Parashat Shemini begins with the words: "And behold it was the eighth day, Moses called to Aaron and his sons and to the elders of Israel." (Lev. 1-4) The eighth day of what? Rashi explains that it was the eighth day of the installation of the Tabernacle, at the beginning of the month of Nissan in the second year in the desert, when Aaron and his sons were to be installed as the officiating priests. Rashi also says that because of this inauguration, the day "received 10 crowns" - meaning that ten special events happened on this day: it was the first day of service in the Tabernacle, the first time that fire came down from the heavens to consume an offering, the first time a prince brought an offering on behalf of each tribe and the first time that the Divine Presence would dwell on the Jewish people, etc…(all ten are listed in the medieval Jewish-history book, Seder Olam).

A certain beauty and richness to being humble…was forever taken away from him….

Yet, this week's portion begins with the word "Vayehi", which is always indicative of some sad event. What could be sad? The famous Chasidic rebbe, Rabbi Uri, the "Seraph" from Strelisk, said that the sadness was that modest and humble Aaron was being brought into the limelight by being appointed the high priest. There is a certain beauty and richness to being humble that was forever taken away from him. G‑d's greatness, the Midrash explains, can be seen in His humility; He created an entire world where He cannot be seen. From this we learn the beauty in being humble, something we should all try to attain.

Sometimes what appear to be the hardest tests in our lives are exactly what we are supposed to be doing…

A few verses later, after a whole series of instructions, Moses says to Aaron, "Come close to the altar." (Lev. 9:7) The words seem redundant. Rashi explains that Aaron hesitated so much that Moses had to encourage him by saying, "Come closer, why are you hesitating, this is what you were created for!" Sometimes what appear to be the hardest tests in our lives are exactly what we are supposed to be doing. How can we know? The Baal Shem Tov instructed his students that when faced by a very difficult decision, they should first strip away all of their personal desires and then the correct decision will be clear.

Towards the end of the portion, after the description of which animals are kosher and which not, G‑d says, "Sanctify yourselves and you shall become holy, for I [G‑d] am holy." (Lev. 11:43) We sometimes see an interesting phenomenon: people get a flash and make a sudden effort to improve themselves in their relationship to G‑d, and this continues for a while, but when they begin to slip, small negative actions slowly find their way back into their daily activities. This verse contains some pertinent advice on how not let this happen. Maimonides writes about this verse, that anyone who is careful to not eat unkosher food actually increases the holiness and purity in his soul and cleanses it for the Holy One Blessed be He. Notice the order of this phrase, first a greater holiness and only then the cleansing of the soul. Shouldn't it be the reverse, first a cleaning, which is the removal of filth, and only then holiness?

The Lubavitcher Rebbe answers as follows: when a person works on himself to get to a higher spiritual level, actions that were previously regarded as not so bad are now considered below him and inappropriate. With this, Maimonides hints that even after we have made ourselves holier and reach this "higher level", we still have to be on guard and constantly search ourselves for those little details that may seem insignificant (or "not so bad"). The purification process he refers to comes only after one reaches this "higher level". This is especially true after Pesach and during the Counting of the Omer, when we are all more spiritually refined than we were previously. It is not a time to slack off but to make a greater effort.

Shabbat Shalom, Shaul

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