Parsha

For the week ending 14 April 2007 / 26 Nisan 5767

Parshat Shemini

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair - www.seasonsofthemoon.com
The Color of HeavenArtscroll

Overview

On the eighth day of the dedication of the Mishkan, Aharon, his sons, and the entire nation bring various korbanot (offerings) as commanded by Moshe. Aharon and Moshe bless the nation. G-d allows the Jewish People to sense His Presence after they complete the Mishkan. Aharon's sons, Nadav and Avihu, innovate an offering not commanded by G-d. A fire comes from before G-d and consumes them, stressing the need to perform the commandments only as Moshe directs. Moshe consoles Aharon, who grieves in silence. Moshe directs the kohanim as to their behavior during the mourning period, and warns them that they must not drink intoxicating beverages before serving in the Mishkan. The Torah lists the two characteristics of a kosher animal: It has split hooves, and it chews, regurgitates, and re-chews its food. The Torah specifies by name those non-kosher animals which have only one of these two signs. A kosher fish has fins and easily removable scales. All birds not included in the list of forbidden families are permitted. The Torah forbids all types of insects except for four species of locusts. Details are given of the purification process after coming in contact with ritually-impure species. Bnei Yisrael are commanded to be separate and holy — like G-d.

Insights

High As A Kite

“G-d spoke to Aharon saying: Do not drink intoxicating wine, you and your sons with you when you come into the Tent of Meeting…” (10:8-9)

Statistics show a lower rate of alcoholism among Jews than their neighbors.

This could be due to genetics. However sociologists surmise that there are other factors at work. For example, Jews meet alcohol in the context of holiness rather than in the local pub: A Jewish boy is introduced to alcohol at the ripe old age of eight days when the mohel places a few drops of wine into his mouth to mollify the pain of the circumcision.

Alcohol appears on the Shabbat table every Friday night with kiddush, and again the following morning in the daytime kiddush. On Saturday night during the havdala service we take our leave of Shabbat over a cup of wine. There are the four cups of wine to be drunk on Pesach and (many) more on Purim. The cycle of Jewish life embraces alcohol as part of a holy life.

Another controlling factor in the Jew’s consumption of alcohol is the perception that being drunk does not befit a Jew. There is a Yiddish maxim that loosely translates as “Jews don’t drink.”

However, together with a rise in social dysfunction amongst Jews including depression and lack of self-esteem, there has been a concomitant rise in substance abuse, including alcohol.

A happy person doesn’t need a chemical crutch.

The Ba’al Shem Tov said that if a Jew knew what it meant to be a Ben Olam Haba, someone who has an eternal existence, he would be so happy that he would rush out into the street and start to do the Kezatzke (Cossack dance) like a meshugenne.

The essence of Jewish happiness is to know that with every mitzvah, every word of Torah and of kindness, we are building an eternal existence. That knowledge is more inebriating than the most potent liquor.

In this week’s Torah portion, G-d warns Aharon that the kohanim must refrain from alcohol while performing the Temple service or adjudicating legal matters. This was not just a concern for motor efficiency or clear thought. The kohen is the epitome of Divine service; his high should come only from Torah and serving G-d. He should need no external chemical help; as the saintly Chazon Ish wrote over half a century ago to a world in great darkness, “There is no sadness for he who knows the light of truth…”

  • Based on Rebbe Bunim m’Pshiske

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