Like the preceding parashah, Tzav, parashat Shemini covers two main subjects that appear to be unrelated. The first half of the parashah is historical: the account of the eighth and final day of the inauguration rites of the Tabernacle, which was the culmination of the seven preceding days described in the second half of parashat Tzav. The second half of the parashah is legal: which animals are permitted or forbidden for consumption—the basis of the laws of kashrut—and the laws of ritual impurity and defilement imparted by contact with forbidden animals.

Why are these two seemingly unrelated subjects treated in the same parashah? And why is the description of the eighth day of the inauguration rites separated—artificially, it would seem—from that of the preceding seven days?

The answer to these questions is alluded to in the name of this parashah, Shemini, which means “eighth,” referring, as we said, to the day following the seven days of the inauguration of the Tabernacle. The purpose of the Tabernacle was to draw the awareness of God into the lives of humanity in general and into the lives of the Jewish people in particular, but this goal was not achieved until the eighth day of the inauguration rituals. During the first seven days, Moses erected and dismantled the Tabernacle each day, as God instructed him to. Each day he offered all the sacrifices himself; Aaron and his sons were essentially passive during these rites, as Moses dressed them and anointed them. Yet during these first seven days of the Tabernacle’s operation, the Divine Presence did not descend and reveal itself: no fire descended from heaven to consume the sacrifices. During the first seven days, there was no open violation of the laws of nature, no miracle. Only on the eighth day did the Tabernacle start “working”: Moses did not dismantle it, Aaron began officiating as high priest and his sons as regular priests, and, most importantly, in the presence of the entire nation, Divine fire miraculously descended on the altar for the first time to consume the sacrifices.

The fact that the revelation of God occurred only on the eighth day reflects the notion that the number seven signifies the natural order, whereas the number eight signifies the miraculous transcendence of natural order.1 For example, the world, which was designed to function according to the laws of nature, was created in seven days. The seven days of the week, the seven-day span of the holidays, the seven years of the sabbatical cycle, the seven sabbatical cycles in each Jubilee-period, all reflect the natural order of creation into which we are bidden to infuse Divine consciousness.

The number eight, in contrast, is associated with the notion of surpassing the bounds of nature. Every male Jewish child is initiated into the covenant through circumcision on the eighth day following his birth, signifying the power granted to him to overcome his body’s natural drives. The day following the seven days of Sukot—the holiday of Shemini Atzeret—takes the theme and lessons of Sukot, which celebrates the brotherhood of all humanity, and focuses them on the Jewish people, as the chosen nation that transcends the natural goals of human civilization by disseminating Divine consciousness. The holiday of Chanukah—the commemoration of the miraculous victory of light over darkness—is celebrated for eight days.

Nevertheless, although there is a quantum difference between seven and eight, the fact that the eighth is called “the eighth” demonstrates that it is somehow a continuation of the preceding seven, that without the seven unmiraculous days of inauguration there cannot be a miraculous eighth day. This is because God made His miraculous intervention dependent upon us doing all that we can within the natural order to prepare it for such a revelation. True, God’s gesture of opening the gates to the unattainable is still considered an unearned Divine gift rather than a reciprocal response to our efforts, since our efforts can in no way compare to God’s supra-natural response. Nevertheless, without our prior, preparatory efforts, no supra-natural revelation can take place.


The ultimate transcendence of the natural order will occur in the messianic future. Thus, we are taught that in the messianic era, the Temple’s seven-stringed harp will be replaced by a harp of eight strings,2 indicating that the miraculous revelations of the future will be the result of our preparations now, during the era of natural order.

Nonetheless, the Divine vision that we will experience in the messianic era will surpass any that has ever occurred, even the prophetic revelations that the Jews experienced during the greatest spiritual moments of Jewish history: the splitting of the Red Sea, the Giving of the Torah, and, yes, the revelation of Divinity in the Tabernacle—which first took place in the events described in this parashah—and in the first two Temples. For in all these cases, the Divine revelation was indeed “miraculous”: it imposed itself from without on the natural order of reality. It was not, at these spiritual pinnacles, “natural” for the physical human eye to perceive Divinity; the eyes of the Jews who beheld these revelations were no different than our eyes, which see only physicality and are blind to the spiritual spectrum. The fact that they did see what they saw was therefore miraculous, overriding the natural order.

In the messianic future, however, the nature of reality will change, and with it, the nature of the physical eye: its “range of vision” will expand, enabling it to see Godliness “naturally.” The truth of God’s existence and His continual creation of reality will become obvious. Human consciousness will be the inverse of what it is today: today, materiality is obvious and Divinity—when we perceive it—seems anomalous; in the future, Divinity will be obvious and materiality (a realm of creation aware of itself and not of God) will seem anomalous.

Thus, the messianic era is the true blending of the seven and the eighth: nature (seven) will take on the properties of the supra-natural (eight); what was formally supra-natural will become natural.


This explains why the account of the eighth day of the installation rites is juxtaposed not with the account of the seven days that preceded it but with the laws of permitted and forbidden animals and the defilement that the latter impart.

It is stated in the Midrash3 that one of the reasons God permitted us to eat certain animals and forbade us to eat others is in order to refine us. The basic refinement effected by observing these laws is the self-control we gain by submitting to limitations on what we may eat. From this perspective, there is nothing repugnant about the forbidden animals per se, physically or otherwise; the Jewish people are told to refrain from eating them simply because God decreed that they should not.

God’s division of the animal kingdom into the permitted and the forbidden—decreeing that certain animals defile us spiritually if we consume them and defile us ritually if we touch or carry them—automatically creates a part of creation that potentially opposes Divinity. The world itself, in contrast, makes no distinction between kosher and non-kosher animals; all types of creatures form a necessary and integral part of the natural, ecological order. By determining which animals are permitted (i.e., conducive to Divine consciousness) and which are forbidden (i.e., antithetical to Divine consciousness), the Torah transforms the world’s naturally undifferentiated assortment of animals into a school for human refinement. In so doing, it makes the natural world supra-natural; the “seven-world” becomes an expression of the Divine eight.

In this light, we can understand why the account of the eighth day of the installation rites of the Tabernacle is paired with the laws of kashrut and purity rather than with the account of the preceding seven days. Both—the account of the events of the eighth day and the laws following it—are expressions of the true purpose of creation: the revelation of supra-natural Divine consciousness within the natural, physical world.

The account of the final, eighth day of the installation rites, when the Divine Presence openly descended to earth, inspires us to yearn for the ultimate revelation of God’s Presence on earth: the final Redemption. The laws of permitted and forbidden animals, which express the ideal of transforming reality into a vehicle for Divine consciousness, give us both the tools to actualize this ideal as well as a foretaste of the true transformation of “nature” into Divine consciousness that will occur with the final Redemption.4