anxiety. Not only were they waiting for the presence of G-d to return to them. Not only were they ready to show real acts of worship done right. But they were also desperately waiting for G-d to accept their gifts with a sign of His presence, so that they will know that their sins have been forgiven. This is what they are anxiously awaiting, for validation of their atonement and redemption.

What our midrash further tells us here is just amazing. We are told that the Israelite’s anxiousness and sense of disappointment became overwhelming over the week of the inauguration of the Mishkan. Not only did the presence of G-d not appear to them until the end of the seven days, we are told that on each of the seven inauguration days the Mishkan was reconstructed – as it was dismantled each day of this week of dedication.

How can this be, how is it that our sages suggest such a thing? Why would it be taken apart and set-up up again each of these days?

Remember how earlier I was saying how this book of Leviticus is a continuation of the story started in Exodus? In Exodus chapter 29 we learn that the inauguration is supposed to take seven days, that’s what the whole chapter is about.

But from where do we get the idea it was reconstructed and erected seven times? Keeping in mind this story as all one, the rabbis took notice that there are two times we see a plan given of the Mishkan  in Exodus (Parshat Tetzaveh; 25:10-30:38, 31:7-11) and five times in Leviticus (Parshat Pekudei; 35:11-19. 6:8-39:32, 39:33-42, 40:1-16, 40:17-33). Seven times in this long narrative over two books.

Our rabbis would suggest we have it repeated seven times because it was reconstructed each day, for seven days. And as we often mention, our sages are of the opinion that nothing is redundant and superfluous in the Torah, so each of these descriptions must have been useful for something. Thus there are seven descriptions, for the seven times it was reconstructed.

The number seven is mystically significant in our tradition. It has great symbolism for us. There are seven days in the creation story. And therefore there are seven days of the week. There are seven years in the shmitah cycle – which again completes its cycle with a fallow year for agriculture in Israel next year in 5775. And of course there are seven branches on the Menorah. There are many connections to the number seven found in the scriptures.

We can clearly see that two themes seem to run through them all. Creation, and the completion of a cycle.

When it comes to creation we understand what these people were doing now, they were trying to redeem themselves. They were trying to get close to G-d. Now they were trying to get their sins forgiven, and also beginning to worship the correct way. But nothing happened. G-d did not show up and accept their gifts those first few days, so we are told they felt nichlamim – they were humiliated.

Unlike the eygel (calf) which somehow got them immediate gratification, the creation of this tent of worship and all its service was taking time. But if we think about it, creation took time even for G-d – seven days to create the world. Should they not have expect that their own creative endeavors would take time to be full achieved as well? Is that not a lesson which we can take away from this?

And the constant construction and deconstruction of the Mishkan all these days, is this not something that is mirrored in our own daily lives? Do we not often put hard work into our endeavors, making so much progress, only to see setbacks? When we think we’ve gotten somewhere, we see our work and plans deconstructed right before our eyes.

What we learn is that the first six days were just dress rehearsals. In the end we are told on the seventh day fire came down from heaven and consumed the offerings. And thus the presence of G-d returned, the people were forgiven and the service began. (see Parshat Shemini 2011)

But why is it so important that we make mention of this?

The reason is because it serves as a lesson for us like it did for the children of Israel in the wilderness, that we need to keep at it until our mission is accomplished. And that we need to stick with the full cycle, because creation is a process. Often times we don’t get it all right the first few times, but eventually we will and it will be glorious. We just need to stick with it, and be patient as we see it through.

Shabbat Shalom!

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