Weekly Portion: Shemini (Leviticus 9-11)

Concluding the 7 days of inauguration for the Mishkan (Portable Sanctuary), Aaron, the High Priest, brings sacrifices for himself and the entire nation. Nadav and Avihu, sons of Aaron, bring an incense offering on their own initiative, and are consumed by a heavenly fire (perhaps the only time when someone did something wrong and was immediately hit by “lightning”).

The Cohanim are commanded not to serve while intoxicated. The inaugural service is completed. G-d then specifies the species which are kosher to eat: mammals (those that have cloven hoofs and chew their cud), fish (those with fins and scales), birds (certain non-predators), and certain species of locusts. The portion concludes with the laws of spiritual defilement from contact with the carcasses of certain animals.

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Dvar Torah
based on Twerski on Chumash by Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski, M.D.

Moses saw Elazar and Ithamar, Aaron’s remaining two sons, offer a sacrifice. He became angry as he thought that they acted improperly. However, they were correct in their actions. Aaron intervened and humbly asked a question to clarify the matter. Moses then realized that he himself had made a mistake.

The Torah tells us, “Moses heard (the point that Aaron was making with his question) and he approved” (Lev. 10:20). The Midrash tells us that Moses said, “You are right. I forgot what I had heard from G-d.”

Rabbi Chaim Shmulevitz points out that Moses was confronted with an awesome decision. Moses was the sole conduit of the word of G-d, and there was no way to verify his instructions. If he were to admit that he had forgotten and had erred in conveying G-d’s words, how would that impact on the authenticity of the entire Torah? Might people not say, “If Moses could have erred in one thing, perhaps he erred in others as well”?

Admitting that he had erred in this one instruction would place the validity of the entire Torah in jeopardy throughout eternity. Was this not adequate reason for Moses to stand his ground and say, “Do as I said. That is G-d’s wish!”?

However, Moses knew that truth should never be compromised. He was obligated to speak the truth. Whatever consequences might flow from that was not his responsibility. Speaking falsehood cannot be justified. His responsibility was to adhere to the truth. The authenticity of Torah throughout eternity was G-d’s responsibility, not his (Sichos Mussar 5731:1).

The truth of Torah is evidenced by Moses’ refusal to deviate from truth, regardless of the consequences. We should follow his example.


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