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B'nai Mitzvah of the Week

Alexandra jewell & Juliet kaplan

April 22, 2017

Parshat Sh'mini Leviticus 9:1 - 11:47

Aaron and his sons follow Moses' instructions and offer sacrifices so that God will forgive the people. (9:1-24)
Two of Aaron's sons, Nadab and Abihu, offer "alien fire" to God. God punishes these two priests by killing them immediately. (10:1-3)
God forbids Moses, Aaron, and his surviving sons from mourning but commands the rest of the people to do so. Priests are told not to drink alcohol before entering the sacred Tabernacle and are further instructed about making sacrifices. (10:4-20)
Laws are given to distinguish between pure and impure animals, birds, fish, and insects. (11:1-47)

For more information and resources on this portion, click here.

Ally's Interpretation

My Torah portion, Shemini, is about the first sacrificial ceremony by the priests. After the Israelites leave Egypt, they make a traveling sanctuary with an altar, which is where they have their first ceremony. When Moses and Aaron bless the people, God appears at the altar. When God appears, Nadav and Avihu, Aaron’s sons, offer a fire that wasn’t asked of them. As a punishment, Nadav and Avihu are immediately killed by God, and Moses explains that they were killed for bringing the strange fire. Devastated, Aaron continues the ceremony as he was commanded to. My key koshi or question is: does this crime deserve the extreme punishment of death?

Most commentators do not agree with each other. Rashi says that Nadav and Avihu were punished because they were arrogant and changed the ceremony without telling anyone else. Midrash Rabbah claims that they were punished because “they plotted against their father and their teacher by planning to overthrow them.” According to the Midrash, one said to the other “Look at these two old men, soon they will be gone and we will be the leaders of Israel”. So, It would make sense if Nadav and Avihu were trying to overthrow them”. Rabbi Morris Adler says that the fire they brought was the fire of ambition and the fire of greed and desire. He says that they were “consumed by their own fierce craving for power”, meaning that they were killed because they were so greedy. On the other hand, Naphtali Hertz Wessly says that Nadav and Avihu were so excited about making a sacrifice to God. He thinks that they had no bad intentions. Wessly also says that “they were deeply moved by the beauty and meaning of the ritual sacrifice offered by Moses and Aaron” yet they should have stayed humble and not “blindly assume that whatever they did in the sanctuary would be acceptable”.

I agree with Naphtali Wessly. Because it was their first sacrificial ceremony, they were probably just excited. Also, I think that they wouldn’t want to mess it up especially because it was their first sacrificial ceremony. I think that if they were really trying to overthrow their father, Aaron and their teacher Moses and take over Israel, I don’t think they would have made the sacrifice in the first place. Also, after leaving Egypt, I think that they would feel thankful for everyone in their lives, not greedy. I can’t imagine they would try to take over Israel as soon as they got there. In other words, I think that it wasn’t fair for Nadav and Avihu to die just because they brought the wrong fire but they should have been more obedient.

This also happens to us. As Jews and as people sometimes we get carried away when we think we’re doing something good. We might not want to harm anyone or cause any problems, but others might think differently. I think that Nadav and Avihu looked like they were trying to do something they really weren’t. For example, If my friend looks sad, I may want to give them advice even though they might not want it. I have learned that I should think about how others may feel before I do something. I now know that even if I really want to help them or do something for them, they might not want it. But, in certain situations where no one would be harmed it’s best to try to do good and help. In other words, think about the effect you may have before you do something that isn’t asked of you.


Ally's Mitzvah Project

The main lesson I learned from my Torah portion was that we need to listen and not get overwhelmed and do things that you’re not asked to do. For my mitzvah project, I spent time at the food pantry in New Rochelle. I helped to serve dinner, we donated food and last week I baked brownies for the people who come there on Friday nights. The work I did there reminded me of my Torah portion in that I had to do what was asked of me and not what I thought was the right thing to do. Nadav and Avihu needed to know to follow the rules and follow the instructions they were given just like I needed to learn. 

Juliet's Interpretation

The title of my portion is Shemini. This name means the eighth day. The key section of this portion for me is the rules or laws of Kashrut which were made to develop dietary guidelines. Kashrut refers to becoming or keeping kosher. Being kosher does not mean to be clean, holy or blessed. Being kosher means to be proper or upright with the food that you eat. The Torah teaches the following, “these are the instructions concerning animals, birds, all living creatures that move in water, and all creatures that swarm on earth. …the living things that may be eaten and the living things that may not be eaten.”

While studying my Torah portion and these guidelines, I became curious about keeping kosher. My key koshi or question is what is the purpose of keeping kosher especially for us today? There are many opinions about this. One commentary by Prager states, “Keeping kosher is Judaism’s compromise with its ideal of obtaining with killing, namely vegetarianism.” This can be interpreted as the famous expression “you are what you eat”. People who keep kosher may believe in this quote because they may think that we are all animals so eating meat is technically eating ourselves. I don’t agree with Prager because many Jews do not keep kosher and that does not mean that they are upsetting g-d.

Going back to the expression “you are what you eat”, Rambam, another commentator says,The mouth of the pig is as dirty as a dung itself.”. Rambam means that the pig eats dirt and other garbage, so when you eat the bacon or pork from the pig it's like you’re eating the dirt and the garbage. Overall, Rambam thinks that being kosher is right for the world and your health. On the other hand, Abravanel says otherwise. He thinks the opposite of Rambam. Abravanel thinks that being kosher is for the torah or our G-d. For our spiritual health, not our physical health. “...If one is careless and consuming forbidden foods , it is likely that one may also be insensitive and careless about what one says, about slandering and lying, about what comes out of the mouth.” In other words, Abravanel is saying that if one is worried about what food they put in their mouth, they are most likely worried about what words come out. In my opinion, I agree with Abravanel. Abravanel thinks that the purpose of keeping kosher is for the words that you speak, not your health or for G-d.

As I was researching this topic, I wanted to see what it would be like to stay kosher. So, I was kosher for one week. It was not that bad for me, because I normally don’t eat most of the meats and other foods that you should not eat when you are kosher. On the other hand, it was tricky because when I would go to my friends house I would really have to think about what I could eat. I had to make choices to stay kosher and be careful not to break it. Day one I was confused because I was not totally comfortable about being kosher and I was confused about what to eat and what not to eat. Day two through four I decided to look most food products up and see if I could eat them or not. Day five through seven I was totally aware of what to eat and what not to eat. On that seventh day I felt accomplished. For me, I think the purpose or value of keeping kosher is similar to what both Abravanel and Rambam described. It is important to know exactly what you are putting into your body, and to think before you eat something.

Juliet's Mitzvah Project

For my mitzvah project, I worked at the soup kitchen here at Larchmont temple to make food for Hope Soup Kitchen. I was making all sorts of food for the less fortunate. For me it was very meaningful to do something related to food that someone else was able to eat. I was making all different kinds of foods for someone else and I got to see how many servings we had to make just so some people could eat it. And it was a lot of servings. So that means a lot of people do not have food to eat.