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Dan Has Questions About What Rules We Follow And What Food We Eat: Parshat Shemini

04/14/2023 09:10:30 AM


Dan Leemon

This week’s Parshah is Shemini, which means “eighth”.  On the eighth day after they are appointed priests, Moses brings Aaron, Aaron’s sons, and various elders of the Jews to instruct them on the laws of sacrifices.  Once again, the Torah goes into great detail on exactly how the sacrifices should be brought, giving very, very specific directions.   Aaron and his sons execute the sacrifices as they are instructed, and they bless the people.

But no sooner have these instructions been followed than two of Aaron’s sons, Nadav and Avihu, take the pans they use in the portable temple (the Mishkan), put incense in them, light them, and bring them as a sacrifice to God.  But God did not ask for this sacrifice — the Torah calls it “strange fire” — and the fire consumes the two sons and they die.  We don’t know for sure what they put in their pans.  Maybe they blew themselves up, or maybe this was a punishment for not following God’s instructions.  So:
-    If Nadav and Avihu were punished for not following the rules precisely, do you think death was a fair punishment?   Why might their punishment have been so severe?
-    Can you think of examples of when it is important to follow directions? Can you think of someone whose instructions it is important to follow?
-    When is it OK not to follow instructions?
-    Can you think of a time you didn’t quite follow instructions?  Why didn’t you?  Did it turn out to matter?

God then speaks to Aaron directly, and warns him and his remaining sons not to be drunk when they are doing their jobs as priests.  God tells Aaron that his family’s responsibility will forever be to help the Jewish people distinguish between what is holy and what is not holy, what is clean and pure and what is not clean and not pure.  Some Rabbis think that maybe Aaron’s sons were drunk when they brought the “strange fire” into the Mishkan and that’s why they were punished.  Today, there are many laws and rules about things we cannot do when we’re impaired by alcohol or other substances.  It’s probably an obvious question, but I think it’s worth asking:
-    What kinds of things are people not supposed to do when they’re drunk or under the influence of something that affects their behavior?
-    Why is this important?  

In the Parashiot to come, we’ll hear of many examples of laws that exist to protect not just ourselves but other people.

In the final section of Parshat Shemini, God tells Aaron and Moses about clean and unclean animals, and says that we should not eat animals that fall into the unclean category.  Only animals with split hooves that chew their cud – such as cows, goats, and sheep – are considered clean. These are the animals we now consider “kosher”, which literally means “fit” or “proper”.  And not just mammals — the Torah goes into great detail about birds, fish (which must have fins and scales to be considered kosher), and even insects (I didn’t know there were such things as kosher insects until I started leading Junior Congregation; in case you were wondering, locusts are kosher, other insects are not).  No rodents, reptiles, or amphibians are kosher.  God also tells Moses  and Aaron that our dishes and utensils should not come into contact with any non-kosher foods.  What the Torah is requiring us to do here is to think about even the simplest things we do, like eating.
-    What do you think might have been the purpose of having detailed rules about what we can eat?  (Remember that, at this point in our history, the Jewish people are still figuring out who we are and what makes us different from other peoples or communities.)
-    Whether or not your family keeps any or all of the kosher laws, are there foods that you or your family do not eat, or that you try not to eat too much of?  Why?
-    Does your family have certain foods or family recipes that you associate with certain Jewish or non-Jewish holidays, birthdays, or other occasions?  What do these foods mean to you or your family?
-    Why is it important to think about what we eat?

With mindfulness about the rules we follow and the things we eat, I wish you Shabbat Shalom. 


Fri, April 19 2024 11 Nisan 5784