Each week, our resident Hillel Rabbis (Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan and Rabbi Alex Kress) will comment on the week's parsha.
In just a few days, Jewish communities throughout the entire world will come together to read Parsha Shemini. The portion represents a climax of a long story that began in Exodus chapter 25. It celebrates the Day that Jews finally got to start using the Mishkan (sanctuary). We are told that the sanctuary was ready to be used seven days earlier, but instead of starting to use it, the Kohanim (priests) needed to wait and sit at its entrance for seven days and only begin its use on day eight. The question I want to ask is, why is it so significant to start using the Mishkan on the eighth day? I believe an answer to this question can be found in connection to the laws of circumcision. The circumcision of a baby boy is to take place on the eighth day, no sooner. The fact that a human was made in the image of GOD and yet we are told we have to make our own change is puzzling. Still, why the eighth day?
The Torah spells out the grandest creation of the world in seven days showing that the work of GOD was done after seven, and we may have thought that after that, we can't adjust or make any changes. The laws of circumcision and the insistence on waiting until the eighth day teach us that GOD does not want us to sit back; he wants and demands of us to improve on this world in terms of the physical -- for example, finding cures to cancer and other significant diseases -- and in terms of the interpersonal -- like never to giving up on relationships and to trying to better communities.
Quarantine has provided many of us an intense period of time with family and friends. When we spend so much time with the same people 24/7, tempers flare easier than they normally might. This week in Parshat Sh’mini, we find some of these intense feelings. Aaron is famously “silent” after the sudden death of his sons Nadav & Avihu (Lev 10:4). Then, in an act of arrogance, Moses forbids the family from mourning and instructs them to carry on business as normal. He then becomes irate at Aaron’s other sons Eleazar and Ithamar for not meticulously following procedure as he instructed. These intense pendulum swings of emotion, sometimes mixed with irrationality or selfishness, are familiar to those of us quarantined in tight quarters with family and friends. The important thing to remember, whether we are on the sending or receiving end of intense emotion, is the humility Moses comes to be known for. My teacher and former Hillel at UCLA Director Rabbi Richard Levy embodied this humility and taught his students to see every person as if they had God’s name hovering above their head. Perhaps then, in these unusual circumstances, we would realize the Talmud’s directive to train ourselves to be gentle and rid anger from our hearts.