TWO HALVES OF MARRIAGE.
Sh’mini tells us about the kohanim, each of whom had a duty to have a wife. The partnership between husband and wife enables both parties to complement each other.
The Talmud has a section in Yevamot 62b-63a that offers many wise observations about marriage, including the notion that someone who lacks a marriage partner is only half a person. Shakespeare, who was aware of many rabbinic passages, used this idea when he said,
“He is the half part of a blessed man, left to be finished by such as she; And she a fair divided excellence, whose fullness of perfection lies in him” (King John 2:1).
One of the things that a married couple whose union is successful discover is that each spouse completes the other. Together they can achieve things that singly would be impossible.
Lev. 11:45 says,
“I am the Lord who brought you up out of the land of Egypt”.
The verb is “hama’aleh”, present tense: literally,
“I am the Lord who brings you up out of the land of Egypt”.
Targum Onkelos renders the word in Aramaic as if it were past tense, which seems to be the original meaning. But the Talmud (BM 61b) attaches an additional meaning to the word, suggesting that it refers to an ongoing experience of redemption.
A person can experience a personal elevation and redemption by living the right kind of life, beginning with the food they eat but extending beyond it to every commitment and activity.
WHAT THE PROPHETS EAT
We take it for granted that the prophets are male, but a comment of Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev on this sidra focusses on a verse that says otherwise.
The sidra goes into great detail about permitted and forbidden foods. Rabbi Levi Yitzchak points out that the non-kosher animals seem to share the characteristic of cruelty, which tells us that a person who eats such animals can be affected by a spirit of heartless cruelty.
If this applies to the ordinary person, all the more does it apply to the individual capable of becoming a prophet.
Who is it who has potential prophetic gifts? Joel 3:1 says,
“v’nib’u b’neichem uv’noteichem”,
“Your sons and daughters shall prophesy; your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions”.
If people, males or females, have the capacity to be prophets, it is all the more important, says Rabbi Levi Yitzchak, that they refrain from any foods – or deeds – which could sully their minds, hearts, souls and spirits.
NOT A WORD
A terrible moment for Aaron. His sons Nadav and Avihu had brought strange fire to the altar. In punishment God struck them dead. Aaron’s reaction? First, says Nachmanides, a loud cry of anguish, reaching the heavens… and then silence. No shouting at God, no screaming at God’s judgment. Silence.
There are many moments when things take a tragic turn. We are perplexed and confused. Is it fair? How can God allow evil things to happen? There must be an explanation, and there are two ways of seeking it. One is to shout and demand that God justify Himself. But this approach does not work. God does not shout back, apologise or explain.
The second approach is that of Aaron: “vayiddom Aharon” – “And Aaron kept his peace”. It is not that Aaron is indifferent or unmoved. On the contrary. But a person who wants an explanation does better to remain calm and think things through quietly.
In the end the conclusion may be that though it is impossible for God to be irrational or capricious, the human mind is limited: it simply lacks the cosmic understanding to make sense of things that must have their place in God’s plan, but which are too baffling for those who are not and cannot be God. But the silence does not mean that we leave it at that. We cannot abdicate. We have no choice but to recognise the reality that something has happened, and, hard though it is, live with it and try to move on to the future.
Rabbi Apple served for 32 years as the chief minister of the Great Synagogue, Sydney, and was Australia’s highest profile rabbi and the leading spokesperson for Jews and Judaism on the Australian continent. Now retired and lives in Jerusalem.