Shemini – Eighth

This week’s parasha is entitled, “Shemini,” which translates as “Eighth.” This “eighth” refers to the 8th day of the consecration ceremony for Aaron and his sons, which was covered in our parasha commentary last week. Parasha Shemini covers Leviticus, Chapter 9, verse 1 through Chapter 11, verse 47. This parasha is the last parasha in the month of Nisan.

In Chapter 9, Aaron, and his sons, who have been consecrating themselves for 7 days, are, on the eighth day, given the power by God to assume their responsibilities as the priests of the people and directly offer the sacrifices to the Lord.

In the first five chapters in Leviticus, we read about the 5 types of offerings that are to be made on the altar to God. These are the burnt offering, the grain offering, the peace offering, the sin offering and the guilt offering. Here, in Leviticus, Chapter 9, Aaron and his sons are required to offer 4 of the 5 offerings.

Aaron and his sons present these offerings, and then Aaron and Moses go into the tent of meeting since at the beginning of Chapter 9, the Lord says that He will meet with Aaron and Moses there. The Jewish oral tradition states that this was quite a moment of anxiety for all of the Jewish people since there had not been an acceptance of sacrifices by the Lord since the incident with the golden calf. So, at the end of Chapter 9, when Moses and Aaron came out of the tent of meeting, they blessed the assembly and the glory of the Lord appeared before the people and the sacrifices on the altar were consumed by fire causing the people to shout and fall on their faces at this acceptance of the sacrifices by the Lord.

In Chapter 10, we read about the sins of Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu. For whatever reason, Aaron’s sons, who had seen the miracles of the Lord in Egypt, the parting of the Red Sea, and had even been invited to come up on Mount Sinai with Moses and the elders to worship the Lord at a distance (Exodus 24) decide to make their own offering to the Lord, which is described as “strange fire” in Leviticus 10. As a result of that, fire came from the presence of the Lord and they were consumed by it.

We don’t know what was in the minds of Nadab and Abihu. If we think of them in the best of circumstances, perhaps they were wanting to be very worshipful to the Lord by offering this fire with incense, since the incense is supposed to be a pleasing aroma to the Lord. At the worst, we can speculate that they offered this strange fire while being drunk and somehow tried to enter the Holy of Holies, which was only allowed by the High Priest and only once a year, during Yom Kippur since in verse 9, we read that the Lord tells Aaron not to partake of strong drink or wine when coming to the tent of meeting and, in verse 10, the Lord tells Aaron to make a distinction from the holy and profane. Whatever the situation, we can see the devastating effect when someone goes against the commands of God.

The rules for a High Priest are that he cannot defile himself by mourning even a close family member, so Aaron is not allowed to mourn for Nadab and Abihu. Aaron’s brother and his sons are given the responsibility of removing their bodies. Nadab and Abihu are replaced by Aaron’s surviving sons, Eleazar and Ithamar.

In Leviticus, Chapter 11, God gives the rules regarding clean, and unclean, animals, birds, fish and insects. Those designated as clean were allowed to be eaten, while the unclean were not. These rules have actually helped keep Jewish communities around the world relatively safe from many of the devastating plagues, like the Bubonic plague, that have occurred throughout history.

Let me make a couple of closing comments about today’s passage.

  1. One thing that can be learned from this passage is to be aware that sin can always be around the next corner and that we must be aware that even if we are feeling close to the Lord, sin is crouching at the door. Some of the greatest moments in the Bible have been followed relatively quickly by great sin. For example, God saves Noah and his family to again start humanity and no sooner do they leave the ark when we have the sin of Ham looking upon the nakedness of his father. The Jewish people were at Mt. Sinai, and had just experienced the great presence of the Lord and were about to receive the tablets with the commandments and there was the incident with the golden calf. And, in today’s passage, the glory of the Lord appears before the people, the sacrifices are accepted, and we have the sin of Nadab and Abihu.
  1. I think the other take away is that it is very dangerous to go against what the Lord’s commands no matter who you are. Just because Nadab and Abihu were Aaron’s sons, and were therefore in line to be his potential successor as high priest, that did not matter as they died while offering this strange fire. So too, it is for us. The Old Testament points to it, and the New Testament declares it. No one comes to the Father except through the Son. Without acceptance of Yeshua as our Messiah, there can be no final atonement for human beings. I think this is something that is very important to consider at the end of this month of Nisan, which is so tied to the holiday of Passover and the greater redemption of new life that was provided in this month through the death, burial and resurrection of Messiah Yeshua on the cross.