OzTorah: Torah reading – Sh’mini (Parah)

Written and Submitted by Rabbi Dr Raymond Apple.

OzTorah

I NEED TO BE COAXED

Moses must have had a reason for summoning Aaron and his sons and the elders of the people on the eighth day. What he had to say was probably not unexpected, that Aaron was entering the sanctuary as high priest.

Rashi explains that there might have been grumbles about Aaron pushing himself forward and assuming office on his own initiative. Who was he after all? The brother of Moses! Moses was showing bias and giving his brother a coveted job! Nepotism! But the choice of Aaron had been made by God, and no-one had any reason to object.

What about Aaron himself? He might well have protested his own unworthiness.

Who am I to be high priest? I’m no saint. God should pick someone else!”

Very humble, very modest – but when God gives you a task to perform you have no right to try to wriggle out. Yes, Aaron, it’s good to be humble, but too much humility is actually a form of pride.

Remember Dickens’ Uriah Heep, who kept saying he was a very ‘umble individual? Boast too much about your humility and it transpires that you are not so humble after all. When a task needs doing you have to gird your loins, to use the Biblical phrase, and get on with it.

COWS & SHEEP

The name given to this particular Shabbat, one of four special Shabbatot leading up to Pesach, is “Parah”. The Parah portion is from Num. 19 and deals with the “parah adumah”, the red cow, whose ashes mixed with other substances brought cleansing from iniquity.

Of course cows figure in this week’s sidra itself in the long section that enumerates which animals are and are not kosher. There is a strange feature in the verse which introduces the subject of the permitted and forbidden animals, the word “aleihem”, “to them” – the whole verse reads,

“HaShem spoke to Moses and Aaron *saying to them*, Speak to the Children of Israel telling them, ‘These are the animals which you shall eat…’” (Lev. 11:1-2).

The implication is that the leaders have a special responsibility to supervise the kashrut of the community. That’s why to this day the rules of kashrut are so crucial in a rabbi’s training, and the supervision of kosher foods is such an important part of the rabbi’s task.

Of course it is true that what comes out of a person’s mouth is important, but so is what goes into the mouth. There is an intrinsic connection: if one eats the meat of an animal or bird known for its violence and cruelty, it might habituate the person to treat violence and cruelty too lightly. Instead of the rabbinic principle, “The Almighty requires the heart”, it might spread heartlessness amongst human beings.

There is surely a point in the German play on words, “Mann ist was er isst” – “A person is what he eats”.

GREETINGS & BLESSINGS

When Moses and Aaron “blessed the people” (Lev. 9:23), was it with the priestly blessing?

Aaron and his sons and descendants were commanded to use that blessing (Num. 6:22), and Rashi and Ibn Ezra say that in the previous verse (Lev. 9:22) that is what is meant when the text says, “And Aaron lifted up his hands towards the people and blessed them”. Nachmanides disputes this and argues that Aaron’s blessing of the people resembled the King Solomon’s invocation when the Temple was dedicated (I Kings 8:55).

Even Rashi and Ibn Ezra would agree that though Moses was a Levite, it was Aaron who was the Kohen, so when the two brothers together blessed the people it was not in a ritual sense but in some other way. Rashi believes that they uttered the words that conclude Psalm 90 (known as “T’fillah L’Moshe”, “The Prayer of Moses”),

“May the graciousness of the Lord our God be upon us” – i.e. “May it be God’s will that the ‘Sh’chinah’ (the Divine Presence) may rest upon the work of your hands”.

The people were apprehensive because they felt the “Sh’chinah” had not appeared during the seven days of consecration and thought they were still being punished for the sin of the golden calf.

Any group who embark upon a religious project ought to have similar qualms: “Will God accept our offering? Are we good enough and worthy enough to have attempted this project? Will our achievement be a monument to human ambition or an act of service to God?”

Their greatest hope and prayer must be to sense that Moses and Aaron approve of what they have done and pray for God’s approval and blessing.

Rabbi Dr Raymond Apple Blogs at http://www.oztorah.com

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