Shemini: The Priest and the Good Samaritan


© 2017 by Rabbi Zvi Aviner

Shemini (Leviticus 9) )

Know your CREATOR, know yourself and know the difference

“And it came to pass on the eight day….”
For 7 days, day after day, Moses assembled and dissembled the Tabernacle, while the entire nation was watching. |Every day he offered sacrifices, did everything needed, yet the holy fire did not descend from Heavens to burn on the altar. What was missing?
Then, on the eighth day he says to the people: “this you shall do and the glory of YHVH will appear to you.“(9: 6)
Then there is a pause. Nothing happened. The sages (in the Talmud) explained that here Moses, the modest of all people, erred in a sort of arrogance. How could he be sure that HaSheM would descend to dwell in the Tabernacle?
And if Moses erred like that, who wouldn’t?
The sages was here a message for generations: we build in our heart a Tabernacle for YHVH to dwell IN US, by chanting the same psalms that were sang by the Levite Choir in the Holy Temple. By this we experience day by day the thrill of the pilgrims that entered the Temple promises. Our synagogues are built to remind us the Temple’s courtyard: two balconies for women on the two sides, and the large gate with stairs in front of it like the Nikanor Gate at the Temple’ courtyard. Behind the Gate are Torah scrolls, reminding us the Holy Ark. In the Holy Temple, the Levite Choir used to stand on these 15 stairs chanting Moses’ and King David’s Psalms, that we too chant before our prayer, as we spiritually approach the Temple’s gates.
Now the purpose of the prayer is NOT only to express our wishes and petitions, but also to experience the dwelling of HaShem in our hearts. Like Moses, we seek to feel YHVH ‘s Holy Fire burning in our heart.
But like Moses, we need top know that this is not guaranteed to us, that we can’t be sure whether or not we qualify to have YHVH enter our heart.
Because YHVH, as our Bride, is picky. She would NOT enter our heart, if She senses any degree of arrogance and self assurance. She would not dwell in the heart of someone who worships himself. If Moses, the least likely person on earth to fail, was found unworthy, who wouldn’t?

So Moses learned a lesson. Turning to Aaron he said: “come closer to the Altar and offer….” In other words, he learned that he could not bring YHVH to dwell in the Tabernacle, and in our heart, acting alone. He needed Aaron. He needed a priest.
Why a priest?
It is said , next: “And Aaron blessed the peole…”
And them Moses and Aaron together blessed the people.
Only then

“And the Glory of YHVH appeared to the entire people,
and a fire came out from before YHVH
and consumed (everything) on the Altar…
And the entire people saw
and they shouted IN HAPPINESS and prostrated on the ground…” (9:23-24)

This combination of extreme happiness mixed with awe is unique to Judaism.

The question is: what did Aaron add that Moses alone did not accomplish?
The answer is in the Priestly Blessing. Iit ends by the words: “and he shall give you peace.”
Peace is the missing ingredient.

the lesson to Noahides here is as follows:
We all aspire to get close to YHVH, and invite YHVGH to dwell in our hearts.
This holds true to all Mankind, all the Children of Noah.
But one cant’ get it alone without the BLESSING of the priest.
It is not that the priest mediates the connection between us and YHVH.
The priest only facilitates that connection.
Like Eve who appoint Cain to connect Man with YHVH.
Theoretically, no such facilitator should be needed.
Ideally, we should all be able to connect to YHVH by ourselves.
But as we’ve seen, HaSheM allowed Moses and Israel to build a Tabernacle
As a concession, after the Golden Calf.
He recognized the need of Mankind to be inspired by tangible things: a Temple, Golden cloths, animal offerings, and PREISTS.
This is our reality: we must have a rabbi, a priest, a preacher who would lift our spirit towards YHVH
Who would take us away from our mundane daily life and lead us to the Holy Temple.

Now if the seventy families of Noah’s Nations are as holy congregation,
Their ‘priest’ is Israel.
The task of Israel therefore is to teach, to inspire, to carve the way in people’s hearts to accept in them the Shechinah, the Presence of YHVH.
Can you find a better description for the special relationship between Israel and the Nations?
And never be envy. Never ask who is more important: the congregation of the priest.
For without the priest, there is no meaning for the congregation.
And without a congregation, there is no function for the priest!

The Priest and the Good Samaritan
YHVH Fire came to burn on the Altar for the next 400 years. It was a blessing. But as we’ve said, YHVH has Her own yardstick by which She measures people, and two of Aaron’s sons were burnt right at the sanctuary. The reason is stated in the verse: they offered a ‘strange fire.” Some say they did not believe that YHVH Fire would REALLY come out to burn the offerings so they brought their own fire, thereby desecrating YHVH’s Name.
But look what happened next: Aaron, as a High priest, was forbidden to show any sign of mourning. He had to keep silent and continue his HOLY WORK. So were the remaining two sons. Moses forbade them to let their hair grow or ripe their clothes. This means that other priests are allowed to bury their dead family members. Moreover, if there is a corps lying nearby with no one attending it, the priests are COMMANDED to be proactive and do everything they can to bring the corps ti proper burial. They are even commanded to LEAVE their post in the Temple when such a need comes up and make sure the corps is buried. They can do this by other people or by their OWN HANDS. This is the halacha stated here.

How distorted and viciously anti-Semitic is the story told about the “Good Samaritan,” known to almost all Americans. To repeat the story: A priest travels on the road, at the Holy Temple time. He notices a body lying by the road, and he can’t tell if it is dead or alive. He never comes down to chexck, fearing that if the body is dead he would ‘defile his priesthood.’ He therefore continues his way. Behind him rides a Good Samaritan, who, unlike the indifferent priest, checks the body and carries it to the nearest town, where it is revived. Thus whereas the gentile Samaritan showed compassion, the priest followed the “old testament” rule and failed to save a dying soul.
Now our parshah shows how distorted this story is. Whoever wrote it either did not have a clue of the Jewish Law, or intentionally twisted it. It is incumbent on any priest to attend an abundant corps and burry it even at the cost of his work at the Holy Temple!

The story in our prashah ends by an important message. Aaron continues his work as a High Priest not exhibiting any sign of mourning his two sons. As a part of his service he had to offer a “sin offering” which he would eat “with happiness.” It is the only offering of its kind that needed o be consumed with happiness. Yet Moses finds out that instead of eating it, Aaron burnt it outside the sanctuary, thereby violating the law!
Moses could not find an excuse for that. The text says that he “search and search,” (darosh darash) and found no reason why would Aaron not listen! (10: 16)

Miraculously, the words “searched and searched” divide the words of the Torah into exact two halves, each containing the same number of words. It is as if Moses “ripped the Torah into two halves” to find the truth about mourning. He searched and searched, looked at the laws form all sides, and could not find an excuse to his brother Aaron’s behavior.

Then he confronted Aaron with rage: why did you not eat that offering as ordered? Why did you burn it outside the sanctuary? I have told you that you as a High Priest can’t show any sign of mourning! (10: 18)

The Torah says that Aaron responded by one argument: indeed, he said, I did not eat this sin offering, since I was saddened in my heart. I am still mourning in my heart. Would YHVH accept my false, pretended happiness? (10: 19)

hearing this Moses face lightened up. “My brother is right!” he shouted for all to hear, “there is no mourning but in the heart!” (10: 20)

Hence the rule that the status of morning overcomes all the possible restrictions against it. Even the High Priest of Israel, working at the Holy Temple, must be allowed to express it!

So do not tell me that the “old testament” emphasizes the law above the heart.

End of Shemini Torah class for Noahides