“It came to pass on the eighth day . . .”

Last week’s Parshah, Tzav, told of the “seven days of inauguration” during which the Sanctuary was consecrated and Aaron and his sons were trained for the priesthood. This week’s reading, Shemini (“eighth”), begins by recounting the events of the eighth day—which was the first of Nissan of the year 2449 from Creation (1312 BCE), two weeks before the first anniversary of the Exodus.

It came to pass on the eighth day that Moses called Aaron, his sons, and the elders of Israel.

He said to Aaron: “Take for yourself a young calf for a sin offering, and a ram for an ascending offering, without blemish, and offer them before G‑d.

“And to the children of Israel you shall speak, saying: Take a kid goat for a sin offering, and a calf and a lamb, both of the first year, without blemish, for an ascending offering. Also a bullock and a ram for peace offerings, to sacrifice before G‑d, and a meal offering mingled with oil,

“for today G‑d will appear to you.”

The offerings are brought as instructed, following which

Moses and Aaron went into the Tent of Meeting, and came out and blessed the people: and the glory of G‑d appeared to all the people.

There came a fire out from before G‑d, and consumed the ascending offering and the fat [of the other offerings] upon the altar. All the people saw and sang out, and fell on their faces.

Strange Fire

And then, in the midst of the jubilation, tragedy struck.

Nadav and Avihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer, put fire in it and put incense on it, and offered strange fire before G‑d, which He did not command them.

A fire went out from G‑d and consumed them, and they died before G‑d.

Moses said to Aaron: “This is what G‑d spoke, saying: I will be sanctified in those who are close to Me, and before all the people I will be glorified.” And Aaron was silent.

Moses called Mishael and Eltzafan, the sons of Uzziel the uncle of Aaron, and said to them: “Come close and carry your brothers from before the Sanctuary out of the camp.” So they approached, and carried them in their robes out of the camp, as Moses had said.

Because of the centrality of their role in the revelation of the Divine Presence in the Sanctuary that day, Aaron and his two remaining sons are forbidden to engage in any of the customary mourning practices:

Moses said to Aaron, and to Elazar and to Itamar his sons:

“Do not let not the hair of your heads grow long, nor tear your clothes, lest you die, and lest anger come upon all the people. Your brethren, the whole house of Israel, shall bewail the conflagration which G‑d has burned . . .”

And they did according to the word of Moses.

G‑d Speaks to Aaron

G‑d spoke to Aaron, saying:

“Do not drink wine or strong drink, you or your sons with you, when you enter the Tent of Meeting, lest you die; it shall be a statute forever, throughout your generations.

“And that you differentiate between the holy and the profane, and between the impure and the pure. And that you instruct the children of Israel all the statutes which G‑d has spoken to them by the hand of Moses.”

The Disagreement

Moses instructs Aaron, Elazar and Itamar to eat the special offerings of the day, as prescribed (despite the fact that ordinarily, a priest in mourning does not partake of the offerings). This they do, except in the case of one offering:

Moses diligently sought the goat of the sin offering, and behold it was burnt; and he was angry with Elazar and Itamar, the sons of Aaron that were left alive, saying:

“Why have you not eaten the sin offering in the holy place, seeing that it is most holy . . . ? You should indeed have eaten it in the holy place, as I commanded.”

Aaron replied to Moses: “Behold, this day have they offered their sin offering and their ascending offering before G‑d, and such things have befallen me. If I had eaten the sin offering today, would it have been accepted in the sight of G‑d?”

Moses heard this, and it was favorable in his eyes.

The Dietary Laws

“These are the animals which you may eat,” G‑d tells Moses to instruct the people of Israel, “among all the beasts that are upon the earth: Whatever parts the hoof and is cloven-footed, and chews the cud.”

To be fit to eat, an animal must have both identifying signs; the Torah cites four examples of animals that have only one, and are thus “unclean”:

The camel . . . the hyrax . . . and the hare, because it chews the cud but does not part the hoof, is unclean to you.

And the swine, though it divides the hoof and is cloven-footed, yet because it does not chew the cud, it is unclean to you. Of their flesh shall you not eat, and their carcass shall you not touch; they are unclean to you.

Water creatures may be eaten if they have both fins and scales (thereby excluding all forms of seafood other than the kosher species of fish).

Regarding birds, the Torah does not provide “signs,” but instead lists twenty species of non-kosher fowl:

These are what you shall consider an abomination among the birds. They shall not be eaten; they are abominable:

The eagle, the bearded vulture and the black vulture. The kite, and the buzzard after its kind. Every raven after its kind. The ostrich, the kestrel, the gull, and the sparrow hawk after its kind. The little owl, the pelican and the great owl. The barn owl, the jackdaw and the gier eagle. The stork, the heron after her kind, the hoopoe and the bat.

Insects, as a rule, are forbidden: “All swarming things that fly, going upon four [legs], shall be an abomination to you”—with four exceptions:

These of them you may eat: the locust after its kind, the grasshopper after its kind, the chargol after its kind, and the chagav after its kind.

Ritual Purity

Carcasses of non-kosher mammals render the one who touches them or carries them tamei, ritually impure, as does the carcass of a kosher animal that was not slaughtered in the prescribed manner. The Torah also lists eight “creeping animals” which render a person tamei: “The rat, the mouse, and the tortoise after its kind; the gecko, the monitor, the lizard, the skink and the chameleon.”

Utensils, food and drink also become tamei through contact with a carcass. Food, however, can become tamei only if it has first been made “susceptible” by being wetted with a liquid.

A mikvah—a naturally occurring pool of water—or a wellspring do not become tamei; indeed, the mikvah and the wellspring have the power to purify things that have become impure that are immersed in them.

Sanctity and Distinction

You shall not make yourselves abominable [by eating] any swarming thing that creeps, nor shall you make yourselves unclean with them and become defiled by them.

For I am the L‑rd your G‑d; you shall therefore sanctify yourselves, and you shall be holy, for I am holy . . .

This is the law of the animals, and of the birds, and of every living creature that moves in the waters, and of every creature that creeps on the earth.

To differentiate the pure and the impure, and between the animal that may be eaten and the animal that may not be eaten.