Shabbat Shemini - שבת שמיני


Yourself First

וכפר בעדך ובעד העם - When on an airplane, many instructions are provided of what to do in case of an emergency. A common example is in the case where oxygen masks are needed, one is directed to secure their own mask prior to helping with that of another. Even if the person next to you is a loved one, the instruction is to save yourself first and then go on to save the other. When it comes to the process of repentance, we read in Leviticus 9:7 that Moses instructs Aaron, the High Priest, to bring his sin offering first and then the sin offering of the nation (and not the other way around). Although Aaron spends his entire life in the service of the nation, he is instructed to take care of his own personal affairs first prior to those of the people. The same concept holds true for each of us whether it be in relation to our families, our friends, or our careers. Prior to helping others, it is of utmost importance that we put ourselves first so that we are in a better position to help others (Beth Torah Bulletin, April 14, 2018).


דרש דרש משה - Depending on one's perspective, we are currently at or near the midpoint of the Torah. According to the Soferim, as described in the Talmud (Qiddushin 30a), the exact midpoint in terms of verses is by the word "Vehitgalah" (Leviticus 13:33), in terms of words is "Darosh Darash Moshe" (Leviticus 10:16), and in terms of letters is by the large letter Vav in the word "Gahon" (Leviticus 11:42). It must be noted that the Soferim counted 5,888 verses in the Torah, whereas we count 5,846 verses. Based on our system, the midpoint in terms of verses is at the end of Leviticus 8:7, in terms of words is at "El Yesod" (Leviticus 8:15), and in terms of letters is the Aleph of the word "Hu" (Leviticus 8:28). The discrepancy of the midpoints mentioned is based on the system used to divide verses (Ben Asher / Ben Naftali), based on the use of the "maqaf" note (hyphen) to combine certain words into one, and based on spelling differences. Tiqqun Highlights, Beth Torah Bulletin, March 30, 2019.

Dietary Guidelines

אל תשקצו את נפשתיכם - What we choose to eat is a reflection of who we are and the values we espouse. In the beginning, God wanted humans to practice a vegetarian diet of only fruits and vegetables (Genesis 1:29). This type of diet, in the words of Rabbi Moshe Shamah, "reflects a deep reverence for all forms of life" (Recalling the Covenant, page 564). Realizing that we were falling short of this ideal, God, in Genesis 9:3, permits the eating of meat (with the exception of the blood). To further differentiate and sanctify the people of Israel from the rest of the world and to help achieve a higher level of holiness and cleanliness, Leviticus 11 comes to limit Israel to a few select animals; namely "pure" herbivores that possess specific signs and characteristics. Despite this concession, God awaits for the day when "the wolf lives with the lamb" (Isaiah 11:6), and when all living things exist together in peace (Beth Torah Bulletin, April 22, 2017).

The Stork

וְאֵת֙ הַחֲסִידָ֔ה הָאֲנָפָ֖ה לְמִינָ֑הּ - Among the birds that are prohibited to eat is the stork (Leviticus 11:19). A stork is a large, long-legged, and long-beaked bird from the "Ciconiidae" family. In Hebrew, the name for stork is "Hasida" (חסידה), which is related to the word "Hesed" (kind). The Talmud (Hullin 63b) states that this bird is considered "kind" because it shares food with its friends. The question remains, however, why is this bird unfit for consumption? Many commentators speculate about this specific bird. The Maimonides says that this bird is impure because it is cruel by nature. An interesting explanation that I heard from Rabbi Yosef Mizrachi is that this bird is prohibited, because it is kind only to fellow storks. Being kind to others seems to be a positive trait, but if you are only kind to those that are part of your own group, it is actually a cruel trait. According to this interpretation, the "Hesed" (kindness) expressed by this bird is not one to be emulated. Real kindness is when you share with everyone; including strangers. Beth Torah Bulletin, April 18, 2020.

Maqam of the Week: HOSENI / RAST / NAHWAND

For Shabbat Shemini (Leviticus 9:1- 11:47), prayers are conducted in Maqam HOSENI according to SUHV (Red Book) and at least 14 other sources. This selection is based on the perasha which deals with the inauguration of the tabernacle (mishkan). Being that the tabernacle houses the Ten Commandments, something described as "beautiful," HOSENI, a word that means 'beautiful' in Arabic, is most appropriate. The melody of Hoseni is often described as a higher version of Maqam Bayat. Dissenting opinion: RAST (according to H Moshe Ashear based on this year's calendar; first Shabbat after Pesah).