04/05/2012 10:01 am ET Updated Jun 08, 2012

Parshat Shemini: Weekly Torah Portion Summary, Questions, Resources

Editor's note: The HuffTorah is an overview of the Torah reading of the week, which is found in the Book of Leviticus 9:1-11:47, and includes links to additional resources for study and discussion. Read the full text of Parshat Shemini with interlinear Hebrew/English.

The eighth day. Moses calls for Aaron and his sons and the elders of Israel.

"Take a young bull as a sin-offering," he says to Aaron, "to atone for the Golden Calf. Take a ram as a burnt-offering. Both must be unblemished. Bring them close. Bring them before God. Tell the Children of Israel to take a male goat as a sin-offering; take one calf and one lamb, both in their first years, both unblemished, as burnt-offerings; take an ox and a ram as peace-offerings; and take a meal-offering mixed with oil. Tell them today the Tabernacle will be inaugurated. Tell them God's presence will appear before them."

Aaron and all the rest gather what Moses commanded them to gather, and they stood before God.

Moses reminds them that God will appear, then directs Aaron to carry out his sin-offering, his burnt-offering and the offerings of the Children.

Aaron slaughters the sin-offering calf, and his sons bring him the blood. Aaron places some on the horns of the altar and pours the rest on the altar's base. He sends the sacrificial fats and organs up in smoke. He bruns the meat and the skin in fire, outside of the camp.

Aaron slaughters and sends the burnt-offering up. He does the same with the people's sin-offering. And their burnt-offering. And their meal-offering. And their peace-offering. He makes all of these offerings according to the law. And he raises his hands to the people. He blesses them.

Moses and Aaron take leave of the Children. In the Tent of Meeting, Moses teaches Aaron how to offer incense. The brothers emerge and, together, bless the Children of Israel.

The glory of God appears before all the people. Fire consumes the offerings upon the altar. All the people see and sing praises and fall on their faces.

Questions and resources:

Why was Aaron's sin-offering calf burned completely?

The sin-offering calf from Aaron atoned for the sin of the Golden Calf. By burning it completely, Aaron was completely forgiven. Also, Rashi says it was a direct command from God.

Nadab and Abihu, sons of Aaron, take their fire pans, placing fire in them and incense on top of the fire. They bring this strange fire -- a fire uncommanded -- before God.

Fire comes before God and consumes Nadab and Abihu. They die.

Moses says to Aaron, "God said, 'I will be sanctified through my chosen ones. I will be glorified before all my people.' God spoke of this."

Aaron is silent.

Moses summons Mishael and Elzaphan, cousins of Nadab and Abihu, telling them to carry remains outside of the camp. They comply.

Moses tells Aaron and his two remaining sons, Eleazar and Ithamar, not to mourn. "Do not grow your hair. Do not rend your clothes. Do not leave the Tent of Meeting covered in anointing oil," Moses says. "Lest you die while performing the priestly service. Lest God become angry with all of Israel. Do not mourn. The entire House of Israel will mourn for Nadab and Abihu."

They comply.

God speaks to Aaron: "When you go into the Holy Tent, do not become intoxicated on wine. This way, you will know the difference between holy and profane. This way, you will be able to instruct the Children on the law. This way, you will not die."

Moses speaks to Aaron and his two sons: "Though you mourn, take the meal-offering that is leftover and eat it beside the altar. It is most holy. Eat the breast of the wave-offering. Eat the thigh of the raised-offering."

Now, Moses inquires about the three sin-offering goats. Two have been eaten, as they should have been. But one is burned completely. Moses becomes angry. He questions Aaron's sons: "What went wrong that you didn't eat this offering?"

But Aaron interrupts. Sternly. "Who do you think made that offering? I am the High Priest. I made the offering. And it was an eternal offering. For God. No one could eat it. It would not be appropriate."

And Moses smiles. He admits his mistake.

Questions and resources:

So were Nadab and Abihu sinners or saints? Are they to be praised or mourned? Why did Aaron remain silent?

Nadab and Abihu brought an offering hat God did not command, and though there intentions were pure, they missed something crucial As we see, the people were allowed to mourn Aaron's sons because they did not recognize Nadab and Abihu's deep soul levels. Aaron's silence after his sons' death is actually considered the ideal mode of mourning. This why God rewards Aaron, speaking directly to him soon after.

God tells Moses to tell Aaron to tell Eleazar and Ithamar that they should all speak to the Children of Israel about the forbidden creatures.

The edible animals are few: only those with completely split hooves that also chew their cud.

Some animals have one but not the other. The camel, the hyrax and the hare all chew their cud but do not have split hooves. The pig has split hooves but does not chew its cud. These animals are impure and may not be eaten.

The edible fish: only those that have fins and scales.

Any fish with one but not the other may not be eaten.

The forbidden birds: the griffon vulture, the bearded vulture, the osprey and the kite; all buzzards, ravens, hawks and herons; the ostrich, the tahmas, the gull and the cormorant; the kos, yanshuf, barn and ka'at owls; the roller, the stork and the hoopoe.

And bats.

The edible insects: those with jointed legs that hop on the ground, as well as red, yellow, spotted-grey and white locusts.

All other flying and creeping creatures are forbidden.

More forbidden animals: dogs, bears, cats, weasels, mice, toads, hedgehogs, chameleons, lizards, snails and moles.

You become ritually impure until evening by touching the carcasses of these animals. Anything that touches such a carcass becomes impure, including garments. (Clothes should be immersed if such a thing occurs.) If a carcass touches the inside of some earthenware, it must be broken. The only thing that will retain its purity after contact with one of these bodies is a body of water -- pit or spring alike. That and a sown seed that has not itself been watered.

You also become ritually impure if you touch the carcass of a permitted animal. Though, eating from such an animal does not cause impurity.

Forbidden creeping creatures: snakes, worms, scorpions, centipedes, beetles.

These are an abomination. Eating them is defiling yourself.

Do not eat these. God is bringing you out of Egypt to be your God. Become holy. God is holy.

These are the laws of the living creatures -- those that swim, those that fly and those that creep.

Questions and resources:

Why does the pig seem to get special treatment in the text and in Jewish culture? If every fish that has scales has fins, why does the Torah specify that only fish with scales and fins is kosher?

Unlike other non-kosher mammals, the pig looks kosher. Therefore, it is considered deceitful and especially off-limits. The sages suggest that there was no reason to specify about the fins and scales other than to increase the amount of Torah study in the world.

Resources for further commentary, discussion and reflection: