Posted in Dvar Torah, on March 21, 2014

Lessons of the Avodah Part 3 – Using Inspiration Properly – Parshat Shemini

This week we read about the “eighth day”, yom ha’shemini, which was the inaugural day of the Mishkan.  The commentators explain that this day is the first day of Nissan, one year after the Exodus.  We read about all of the specific services that Aaron and his sons were commanded to do in order to kick-off the future of all services in the Mishkan.

This entire episode is actually quite strange*.  This is because this “eighth day” that is being celebrated was already recorded in a previous part of the Torah.  In the last section of Parshat Pekudei (Exodus 40) we already read about the inauguration of the Mishkan!  The entire latter half of the Book of Exodus all culminated towards the final goal of God’s Presence filling the Mishkan, which is recorded in the last verses of Pekudei (40:34-38).  And all of that happened on the first of Nissan, the exact same day as our “eighth day.” Why do we repeat it here?

Furthermore, this event is actually described a third time in the Torah, in the Book of Numbers.  In the Parsha of Be-Ha’alotcha (9:15-23) the Torah once again speaks of this same inaugural “eighth day.”

Bible critics actually use this as one of their proofs to the Torah being written by several authors, each of which had a different perspective on this inaugural day.  We, as Jews, know that the entire Torah (putting aside the discussion about the last 8-12 verses in Deuteronomy) was written by Moses, and was received straight from God.  We must then ask ourselves why the Torah gave us three perspectives to this day, and what we can learn from each one.

I do not want to dwell on the passages in Exodus and Numbers, because they are not this week’s Parsha, but it is important to note that each of the three perspectives come from three different books from the Torah, so their perspectives will vary accordingly.  (For example, Exodus is the book of redemption, so it makes sense that in Parshat Pekudei the “eighth day” is emphasized by the completion and finalization of that process, symbolized by the cloud finally filling the Mishkan after all of intense preparation.)

This week we learn about this day from the perspective of Avodah, service of God.  Avodah is not just barbequing and sprinkling blood.  It is a fundamental lesson that is essential to understanding the purpose of the Book of Leviticus.

We read the story about Aaron’s two sons, Nadav and Avihu, who were killed because of their “strange fire” they performed.  There are many interpretations as to what this “strange fire” was:  Some commentaries believe they were drunk, some believe they disrespected Moses, etc.

However, regardless of what they did, everyone agrees why they did it.

They had good intentions!  They were in awe of the moment, and they were inspired to serve God! The awe-inspiring event triggered an emotional response, and their intellect was overridden by a desire to serve God.  On the surface level, they were in fact “serving God.” However, this is certainly not Avodah.

The entire Book of Leviticus seems like an epilogue to the Book of Exodus.  Exodus is filled with open miracles, redemption, Revelation, and then the inspiring moment where the Presence of God fills the Mishkan.  Then Leviticus is simply detailed law on that next step.  This is why Avodah is best defined as, “the next step.”

After such inspiring events, the people are undoubtedly filled with an amazing amount of emotion and drive.  Precisely at this climax of emotion we find the most dangerous place to let go of intellect.  In Judaism there has always been a dialectic between emotion and intellect.  When there is no emotion, there is no real significance to Torah.  However as we see with Nadav and Avihu, when there is no intellect, Judaism can be extremely deadly.

We must learn to use inspiration properly!  We cannot base decisions based on emotion alone, for decisions without rational thought are foolish and can be costly.  When we find inspiration, we must translate it into something tangible and real, otherwise we can be overridden by pure emotion and it will cost us.  We must use inspirational moments and turn those moments into Avodah.  The “eighth day” in the Book of Leviticus is fundamentally different than the other “eight days”, because this “eighth day” comes to teach us this exact lesson, the lesson of Avodah.

Shabbat Shalom!

– Jonathan Levine

*The main idea for this came from a Shiur given by Rabbi Jesse Horn in Yeshivat Hakotel