These concepts are reflected in this week’s Torah reading, Parshas Shemini. Shemini means “the eighth.” It refers to the first of Nissan, the day on which the Sanctuary was established. It is called “the eighth day” because it was preceded by seven days of dedication, during which Moshe erected and took down the Sanctuary each day, and taught Aharon and his sons the order of sacrificial worship…The Torah relates (Leviticus 10:1-2) that they brought an unauthorized incense offering and as a result, “Fire came forth from G-d and consumed them.”
Many explanations are offered as to why the brothers were punished by death. From a mystical perspective, it is said (Or HaChayim, commenting on Leviticus 16:1) that they died because their souls soared to such heights that they could no longer remain in their bodies. Nevertheless, their conduct is judged unfavorably because their spiritual quest ran contrary to G-d’s intent in creation: the establishment of a dwelling for Himself amidst the day-to-day realities of our existence. (See Midrash Tanchuma, Parshas Bechukosai) Their deaths show that our spiritual quest should not be directed towards the attainment of lofty rapture, but instead should remain firmly grounded in our actual lives.
This theme is also reflected in the conclusion of the Torah reading, which focuses on kosher food. For the establishment of a dietary code indicates that Judaism’s conception of Divine service involves living within the world.
-Rabbi Eli Touger
“Transcendence and Immanence”
In the Garden of Torah”
Likkutei Sichos, Vol. III, p. 973ff;
Vol. XVII, p. 92ff;
Sefer HaSichos 5749, p. 475ff
Commentary on Torah Portion Shemini
All that walk on four… (11:21)
When Rabbi Shmuel of Lubavitch was a child of seven, he asked his father: Why does man walk upright, while animals walk on all fours? Rabbi Menachem Mendel replied: “This is a kindness from G-d to man: although man treads upon the material earth, he sees the sublime heaven. Not so those that crawl on four, who see only the mundane.”
I suppose I’m being unfair when I accuse Christianity of focusing on the Heavenly at the expense of the here-and-now. After all, Christians perform many wonderful services of charity and kindness to those around them and to those in far-flung corners of the world. But as I recall my past when I used to sit in a pew in a church sanctuary on Sunday morning, it seems as if a great deal of time was spent touting the advantages of a “personal relationship with Jesus Christ” and that it’s all about “me and Jesus.” How many prayers have I heard offered up to the ceiling of the Sunday school classroom, asking for “a closer walk with thee” and thanking Jesus for the personal gift of grace and salvation?
There’s nothing wrong with any of that, of course, but now that our “ticket to Heaven” has been “punched,” so to speak, what are we supposed to do with the rest of our lives?
The commentaries I quoted from above may seem alien to most of you, but they do aptly illustrate the necessity of balancing the secular with the Divine. So many of the commandments given to the Israelites at Sinai were related to the world in which we live. There are commandments about food, commandments about clothing, commandments about marriage, commandments about farming, commandments about helping your neighbor, even if you don’t like him very much, commandments about…well, you get the idea.
Sure, there are also a lot of commandments about God, services of holiness, and acts of the Spirit, but there is an inseperable link between loving God and loving human beings (See Matthew 22:36-40). As far as I can tell, most or all of the commandments we see in the Torah that have to do with visiting the sick and feeding the hungry apply just as much to the Christian as they do to the Jew. That’s what I see in the Master’s teachings, anyway.
But many Christians still have this funny idea that we are only really serving God if we have some sort of formal “ministry” within the church, even as a lay teacher. Yet we see countless examples in the Bible of ordinary people who were devoted to God and who lived day-to-day lives that included acts of kindness and compassion to whomever they encountered who needed it.
Giving a jump start to the car of a guy who’s late for a job interview is just as holy as helping to build a new church on a mission trip to a foreign country. Where did we get the idea that we had to do something unusual and extraordinary; something way outside the normal boundries of our lives, in order to serve God and to obey the teachings of Jesus? As an “ordinary” person, you may be capable of committing more acts of holiness than even the greatest televangelist or Pastor of a “megachurch” you see on TV ( I suppose I’m employing more than a little tongue-in-cheek here).
And perhaps you are capable of even much greater miracles than these.
“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do… -John 14:12 (ESV)
Miracles, by the way, don’t always have to be violations of the laws of physics. Sometimes, offering a momentary smile to a person who looks sad, or helping a lost person find the right address can be a miracle as great as moving a mountain.
Reading the Bible, praying, meditating on the acts of God, and worshiping with your fellows are all absolutely necessary acts of holiness and they bring much joy to God and to your own heart. But they are no more or less vital than helping change a flat tire for someone, donating a can of soup to your local food bank, or spending time with a neighbor who is in the hospital after surgery.
Today (as I write this), I’m going to take my son to work, deliver a Bible and some other books to a Chaplin who is going to deliver them to a sick and elderly Jewish gentleman who has just discovered the Messiah in Yeshua, and spend some time over coffee studying the Word of God with a friend. I don’t say these things because I think it makes me a better or special person. I say them because I’m an ordinary person doing ordinary things. But the ordinary and the holy are all intermixed in everything we do. We have our feet on the ground, but our eyes turned to Heaven.
And of all the ordinary things you and I are going to do today, who knows which one of them is a miracle?
Whatever we “offer” to God and to human beings, let it be who we are and not some “strange fire” we think we need to burn with in our hearts. God made us perfect as the people we are meant to be.