Praying for Fire
ויבא משה ואהרן אל אהל מועד ויצאו ויברכו את העם וירא כבוד ד’ אל כל העם
“Moses and Aaron came to the Tent of Meeting, and they went out and they blessed the people. And the glory of G-d appeared to the entire people” (Vayikra 9:23).
The Tabernacle, the resting place for the Divine Presence in the wilderness, was ready to be erected. As High Priest, Aaron ascended the Altar and brought his own offerings and then those of the community, and then blessed the people. However, an uneasy atmosphere prevailed. The nation had been waiting anxiously for a heavenly fire to descend. This sign would demonstrate G-d’s love for them and show they had earned atonement for the sin of the Golden Calf.
When the fire did not descend, they complained to Moses. Understanding their pain, both brothers entered the Tabernacle and, prostrating themselves in submission, beseeched G-d to reveal His love to the Jewish people. As the Jewish people looked on, a fire eventually descended and consumed the sacrifices. Filled with boundless love and joy, the awe-struck populace fell to the ground and gave thanks to G-d.
By withholding His fire, G-d wished to demonstrate that sacrificial rites are not a magic formula. G-d desires only a genuine connection with His people; offerings without pure intentions cannot evoke Heavenly love. G-d is prepared to shower us with abundant good, but this can be brought about only through a combination of action and intent.
In 1930, Reb Chaim Elazar Shapiro (the Munkatcher Rebbe) visited Jerusalem to see the elderly kabbalist Rabbi Shlomo Eliezer Alfandri, known as the Saba Kadisha (the Holy Elder). The two men spent long hours behind closed doors discussing communal matters. At one point, Rabbi Shapiro’s attendant overheard Rabbi Shapiro ask, “Please tell me, when will the Messiah finally arrive and redeem us from this long exile?” Rabbi Alfandri replied sadly, “Unfortunately there are people who are preventing the redemption.” There was silence. After a few moments the attendant heard muffled sobs—Rabbi Shapiro was crying! In a tear-choked voice, he asked, “Am I among those preventing the redemption?”
Despite Rabbi Shapiro’s sincere desire to witness the redemption, he feared he had somehow prevented its onset. The intensity of his emotions pierced the attendant’s heart. It compels Jews the world over to consider whether we are doing enough to break down heaven’s barriers and bring the redemption.
As Jews, we routinely turn to G-d to hasten the arrival of the Messiah and to meet our various needs. It can be discouraging, though, when our prayers seem to go unanswered. This week’s Torah portion offers a valuable perspective: G-d did not deliver on the Jewish people’s expectations until Moses and Aaron stepped in, with their awareness that prayer is not an automatic ticket for getting a positive response from G-d.
Rather than become discouraged by G-d’s apparent inaction, Moses and Aaron refused to give up and infused their prayer with even greater devotion. While prayer is invaluable, despair can undermine its value; turning to G-d with optimistic perseverance, however, can make all the difference in the world.
ויאמר משה אל אהרן הוא אשר דבר ה’ לאמר בקרבי אקדש ועל פני כל העם אכבד וידם אהרן
“Moses said to Aaron: Of this (the death of Nadav and Avihu) did G-d speak, saying: ‘I will be sanctified through those who are nearest Me, thus I will be honored before the entire people.’” (Vayikra 10:3)
Parshat Tzav concluded by describing the service which Moses performed for seven days to inaugurate the Tabernacle. Parshat Shemini begins with the climax of this period, which was reached on the eighth day, at which time Aaron and his sons were consecrated to serve as Priests in the Tabernacle, which was finally erected on that day to serve on a permanent basis. Tragically, just at the peak of the joy of the inauguration ritual, Aaron’s two oldest sons, Nadab and Abihu performed a service in the Tabernacle which they weren’t commanded to do, and they paid for it with their lives.
Reacting to this terrible loss, Rashi writes that Moses told Aaron that he had known that the Tabernacle would be sanctified through the death of somebody close to G-d, but he had assumed that it would be either himself or Aaron. In light of what had transpired, Moses said that he now recognized that Nadab and Abihu were even greater than them. This comment from Moses is difficult to understand. How could Moses, whom the Torah testifies (Bamidbar 12:3) was the most humble man to ever walk the earth, presume to be the most beloved by G-d in his entire generation?
Rabbi Leib Chasman explains that this question is rooted in a fundamental misunderstanding regarding the nature of humility. People are accustomed to thinking of a humble person as one who views himself as low and unworthy. The Torah, however, doesn’t equate humility with low self-esteem! On the contrary, a humble person may be well aware of his tremendous talents and skills.
Nevertheless, he doesn’t view himself as worthy of praise and respect for them. In his humility he attributes his talents to Divine gifts. Moses was well aware of his lofty spiritual status and naturally assumed that G-d would choose to take him to consecrate the Tabernacle, yet this in no way detracted from his humility.
This understanding of genuine humility can be contrasted with the misguided demonstration of it in the following amusing story. There was once a yeshiva in Europe which emphasized to its students the importance of acquiring the trait of humility and minimizing one’s view of his worth and value. To that end, there were students who would repeat to themselves over and over the Yiddish expression, “Ich bin a gornisht” – I am nothing – in an attempt to internalize this understanding. One day a new student arrived in the yeshiva. Upon entering the study hall, he encountered a number of students describing themselves as worthless. Assuming that this was the practice of the yeshiva and wanting to fit in, the new student sat down and joined in, repeating loudly and with great fervor this expression, “I am nothing.”
One of the older students approached him and rebuked him, “You just arrived here, and you already think you are nothing?!” Suffice it to say that although we have learned that a person should strive toward a humble and modest view of himself, this isn’t the “humility” that the Torah had in mind!
ואת אלה תשקצו מן העוף לא יאכלו… החסידה
And these you shall abominate from among the birds, they may not be eaten… the Chasida (an unidentified bird) (Vayikra 11: 13, 19)
Shemini includes the laws describing which animals and fowl may or may not be eaten according to Torah Law. The laws of kashrut fall under a category of commandment known as a Divine Statute (chok, or chukim in plural), whose logical underpinnings transcend human understanding. Nevertheless, the commentators do offer explanations on the basic premise for determining which animals are kosher and which are not.
One premise is that everything that enters a person’s body affects that person, whether he realizes it or not. With regard to birds, for example, non-kosher birds are generally birds of prey, or have some sort of negative attribute associated with them. Thus, when a person eats predatory fowl, he invites a predatory nature to become a part of who he is. This is something the Torah wants us to avoid, and therefore, such birds are prohibited.
One of the non-kosher birds listed in the Torah, the Chasida, appears to break with this rule, however. Rashi explains that the name for this bird is closely related to the Hebrew word Chessed, or kindness. The reason it was given this name is that the Chasida displays kindness by sharing food with its kin. Given what was said about how an animal’s kosher status is related to its nature, it would seem logical for the Torah to encourage people to eat the Chasida and benefit from its kind nature. Why, then, is the Chasida unkosher?
Rabbi Itzchak Meir Alter, author of the Chidushei Harim, explains that the key lies with the exclusive recipient of the Chasida’s kindness – its own kin. Its non-kosher status is earned by the fact that it does not display kindness to others.
The Torah thus teaches that ‘kindness’ which is limited in one’s family, class, or social grouping, is not kindness but in fact, an expression of self-interest. As such, the Chasida bird, which shows generosity only to its own species, is rightfully designated as a non-kosher bird.
A meat packing plant in Norway had a kind Rabbi as its kosher supervisor. One day, at the end of his shift, he went into a freezer to perform a routine inspection. The freezer door, which he had propped open, slowly started to close until it latched and trapped the Rabbi inside. All of his attempts to call for help were muffled by the thick insulated door. After a few hours he was exhausted and nearly frozen to death. Suddenly, the plant’s security guard appeared at the door of the freezer and saved the Rabbi.
After the Rabbi regained his faculties, he asked the security guard what had prompted him to look inside the freezer. The security guard answered, “Every day, hundreds of workers pass me on their way into work and again on their way home. They all pass by with barely a nod in my direction. You are different. You greet me with a hearty, ‘Good morning,’ on your way in and a sincere, ‘Good evening,’ on your way out. I look forward to those greetings every day. Today I was waiting and waiting for my ‘Good evening.” When so much time passed, I knew you must still be in the building, so I came to look for you.”
There is no limit to the number of opportunities each of us has to relate to other people with kindness. Being kind can be as easy as greeting someone or simply giving a sincere compliment. Such acts of kindness, are simple to perform and cost us very little, yet have the power to truly enhance the recipient’s life. With every act of kindness we incorporate a little more of that quality into our nature. Over time, the effect is transformative. Not only do we develop an appetite for more, but others see us as sources of inspiration for their own behavior. It doesn’t get more kosher than that!
Kosher Food, Kosher Actions
וכל כלי חרש אשר ייפול מהם אל תוכו כול אשר בתוכו יטמא
“And concerning the earthenware vessels, if something (impure) falls into it, the entire contents are rendered impure” (Vayikra 11:33).
Conventional wisdom has it that “you are what you eat.” Logic would also seem to dictate that to get better performance out you have to be acutely aware of what you put in. While we may not understand why kosher food is better for our spiritual nourishment, we can certainly fathom that food is important; after all, we do eat every day, usually several times a day. We can also easily understand that the numerous guidelines concerning what we consume are meant to lead us in a certain direction.
The latter half of the Torah portion of Shemini deals with foods that are kosher. The Torah also lists guidelines for which foods can become impure (in a spiritual sense). The sages (Chulin 24b) present a perplexing case concerning these laws. Two food containers, a metallic one and a ceramic one, both come into external contact with an impure item (such as the carcass of a non-kosher animal). The metallic vessel becomes impure while the ceramic vessel remains pure. Why should identical contact produce diametrically opposite results?
The Kotzker Rebbe (Rabbi Menachem Mendel Morgenstern) explains that it is because of the nature of the utensils themselves. Metal utensils are items of value; as such, when they come into contact with impurity they contract it and pass it on to the food inside. Earthenware vessels, on the other hand, are simple utensils and are only valued for the protection they provide to their contents. Since the outside of a ceramic utensil is merely a shell for its essence (what it holds inside), it cannot become impure by external contact.
However, if an impure item falls inside an earthenware vessel, then not only does the food become impure, it also transfers that impurity to the vessel as well. In the same case, however, a metal vessel would not necessary transfer its impurity to the entire vessel.
Man (adam) was made of earth (adamah) and returns to the earth. He is, says the Kotzker Rebbe, essentially an earthenware vessel. Our bodies are only as valuable as what we contain. On one level, this does mean that “you are what you eat,” and the laws of kashrut help keep us spiritually healthy. On a deeper lever, we contain far more than just food; our actions, our beliefs — these are what define us. When we actively seek to fill ourselves with proper nourishment, we make our bodies into worthwhile vessels. With the right “fuel,” we can begin the task of performing worthwhile deeds that give the vessel — our bodies — its value.
Just as we are routinely careful with what we put into our bodies, we can also scrutinize our actions and beliefs with the same care.
For Discussion Around the Shabbat Table
The lives of Nadab and Abihu, two sons of Aaron, were cut short by G-d for some highly objectionable activity in the Tabernacle (Mishkan). Rashi offers two insights into their offense:
1) They innovated a Tabernacle service without first consulting with Moses
2) they entered the tabernacle in a drunken state. Shortly thereafter, G-d instructed Aaron and his descendants not to drink alcoholic beverages before serving in the Tabernacle or rendering a decision on Jewish law (Vayikra 10:8-9).
- The lesson about not drinking alcohol before serving in the Tabernacle seems appropriate if that was their offense. But if they were sober, and their offense was that they decided on Jewish law without consulting with Moses, why would the lesson conveyed to Aaron at this time concern rendering decisions on Jewish law while under the influence of alcohol instead of concerning the need to consult with one’s elder teacher before deciding on Jewish law?
- Jewish law states that a person who drinks only four ounces of wine — half a cup — may not serve in the Tabernacle or render a ruling. But such a small amount of wine is generally not enough to impair someone’s judgment. Why, then, might this be forbidden?
Q: Rashi quotes (Vayikra 10:2) the opinion of Rabbi Yishmael, who maintains that Nadab and Abihu were punished for entering the Tabernacle and attempting to bring a sacrifice while drunk. How could they be held responsible for violating a prohibition which was only taught after their deaths (Vayikra 10:9)?
A: The Mishmeret Ariel by Rabbi Shmaryahu Arieli answer that we see from here that even if he wasn’t commanded not to do so, a person is held responsible for sins which he “should have known better” than to commit. Although there wasn’t yet a commandment forbidding a person to offer a sacrifice while under the influence of alcohol, the concept that a person shouldn’t serve G-d with light- headedness and frivolity is self-evident. (Rabbi Ozer Alport)
The Talmud (Pesachim 3a) derives that a person should always speak in “clean” language from the Torah’s usage (Bereshit7:8) of eight extra Hebrew letters to refer to the non-kosher animals entering Noah’s ark as “not pure” instead of “impure.” Why in Parshat Shemini does the Torah repeatedly refer (e.g. Vayikra 11: 4) to non-kosher animals as “impure?” (Taam V’Daas by Rabbi Moshe Shternbuch)
In listing the four non-kosher animals which have one of the two signs required for kosher animals (chewing cud and split hooves) but not the other (Vayikra 11:4-7), why does the Torah mention the sign that they do have, which is seemingly irrelevant to its legal status, instead of simply listing the one that they are missing and which renders them non-kosher? (Kli Yakar by Rabbi Shlomo Ephraim Lunshitz)
The Medrash (Vayikra 11:6) tells us that Moses prayed for seven days, begging G-d to allow him to enter the Land of Israel. On the seventh day, G-d told Moses (Devarim 3:27) “you shall not pass through the Jordan (into Israel).” The same Medrashcontinues … Moses performed the duties of the High Priest during the seven days of the Temple’s inauguration, believing the Priesthood was his domain. On the seventh day G-d told him that the priesthood was his brother Aaron’s domain.
1) If G-d had no intention of allowing Moses to enter the Land of Israel, why did He allow Moses to plead to enter the land for seven days before denying his request?
2) If G-d intended the priesthood to be Aaron’s domain, why did He allow Moses to perform those duties for seven days – leading Moses to believe that this was his function – before informing him that it was Aaron’s domain?
3) The Medrash relates these incidents consecutively, indicating that the two are connected in some way. What connections can there be between Moses’ desire to enter Israel, his assumption that he would serve as High Priest, and G-d’s denial of both?
Q: One of the species of birds ruled non-kosher by the Torah is the “Chasidah” (Vayikra 11:19). Rashi explains that its name is derived from the fact that it displays kindness (“chesed”) by sharing its food with its friends. If it is so merciful and compassionate, why does the Torah forbid its consumption?
A: Rabbi Yitzchak Meir Alter, known as the Chiddushei HaRim, answers that although this species appears to be kind and giving, Rashi subtly answers our question by explaining that it does chesed only with its friends. Although it would seem commendable, the Torah teaches that being kind and giving only to those who are close to us without a sense of unity and concern for the greater whole is a non-kosher attitude! (Rabbi Ozer Alport)
The Torah forbids the Jewish People from eating any creeping animal found on dry land or in water, saying, “They are an abomination to you!” The section concludes with an admonition to be holy and not make our souls impure because “I am your G-d who brought you out of the land of Egypt.” (Vayikra 11:42-45)
1) For the most part, people have a natural revulsion to eating insects and other creeping creatures. Why then would it be necessary for the Torah to refer to them an as “an abomination” – a self-evident and seemingly superfluous designation?
2) How does refraining from eating insects contribute to our being “holy”?
3) With reference to the non-kosher animals that entered Noah’s Ark, the Torah goes out of its way and uses extra words to refer to these animals in a more refined manner – calling them “animals that are not pure” instead of the “impure animals” (see Genesis 7:2). A similar refined description, though, seems to be lacking with reference to creeping insects. What might account for this difference?
Jumping Points for Discussion and Further Study
“Moses said, ‘This is the thing that G-d has commanded you to do; then the glory of G-d will appear to you.’” Vayikra 9:6
This Is The Thing…Commanded You To Do – The verse however, does not tell us what the nation was told to do? It must refer to that which it says in the next verse about how Aaron and his sons performed the inaugural Tabernacle service. – Rashi
The people were instructed to remove any foreign or impure motive from their hearts and resolve to perform the inaugural service purely for the sake of fulfilling the command of the Almighty. If they did so, they would merit seeing the glory of G-d appear before them. – Medrash
They were asked to be satisfied with performing the mitzvot of G-d and not to seek to add additional mitzvot which He did not require of them. – Chiddushei HaRim (Rabbi Yitzchak Meir Rothenberg Alter, 1799-1866)
People often mistakenly believe that all G-d wants from us is a pure heart, regardless of whether we perform His mitzvot or not. This erroneous belief leads them to dismiss mitzvah observance as an unnecessary and fruitless endeavor. To this, Moses insisted, “This is the thing that G-d has commanded you – to do!” It is not enough to have a good heart full of good intentions. One must translate all that goodwill into positive action and only then will, “the glory of G-d appear to you”.
“Aaron raised his hands toward the people and he blessed them…” Vayikra 9:22
His Hands – The word “Yadav” [his hands] is spelled without the letter “yud” and can also be read as “Yado” [his hand]. What it the symbolism of this singular form? This may be the source of the custom for the Kohanim (Priests) to join their hands together as one when blessing the people. – Tosafot Brachah
This teaches us that blessing comes the Jewish people only when there is unity among us. – Nefesh Yonasan – Rabbi Yonasan Eibshutz zt”l
The Kohanim’s ability to bless the people is limited to the congregation, not individuals, because blessing only manifests when peace and unity reigns among the Jewish people. This is why, of all the nations, the Kohanim were endowed with this power, since it was their job to promote peace among the people, as the Mishnah [Avot 1:12] teaches us, “Be among the disciples of Aaron – love peace and pursue peace…”
MOSES OUR TEACHER
“Aaron responded to Moses, ‘Today, when they brought their sin-offering and burnt-offering before G-d, such a tragedy occurred to me, and if I had eaten the sin-offering today, would it have been right in G-d’s eyes?’ When Moses heard this, he accepted [Aaron’s words].” Vayikra 10:19-20
He accepted – He agreed with Aaron’s argument, and was not ashamed to say: “I had not heard this.” – Rashi
What kind of praise is this that Moses was not ashamed to admit that he had not heard the specific halachic (Jewish legal) argument that Aaron was making? Doesn’t the Mishnah in Avot [5:7] write that the hallmark of a Torah sage is that he acknowledges the limitations of his knowledge and does not claim to know that which he had never been taught? The situation here was not merely that Moses had never been taught the relevant laws, but that he had studied and since forgotten them. Rather than pretend that he had never heard them, he openly acknowledged that he had and that he had forgotten them. He was not ashamed to admit that he had erred, and that is a praiseworthy trait that is uncommon, even among great scholars. – Riva”h
HeEmek Davar (Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Yehudah Berlin 1816-1893) quotes Medrash Rabbah [13:1] that Moses didn’t simply admit to having forgotten the law, but he also publicized his error to the entire nation. His intent in doing so, explains HeEmek Davar, was to impress upon future Torah leaders to do the same. If Moses, who was the source of all our knowledge, could admit to having erred, certainly all others need not fear doing so either.
DOUBLE OR NOTHING
“Speak to Children of Israel, saying: ‘These are the living things that you may eat from among all the animals that are on the earth. All who have a cloven hoof that is completely split and chews its cud among animals, you may eat. However, these in particular you may not eat of those who chew their cud or who have cloven hooves: the camel, for he chews his cud but does not have a split hoof. It is unclean to you.’” Vayikra 11:2-3
These are the living things – This teaches that Moses would hold the animal [concerned] and show it to Israel: This you may eat and this you may not eat! He also held each species of swarming water creatures and showed them, and he did same with fowl. – Rashi
You may not eat – Non-kosher animals are problematic not only because they don’t possess these two kosher symbols, but also because they contain an element of falsehood by virtue of their misleading names. For example, the camel is called gamal in Hebrew, which can be translated as gomel [one who bestows kindness], when in reality it does nothing of the sort. The rabbit is called a shaphan, whose letters are the same as the word nefesh [soul], and can infer that it performs kindness on behalf of a downtrodden soul. The same is true for many other non-kosher animals. They are not only inherently un-kosher, but they are also deceitful. – Yashresh Yaakov
In his commentary Taam VaDaas, Rabbi Moshe Shternbuch highlights the fact in order for an animal to be considered kosher, it must possess two signs, one internal [chews its cud] and the other external [split hooves]. Similarly it is with humans, explains Rabbi Shternbuch; one must be kosher not only in external appearance, but inwardly as well. Anything less is just not kosher.
“These are the smaller animals that breed on land which are unclean to you: the weasel, the mouse, the ferret, the hedgehog, the chameleon, the lizard, the slug and the mole.” Vayikra 11:29-30
Unclean to you – This verse does not discuss the prohibition against eating these animals, but to the ritual uncleanness itself, that one who touches them is rendered impure and may not eat holy things or enter the Sanctuary. – Rashi
Unclean to you – These words are a compliment to the Jewish people, who strive to maintain a higher level of spiritual purity than the nations of the world. – Rabbi Yosef Bechor Shor
Incredibly, although the primordial serpent was the source of all impurity in the world and should have been a prime candidate to be on the list of those crawlers who contaminate humans, he is not. Rabbeinu Bachya explains that this as an example of the Torah’s exquisite sensitivity and practical approach toward preserving human life. The serpent is different from those enumerated above in that he alone poses a threat to human life. If, when coming into contact with a serpent’s corpse, humans would be contaminated, they’d be reticent to kill him and their lives would be endangered as a result. Fearful of placing us in this sort of a bind, the Torah chose to omit it from the list of contaminating crawlers.
LOOKS OKAY TO ME
“Do not make your souls abominable by [eating] any creeping creature that crawls, and do not contaminate yourselves with them, lest you will become unclean because of them.” Vayikra 11:43
You will become unclean because of them – If you contaminate yourselves a little [by eating forbidden foods], I will contaminate you a lot. If you contaminate yourselves here on earth, I’ll contaminate you in heaven. – Talmud, Tractate Yoma 39a
I’ll Contaminate You In Heaven – The Almighty, the essence of purity and sanctity, is so repelled by non-kosher foods, that He will distance Himself from those who consume them. – Mizrachi Al HaTorah
I’ll Contaminate You In Heaven – This does not mean that G-d will actually add to the persons’ contamination. Rather, the message is that although on this world the contamination appears to be minimal; in heaven it’s rather considerable. – Maharal (Rabbi Judah Loew, The Maharal of Prague, 1525-1609)
Although we’re conditioned to think of deadly menaces as large and imposing creatures, in reality, some of the deadliest agents in the world such as bacteria and germs, are thoroughly invisible to the human eye. The message behind this is that not everything that is bad for you is obviously so. Danger exists even when it’s not readily apparent. Although we can hardly discern the difference between kosher and non-kosher food, the Torah tells us that whereas one is spiritually healthy, the other is absolutely deadly and must be avoided at all costs. Our inability to recognize the hazard is not an excuse for ignoring it.
Hey, I Never Knew That
Moses is described as seeking out or inquiring into a specific offering. The words “sought after” or “inquired” are the middle words of the entire Torah (as noted in Kiddushin 30a). This fact seems to imply a more global lesson about Moses seeking or inquiring. We believe that everything in the Torah has significance and is conveying a message to the reader, and this is no exception. An author once said, “Nothing is as irrelevant as the answer to a question that was not asked.” Maybe this is the message of the middle words of the Torah. In order for the Torah to be interesting and relevant to us, we need to be seeking something, or asking something. If a person goes through life without any questions and without a desire to seek out truth, then the Torah will indeed be quite boring and irrelevant. A person, like Moses, who is a seeker and an inquirer will find the Torah interesting and always relevant (based on an essay by Rabbi Natan Lopez-Cardoza).
Kashrut has contributed very significantly to our survival as a distinct nation. Jews all over the world have common dietary patterns. I can be confident that the curried hamin of the Calcutta Jews has no milk and meat mixed together in its ingredients. When I eat kosher French cuisine I know that the meat is not pork and that the animals have been slaughtered according to Jewish law. Jews meet each other at the local kosher bakery; they shop at the same grocery and patronize kosher butchers and restaurants. These laws are a major force in maintaining Jewish unity and act as a social barrier against assimilation by creating a feeling of community among the Jewish people. This effect of the dietary laws, is, in fact, alluded to in the Torah portion this week: “You shall distinguish between the clean animal and the unclean and between the clean bird and the unclean… You shall be holy for Me, for I, G-d, am Holy; and I have separated you from the peoples to be Mine” (Vayikra 20:25-26). These verses suggest that there is a link between observing the laws of kashrut and maintaining our identity as a distinct, unique people among the nations of the world (Or Hachaim, ad loc.).
Word of the Week
“These you shall not eat of those that chew their cud but do not have cloven hooves: the גמל —gamal” (Vayikra 11:4). Gamal is a camel, and indeed the English word camel, and the Latin and Greek camelus and kamēlos, respectively, are all transliterations of the Hebrew gamal. It is interesting to note that the word gamal also means “to wean,” as in weaning a child from its mother’s milk, an allusion to the camel’s legendary capacity to go for long periods of time without drinking and with minimal nourishment (Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, Bereshit 12:16).
“However a spring, a pit, and a מקוה — mikveh of water, shall be pure” (Vayikra 11:36). The word מקוה is translated by Onkelos and Rav David Kimchi as a “collection” of water. In Bereshit (1:10) the verse states, “And to the מקוה — collection of waters, He called the oceans.” We also find the word as a verb in Jeremiah (3:17): “And then Jerusalem will be called the throne of G-d, and all the nations will be gathered — — ונקוו to it.” From Mishnaic times the word has been used as the name for a ritual bath that has been specifically constructed for purification according to Jewish law, as in “going to the mikveh.” Although the term is not often used today, the English term for a mikveh is a “ritualarium.”
“And every small animal (insect) that teems (breeds) on the land shall not be eaten by you” (Vayikra 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).
The Torah portion this week gives signs of kashrut for animals (cloven hooves, chewing cud) and for sea creatures (fins and scales). However, no signs of kashrut are given for birds. Instead, the Torah gives a list of non-kosher birds, and the sages deduced signs that indicate that a bird is not kosher from the Torah’s list (Mishnah, Chullin 59a). The custom of the European Jewish communities is not to rely upon these signs regarding birds and to eat only those birds for which there exists a tradition that they are kosher (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 82:3). When the North American turkey was first imported to Europe and Israel, the question arose as whether it was kosher. The Sephardic communities, relying on the absence of non-kosher signs, the presence of indications of kashrut, and on the bird’s similarity to kosher fowl, permitted the consumption of turkey. However, the matter was controversial among the Ashkenazim, and many rabbis at the time were asked about turkey (Darchei Teshuvah 82:26). The majority maintained that turkey is a kosher bird, and the overwhelming majority of Ashkenazi Jews indeed consume turkey (Responsa Shoel Umeishiv 5:1:69).
Parsha at a Glance
On the first day of the month of Nissan, following seven days of dedication, the inauguration date of the Tabernacle had finally arrived. Moses summoned Aaron and his sons (the kohanim) to offer sacrifices before G-d. The Sanhedrin (seventy Elders) was invited to view the proceedings.
Aaron and Moses blessed the nation, and G-d’s presence appeared on the Altar to the delight of the entire Jewish people.
The righteous sons of Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, brought their own fire to the altar in preparation for offering the incense. This was an unauthorized service, and they were punished with death. While Moses offered consolation, Aaron remained silent, despite the enormity of the tragedy. Moses told Aaron and his other two sons to refrain from exhibiting any signs of mourning, so that the joy of the inauguration would not be marred. G-d taught Aaron that a kohen who enters the Tabernacle may not be intoxicated.
Moses instructed Aaron and his two remaining sons to eat the leftovers from the fire-offerings. Moses was upset that rather than eating the leftovers, they burned them. Aaron explained himself, and Moses accepted his answer, confessing that he himself had forgotten the law.
The Torah outlines the laws of kashrut:
• Kosher animals must have split hooves and must chew its cud.
• Kosher fish must have fins and scales.
• There are twenty-one non-kosher birds. (However, nowadays we only consume those known as being kosher).
• Insects and creeping animals are forbidden. Some types of locusts are permitted. Nevertheless, they are only eaten if there is an unbroken tradition identifying them as kosher.
One who touches or eats from an animal’s carcass becomes contaminated until the evening. The people are told that a Jew who eats forbidden food causes contamination of his soul. G-d elevated us from Egypt, so He expects us to elevate our lives by becoming holy.