Parashat Shemini on Chol Hamoed Pesach

On the eighth day of the inauguration of the Kohanim, Aaron and his sons took responsibility, after Moshe had rigorously carried out all the details of the sacrifices,ensuring no errors. 


While Aaron and his sons prepared to take over, R’ Munk quoted a Midrash which contrasted the styles of Moshe and Aaron. Aaron performed a mitzvah not conscious of any harm, whereas Moshe was aware of the danger, and was alert to “the time of judgement being at hand”. He had received a warning that rigorous discipline was required from the leaders to ensure the continued presence of the Shechina. He was aware that the slightest act profaning the sanctuary would be punished even if committed by those closest to G-d.


Moshe informed the elders of Israel that Aaron assumed the role of Kohen Gadol by Divine command and not as an independent action.  After performing the service, Aaron joyously blessed the people and then the Glory of God appeared before the entire people. They saw a fire descend from heaven, and they gave thanks for “G-d is good and His mercy endures forever”. Malachi referred to this time as “the days of old”.


Nadav and Avihu died that day,during this time of sacred joy, after breaking with the rules and offering their own fire when it had not been commanded by G-d..  According to R’SR Hirsch, they apparently acted on impulse and an outburst of enthusiasm, but their death was a warning that G-d’s law could not be changed, whatever the motivation.


Shir Hashirim is read on this Shabbat. It is “the song that excels all songs”, an allegory of the love between G-d and the people Israel.  This feeling was experienced at the dedication of the Tabernacle, and the Temple and at other times.  R’ Akiva said“all the songs of scripture are holy but Shir Hashirim is the Holy of Holies” as  the Rabbis saw the “lover” as G-d and the “beloved” as the community of Israel. There are many commentaries, and different interpretations nonetheless follow this same pattern(1).   For example “I am black but comely” is interpreted as the community of Israel saying to G-d, “I am black through my own deeds but comely through the deeds of my ancestors” or “I am black in my own eyes but comely in the sight of G-d” or ‘I am black during the rest of the year but comely on Yom Kippur”.


“Many waters of heathen tribulation cannot extinguish this love, nor rivers of royal seduction or torture wash it away”.  As Rashi taught, King Solomon foresaw that Israel was destined to suffer a series of exiles, and would recall her former status as G-d’s beloved, and G-d would yet return to her.   


(1)The Jewish Religion, a Companion. R’ Louis Jacobs. 1995, Oxford University Press.

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