Enjoy four short thoughts and a video adapted from the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe on Parshat Shemini.

Body & Soul

In the 11th chapter of Leviticus, the Torah discusses some of the laws of ritual impurity, food that comes in contact with a source of impurity is rendered ritually impure.

The above-quoted verse touches on two of the necessary conditions before a foodstuff is susceptible to contamination: 1) The food in question must be fit for human consumption. 2) It must first come in contact with water or one of the other "seven liquids".

Man is a synthesis of body and soul, the Torah that instructs and inspires one’s life likewise possesses both a "physical" element as well as a conceptual-spiritual side. The "body" of Torah is its legal code and pragmatic guide to daily living; its "soul" is the inner dimension of these laws, which addresses the internal world of the human mind and heart, man's relationship with his Creator and his purpose in life.

The is also true of the laws regarding the ritual impurity of food. These, too, have a moral-spiritual application to our lives.

The first law recounted above—that only food that is fit for human consumption is open to contamination—expresses the idea that the loftier a thing, the more vulnerable is it to corruption. Animal fodder is of a limited potential; equally limited are its negative uses. But the food that drives the human mind and heart can be the instrument of tremendous achievement; conversely, it may fuel the most destructive endeavors.

The same applies to all areas of life. A person may choose to "play it safe" and avoid anything touched by controversy, risk, or the possibility of failure---anything that may challenge his spiritual purity. But in doing so, he also disavows his most lofty potentials, the vulnerable but invaluable "human food" resources of his life.
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Transcend Nature

The Torah emphasizes that the dedication of the Sanctuary took place on the eighth day. Why the eighth? The reason is that the natural order of the world is structured according to a pattern of seven, as indicated by the seven days of the week. Eight represents the transcendence of nature. Therefore, the Sanctuary where G‑d’s presence — a revelation of G‑dliness far above nature — was manifest was dedicated on the eighth day.

Eight is the sum of seven and one. One signifies G‑d’s transcendence, but as He exists alone, above this world. Eight reflects how the one permeates the seven. Unlike one, it does not refer to pure transcendence that leaves no place for the natural. Instead, it points to a fusion of the transcendent and the natural, how His transcendence will pervade and permeate the natural order symbolized by seven.

For this reason, our Sages associate the number eight with the realm of Mashiach, stating that the harp to be played in the Temple in that era will have eight strands (rather than the seven-stringed harp played in previous generations), for the new awareness that will dawn in the era of Mashiach will erase the dichotomy between the physical and the spiritual. In that time, our spiritual awareness will permeate our physical activities, endowing them with inner depth and meaning.
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A Selfless Love

This week’s Torah reading contains the commandment: “Do not drink intoxicating beverages... when you come to the Tent of Meeting,” prohibiting priests from bringing sacrificial offerings when inebriated.

The Hebrew word for sacrifice, korban, shares the root kerov, meaning “close.” Offering a sacrifice meant coming closer to G‑d. At present, our prayers take the place of sacrifices and it is through prayer that we develop intimacy with Him.

A person so preoccupied with his material affairs that he cannot think of the spiritual can be considered as drunk. He may pray, but when he prays he is thinking about his material needs. For whom is he praying — for himself or for G‑d? Prayer as connection to G‑d — indeed, prayer for any purpose other than serving his own needs is beyond him.

We must come close to G‑d for His sake, not for our own. On a personal level, we are all familiar with self-serving love, coming close to another person for one’s own gratification. Yes, at times, that may also make the other person feel good. But one is taking as much — or more — than giving.

But there is a deeper kind of love, one where we devote ourselves to another person for that person’s sake, where we care about them and are willing to sacrifice ourselves on that person’s behalf. There is no expectation of receiving anything in return; we make the commitment out of love, because we feel for that person.

Such a relationship should be paralleled in our Divine service. G‑d should be served and we should come close to Him without any ulterior motive — neither material or spiritual. Such a commitment can only be genuinely made when one is level-headed and looking at the world objectively. Only when a person is in control and makes decisions with reserve composure can he truly act for others.
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Divine Reason

The conclusion of this week’s Torah reading speaks about the laws of kashrus: which animals may be eaten and which may not. These laws are placed in the category of chukim, laws that do not have an explanation within the realm of mortal wisdom.

That said, there is still a difference of opinion among our Rabbis: Does G‑d have reasons for these commandments? Some explain that we as material beings cannot perceive spiritual truths and therefore we do not fully understand. But there are spiritual reasons for each.

Others differ. They explain that we should fulfill G‑d’s will because it is His will. We don’t need a reason to do what He wants. We should do what He wants because He wants it and should feel happy that He has given us the opportunity to connect to Him by fulfilling His will.

Chassidut explains that there is validity to both approaches. All mitzvot should be fulfilled because that is what G‑d wants. If He commanded us to chop firewood or draw water, we should do so gladly. On the other hand, G‑d is not a creature of whim. He, His will, and His wisdom are one. And thus everything that He wants also has a reason.

Nevertheless, there is a difference between man’s desires and G‑d’s. When it comes to human beings, we have desires and we have reasons for them. For the things we want and the reasons we want them existed before we did. Their existence motivates our desire.

This isn’t true when speaking about G‑d. On the contrary, it is His desire that brings about their existence. There was no world before He created it, and when He created it, it came into being as He desired, according to the dictates of His will and reason. Kosher food came into being because He wants man to partake of it.
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Hashem’s Presence, through Love

Even after a week of consecration for the Holy Tabernacle, the Jews still did not merit for G‑d Himself to consecrate the Tabernacle. Only when Aaron brought his sacrifice on the eighth day, did G‑d finally manifest His awesome Glory: