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Parashat Shemini 5784: Aliyah by Aliyah


וַיְהִי֙ בַּיּ֣וֹם הַשְּׁמִינִ֔י (שמיני ט, א)

“On the eighth day” (Leviticus 9:1)

First Reading: The Meaning of the Number Eight


The number eight represents the integration of Divine inspiration into our souls. The eighth day of inaugurating the Tabernacle was the first day of the Hebrew month of Nissan. This is the day when Aaron and his sons began their service in the Tabernacle. It is the day when the Shechinah began to reside amongst the Jewish people.

A Number and a Name

The number eight is emphasized as the name of this Torah portion, Shemini, which means “Eighth.” It is the only Torah portion whose name is a number. In certain years,[1] outside the Land of Israel we read from this portion a total of eight times.[2] A popular saying highlights the similarity between the three Hebrew words, "Shemini, Eight – fat" (שְׁמִינִי, שְׁמוֹנָה – שְׁמֵנָה). Quoting this linguistic pun, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneersohn, said that a year in which this portion is read eight times will be a "fat" one, i.e., a year blessed with material and spiritual prosperity.[3]

Numbers are not merely arbitrary values. Each number has meaning, not only as an amount, but as a unique expression of quality. Numbers are the building blocks that construct our world. They are one of the most important foundations of human thought. Kabbalah often deals with the qualitative mysteries found in the numerical equivalences of words.

The Torah portion of Shemini is read on the Shabbat either before or after Passover. This reminds us of the poem sung at the conclusion of the Passover Seder, "Who Knows One?"  How did this poem about numbers sneak into the Haggadah?

The Haggadah is the text we read to comply with the Torah injunction to relate the story of our Exodus from Egypt to our children. At the Seder, the child asks questions and the father replies. This is an excellent opportunity to impart to the child (and to ourselves as well) a worldview of holiness. "Who knows one?" instills in the mind a natural association to “One is Hashem.” The same is true for each number and its unique significance.  In Judaism, numbers are associated with meaningful content.

What then, is the meaning of the number eight?

In the Torah, eight often appears in conjunction with the number seven, as in the verse in Ecclesiastes, “Give a portion to seven and also to eight.”[4] Eight often reflects the culmination of a series of seven. The festival of Shemini Atzeret follows seven days of Sukkot; Shavuot follows seven weeks of Counting the Omer; and the Jubilee year follows seven cycles of the Sabbatical year. In the Torah portion of Shemini, there is special significance to the eighth day of the inauguration of the Tabernacle.

Sevenths and Eighths

The number six represents the six extremes of the space dimension; the number seven represents the space that fills those extremes. Shabbat, the seventh day of the week, follows the six workdays. Just as the soul permeates the body, so the higher consciousness of rest penetrates the days of the week. Six represents the inanimate world around us. The number seven infuses it with life.

The number eight represents the Divine light that surrounds all worlds. It is the miraculous level of being that lies beyond nature. When revealed, it inspires the natural world to reveal Divinity.  In the poem, “Who knows one?” the reply to “Who knows eight?” is “Eight are the days of circumcision.” A Jewish boy is circumcised on the eighth day after birth. This manifests the Jewish ability to connect to and reveal a higher dimension of consciousness. On the national level, this manifested in the miracle that took place on the eighth day of the inauguration of the Tabernacle. The revelation of Divinity is beyond the serene cycles of nature. The moment in which Divine light is infused into the finite realm of reality is an intensely awe-inspiring event. As Moses and Aaron blessed the nation, fire descended from heaven upon the altar and the entire nation “fell on their faces,”[5] before the revelation of the Divine Presence.

The commandment to circumcise a Jewish boy on the eighth day after birth appears in parashat Tazria, the Torah portion that follows Shemini. This is another indication that “Shemini, Eight – fat” (שְׁמִינִי, שְׁמוֹנָה – שְׁמֵנָה).  A year when Shemini is read eight times is propitious for a woman to become “fat” in pregnancy. Then she merits to perform the commandment, “When a woman conceives and bears a male… on the eighth day shall his foreskin be circumcised.”[6]

From Moses to Aaron, Seven to Eight

During the inauguration of the Tabernacle, Moses served as High Priest. For seven days, he played the starring role. Moses has a unique relationship with the number seven. He is the seventh generation from Abraham (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Levi, Kehat, Amram, and Moses). Regarding Moses, the sages state that “All sevenths are endeared.” The Midrash explains that immediately after creation, the Shechinah (the Divine Presence) hovered just above mundane reality. All that was required to manifest the supernatural in the natural world was for man to refine himself by keeping the one commandment not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge. But Adam and Eve sinned, and the Shechinah removed itself to the first heaven above mundane reality. After each successive sin of mankind, it distanced itself further until it reached the seventh heaven. Abraham brought it down to the sixth heaven, Isaac to the fifth, Jacob to the fourth and so on, until Moses, "the endeared seventh," erected the Tabernacle and brought the Shechinah back to ground level on the seventh day.

On the eighth day of inauguration, Aaron took over from Moses. He became the High Priest, and the antecedent of all future High Priests. Like his younger brother, Moses, Aaron is also the seventh generation from Abraham. In terms of bringing the Shechinah into the world, he is the "eighth generation." He completed the work of the seventh generation. Moses is the 'hero' of the generation that received the Torah. The eighth day of inauguration was Aaron's day. Aaron's connection to the number eight manifests in the eight garments worn by the High Priest.

The numerical value of Aaron (אַהֲרֹן) is 256, which is the product of 32 and 8. One permutation of Aaron (אַהֲרֹן) means "has appeared" (נִרְאָה). This word appears in the phrase following the inauguration of the Tabernacle, "For on this day, God has appeared to you."[7] The clouds of glory that surrounded the nation in the wilderness were in Aaron's merit. Aaron's name clearly alludes to sighting the Shechinah, which manifested in the fire that descended upon the altar, and in the cloud that appeared at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting.

Technically speaking, Aaron's children were the eighth generation from Abraham. They also play a principal role in this Torah portion. Two of Aaron's sons, Nadav and Avihu died in their overly fervent service of God. Another son, Elazar, succeeded his father as the High Priest while Moses was still alive. He and his brother Itamar, Aaron's fourth son, eventually merited to enter the Holyland to completely reveal the Shechinah there.

Moses, the Eighth Tone 

Despite Aaron's major role in the Torah portion of Shemini, he cannot be separated from Moses. Bringing the Shechinah into the world can only be achieved by both of them together. This is emphasized in the verses. After all the sacrifices that Aaron offered, the Shechinah did not appear until Moses and Aaron entered the Tabernacle together and blessed the congregation upon their exit.

Seven is the culmination of the natural world, like a soul that pervades a body and animates it. The number eight is supernatural perfection. In Chasidut, these two levels relate respectively to "immanent light" that pervades reality and "surrounding light" that hovers above reality. The intense light of the supernatural appears to lack the ability to truly infuse mundane reality without shattering it. Yet, the ultimate goal is to unite the two forms of light. The greater, surrounding light must be drawn completely into our reality. It must constantly be integrated in us until it empowers our psyches.

This union is achieved by the combined forces of Moses and Aaron. Aaron draws the surrounding light down to our level in the shining Clouds of Glory, while Moses absorbs the light and integrates it within us. Like Torah study that is grasped by the mind until becomes a part of our being; like the manna which fell in Moses' merit and was absorbed into our bodies, so too the Shechinah is absorbed into our being, "And I shall dwell amongst them—within each and every Jewish individual."

A new meaning becomes clear about the number eight. First, we saw that the number seven expresses one complete cycle of nature. The number eight is a quantum leap above nature. This brings us into a new dimension. But, in fact, eight elevates us to a new first. Like an ever-ascending spiral, we return to the initial level to contemplate it from a higher realm.

The regular musical scale is composed of seven notes. The note following the seventh brings us into the next, higher octave. This process is infinite. The special note of the eighth day when the Shechinah resides amongst the Jewish people brings the highest Divine light into our consciousness and integrates it into the innermost being of every Jewish soul.




וַיָּבֹ֨א מֹשֶׁ֤ה וְאַהֲרֹן֙ אֶל־אֹ֣הֶל מוֹעֵ֔ד וַיֵּ֣צְא֔וּ וַֽיְבָרֲכ֖וּ אֶת־הָעָ֑ם וַיֵּרָ֥א כְבוֹד י־הוה אֶל־כָּל־הָעָֽם (שמיני ט, כג)

“Moses and Aaron when inside the Tent of Meeting. When they came out, they blessed the people; and the Presence of Havayah appeared to all the people” (Leviticus 9:23)

Second Reading: Struggling Towards the End


The Serpent's Bite at the Completion of the Commandment

In this second reading, we learn of the final actions prescribed by God for the eighth day of inauguration of the Tabernacle and the ordination of the Priests. At the end of it all, the purpose is achieved, “And the glory of God appeared to all the people.”[8] Indeed, there is a gap between the completing a task and fulfilling its purpose. As the Sages explain, not everything went smoothly.

The time when a task reaches its completion is a time of struggle and requires overcoming. The reason for this is that the individual who has reached the end of the task feels good about having fulfilled his obligation, this feeling of self-satisfaction is to create a crisis. The Baal Shem Tov taught that the serpent strikes a person on his heel, symbolizing the termination of a good deed, as it says with respect to the curse given the snake in the Garden of Eden, “And you shall strike his [man’s] heel”[9] (וְאַתָּה תְּשׁוּפֶנּוּ עקֵָב).

When we are able to handle ourselves properly, we are required to overcome the snake at we near the completion of a positive deed. Overcoming the snake means minimizing the feelings of self-satisfaction we might receive from having successfully performed the deed. When self-satisfaction is put in check, the true purpose of performing a good deed—to reveal God’s glory—can be attained. If we cannot control our feelings of self-satisfaction, then it is the snake that has bitten us causing us to be filled with satisfaction upon successfully completing the action.

Self-satisfaction originates from the attribute of might, which already at the beginning of Creation, served to conceal God’s omnipresence, making space for human existence. As such, it severs the individual’s existence from God’s absolute existence, making him or her feel like an entity separate from God. Thus, when we are filled with self-satisfaction at the completion of our task, we prevent the true purpose of every good deed—revealing the Divine—from being fulfilled.

How to Beat the Snake with a Broken Heart

When it came to the inauguration of the Tabernacle, at the conclusion of all the actions, a crisis occurred before the purpose of “And the glory of God appeared to all the people” could be realized.

When Aaron saw that all the offerings had been made and all the actions had been completed, yet the Shechinah (Divine Presence) had not descended upon Israel, he was distressed and said, “I know that the Holy Blessed One is angry with me, and because of me, the Shechinah has not descended upon Israel.” He said to Moses, “Moses, my brother, is this what you have done to me, that I entered and was ashamed?” Immediately, Moses entered with him, they prayed for God’s mercy, and the Shechinah descended upon Israel.

As the bridal escort,[10] Aaron’s feelings reflected the sentiment of the entire people before the events of the day. As the sages relate,

Because for all the seven days of inauguration, during which Moses assembled the Tabernacle daily, served in it, and disassembled it, the Shechinah did not rest upon it. The Israelites were embarrassed and said to Moses, “Moses our teacher, all the effort we have invested was so that the Shechinah might dwell among us and we would know that we have been forgiven for the sin of the Golden Calf.”

Following the people’s words to Moses and their anticipation for the Divine Presence to dwell among them, on the eighth day, it was emphasized that “Aaron had entered [the Tabernacle] entered according to God’s direct command,” and that his stature was higher than that of Moses:

Hence, he said, “This is the thing that God has commanded that you should do, and the glory of God shall appear unto you.” Aaron, my brother, is more worthy and esteemed than me, for through his offerings and his service, the Shechinah will dwell among you, and you will know that God has chosen him.

Thus, it is emphasized here that each of the partners in the Tabernacle—the people, Moses, and Aaron—must all reach a feeling of a broken heart and recognize their own deficiency upon the completion of their task, to be saved from the bite of the snake, the bite of self-satisfaction at the end of every deed.

The Root of the Blessing

After completing all the actions, Aaron blessed the people with the Priestly Blessing, a blessing of kindness (which represents an expansion and extension of Divine energy in the world), yet the Shechinah was still not revealed. Only after Aaron reached a state of a broken heart, feeling that his service did not bring about the revelation of the Shechinah, and sought mercy with Moses his brother, did the Shechinah rest upon their accomplishments. The root of the shared blessing that Moses and Aaron bestowed upon the people ascends above loving-kindness (chesed), to understanding (binah), which is the root of might (gevurah). “They [Moses and Aaron] said, ‘Let the favor of Havayah our God be upon us’[11]—may He the Divine Presence lie in your handiwork”[12] (it is known that “favor” [נֹעַם] is associated with the sefirah of understanding). According to another interpretation, Moses entered with Aaron to teach him about the act of burning the incense, which also involves an aspect of judgment and destruction, as is revealed later.


(from Amudeha Shivah, Vayikra, pp. 57-58)




וַתֵּ֤צֵא אֵשׁ֙ מִלִּפְנֵ֣י יְהוָ֔ה וַתֹּ֙אכַל֙ עַל־הַמִּזְבֵּ֔חַ אֶת־הָעֹלָ֖ה וְאֶת־הַחֲלָבִ֑ים וַיַּ֤רְא כָּל־הָעָם֙ וַיָּרֹ֔נּוּ וַֽיִּפְּל֖וּ עַל־פְּנֵיהֶֽם (ויקרא ט, כד)

“Fire came forth from before God and consumed the burnt offering and the fat parts on the altar. And all the people saw, and shouted, and fell on their faces.” (Leviticus 9:24)

Third Reading: The Run and Return of Spiritual Experiences

"Isaac shall laugh joyously"

The Zohar opens its discussion of Parashat Shemini with the following,

“And it came to pass on the eighth day.” Rabbi Isaac opened with, “When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy”[13] (בְּרָן יַחַד כּוֹכְבֵי בֹקֶר וַיָּרִיעוּ כָּל בְּנֵי אֱ־לֹהִים).

The Lubavitcher Rebbe’s father, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak, links the verse with which the Zohar opens to a verse that appears later in the portion: “And there came a fire out from before God, and consumed upon the altar the burnt offering and the fats; and when all the people saw it, they shouted, and fell on their faces”[14] (וַתֵּצֵא אֵשׁ מִלִּפְנֵי י־הוה וַתֹּאכַל עַל הַמִּזְבֵּחַ אֶת הָעֹלָה וְאֶת הַחֲלָבִים וַיַּרְא כָּל הָעָם וַיָּרֹנּוּ וַיִּפְּלוּ עַל פְּנֵיהֶם). He explains that the link between the two verses is in the words, “sang” (בְּרָן) from the verse quoted by the Zohar and “they shouted” (וַיָּרֹנּוּ) in the verse from our third reading, which stem from the same root, רנן; from here on out we will refer to this as rinah. Rabbi Isaac, whose words the Zohar quotes is himself related to rinah, as we say in the afternoon Shabbat Amidah, “Isaac shall sing” (יִצְחָק יְרַנֵּן). In passing, let us note that a possible source for this phrase and connection between Isaac and singing can be found in the verse, “Serve God with joy, come before him with singing”[15] (עִבְדוּ אֶת י־הוה בְּשִׂמְחָה בֹּאוּ לְפָנָיו בִּרְנָנָה) where the first half refers to Isaac whose name means laughter and joy and the second half speaks of singing. Note also that the value of “with singing” (בִּרְנָנָה) is the same as “Rebeccah” (רבקה), Isaac’s wife.

Hebrew and Aramaic as Run and Return

What is the meaning of “they shouted” (וַיָּרֹנּוּ), from our reading? Rashi writes “as its translation” referring to Onkelos’s Aramaic translation of the Torah. Usually when Rashi sends us to look at the Onkelos, he quotes and explains it. But on rare occasions, like here, he writes only “as its translation” and nothing more. If we do look in Onkelos, we will find that he writes, “[and all the people saw] veshabachu” (וְשַׁבָּחוּ). This word, veshabachu, is a word common to various concepts of praise and song and as such, it would seem that Rashi has not added very much to our understanding. This is especially so because the original Hebrew word, “they shouted” (וַיָּרֹנּוּ), appears to indicate a greater arousal than would be accompanied by just praise; it seems to indicate an excitation that was so great that it caused them to fall on their faces.

Therefore, we are led to infer that in referring us to Onkelos (“as its translation,” and nothing more), Rashi is hinting that here, specifically, the Torah’s Hebrew text and the Aramaic translation should be unified. Normally, the relationship between the Torah’s Hebrew and Onkelos’s Aramaic is described as “face and back” (פָּנִים וְאָחוֹר), which also corresponds to a relationship of “run and return.” As such, the Aramaic translation acts to “settle” (i.e., return) the wonderment and excitement inferred in the original Hebrew.[16] The Aramaic translation is thus like a safeguard against a reality in which the excitement of the moment and the experience causes a run without a return—an excitement that has no psychological vessel to contain it.

We can tie this together with the death of Nadav and Avihu, Aaron’s sons described in the very next verse.[17] Nadav and Avihu brought an unauthorized fire (of incense) before God. This was an act of spiritual excitement—a run without a return—without the required vessel, i.e., God’s command. As a result, “And fire came out from before God and consumed them.”[18] Thus, it certainly would fit that Nadav and Avihu’s “run without return,” their over-excitement evolved out of the “and the people saw, they shouted, and they fell on their faces” upon seeing how, “fire came out from before God and consumed upon the altar.” Note that the exact same words, “fire came out from before God and consumed” (וַתֵּצֵא אֵשׁ מִלִּפְנֵי י־הוה וַתֹּאכַל) describe the death of Nadav and Avihu!

Gematria Around 63

In Kabbalah, the filling of God’s essential Name, Havayah whose value is 63 (יוד הי ואו הי) is known as the Name Sag (סג). Sag is the Name associated with the shattering, elevation, and excitement. The shattering is illustrated in the verse brought by the Zohar, the elevation corresponds to the Israelites’ reaction to the consuming fire that came down from God on the altar, and the excitation is associated with the awakening caused by feeling great love for God as in “You shall love Havayah your God with all of your… might.”[19] In the scheme of the four most important fillings of Havayah, Sag is the one that corresponds to the sefirah of understanding (binah) and to the name of our parashah, Shemini, since understanding is the eighth sefirah from below.

Now, the value of the entire verse quoted by the Zohar contains eight words, “When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy” (בְּרָן יַחַד כּוֹכְבֵי בֹקֶר וַיָּרִיעוּ כָּל בְּנֵי אֱ־לֹהִים) is 18 times 63, or Sag. It is also the same as the product of “David” (דָּוִד) and “Nadav and Avihu” (נָדָב אָבִיהוּא). Amazingly, the value of just the initial letters of the verse (ביכבוכבא) is 63, Sag. If we square the value of each of just the first three initial letters—ביכ—their sum equals the value of the first three words of our parashah, “And it came to pass on the eighth day”[20] (וַיְהִי בַּיּוֹם הַשְּׁמִינִי). Moreover, the value of just the first word of the verse from Psalms, “When they sang…” (בְּרָן) is 4 times 63!

The value of the phrase we have been studying in depth, “And all the people saw it, and they shouted, and fell on their faces” (וַיַּרְא כָּל הָעָם וַיָּרֹנּוּ וַיִּפְּלוּ עַל פְּנֵיהֶם), is 17, or “good” (טוֹב) times 63. But since the value of the entire verse, “When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy” was 18 times 63, and the initials were equal to 63, that means that the value of the rest of the letters (בְּרָן יַחַד כּוֹכְבֵי בֹקֶר וַיָּרִיעוּ כָּל בְּנֵי אֱ־לֹהִים) is the same.

The value of the first three words of our parashah, “And it came to pass on the eighth day” (וַיְהִי בַּיּוֹם הַשְּׁמִינִי) is 8, alluding to Shemini (the eighth) times 63!

The Song of the Angels After the Song of the Souls

Rabbi Levi Yitzchak interprets “and all the sons of God shouted for joy” according to the Zohar, in the sense of breaking. However, the Rebbe points out that the plain meaning of the verse is that the angels (“the sons of God”) cannot sing their song above until the sons of Israel (who are likened to the stars[21]) sing from below. Note that the value of the entire verse is 3 times chashmal (חַשְׁמַל), a clear hint to those angels who are silent [chash] to hear the song of Israel and only then speak [mal].

As mentioned, this expresses the idea that although the words of the Jewish people below need to be elevated by the angels, their song is above the song of the angels, and the angels need it. We can go further and say that the reason the angels shout in the morning—shouting as a type of shattering—is because when they hear the song of Israel, they realize they cannot sing like them, their hearts break within them, and out of a broken heart, they sing their own song.

An analogy can be brought from human affairs. Sometimes people witness an extraordinary person and how he praises God. Their hearts break upon recognizing their own lesser abilities, in comparison. By experiencing broken heartedness, they come to elevate their own praise of God. Now, the angels, even after shattering when they hear Israel’s song, remain at a level lower than the song of the souls. However, among humans, sometimes, the song of a person who sings from a broken heart is dearer than the song of a person whose praise sounds and appears loftier, for there is nothing more whole than a broken heart.





וַאֲכַלְתֶּ֤ם אֹתָהּ֙ בְּמָק֣וֹם קָדֹ֔שׁ כִּ֣י חָקְךָ֤ וְחָק בָּנֶ֙יךָ֙ הִ֔וא מֵאִשֵּׁ֖י י־הוה כִּיכֵ֖ן צֻוֵּֽיתִי (שמיני י, יג)

“You must eat it in a holy place, because it is your due portion and your sons’ due portion from God’s fire-offerings, for so I have been commanded.” (Leviticus 10:13)

Fourth Reading: Finding Eternity

A Son is His Father’s Leg

At the beginning of the fourth reading of our Parashah it mentions that Elazar and Itamar are Aaron’s “remaining sons.” The expression “remaining sons” is a direct association with the sefirah of victory/eternity (netzach). The Talmud writes that every son is described figuratively as “his father’s leg,” because he is the continuation and eternalize of the father, and this is clearly pointed out by the verse as the “remaining sons”, that continue existing after their father to provide him with continuity. It follows that since the verse mentions only Elazar and Itamar as Aaron’s remaining sons, we can deduce that Nadav and Avihu, his two older sons that died on the eighth day of the Tabernacle’s inauguration, were not considered their father’s “legs.” Rather they were either on an equal level to their father Aaron or even greater than him, as Moses said, “they are greater than me and you.” In addition, just like they didn't continue their father, they were not married and had no continuation of their own.

The verse then continues saying “take the remaining grain offering.” Rashi comments that, “this was the grain offering of the eighth day and the grain offering of Nachshon.” Numerically, the value of the two phrases, “the grain offering of the eighth day, the grain offering of Nachshon” (מִנְחַת שְׁמִינִי מִנְחַת נַחְשׁוֹן) is 1820, the number of times God’s essential Name, Havayah appears in the Pentateuch!

Therefore, it can be said that the “remaining grain offering” which is really referring to two grain offerings, alludes to Elazar and Itamar “the remaining” sons.” Later on, in the fifth reading, we find the same phrase, “the remaining sons of Aharon” (בְּנֵי אַהֲרֹן הַנּוֹתָרִם) but without the letter yud needed to complete the plural form. This is meant to suggest that the remaining sons are as one.

The numerical allusion connecting sons with grain offerings are that 2 times “son” (בֵּן) equals “grain offering” (מִנְחָה), plus the inclusive 1, the so-called kollel. “Grain offering” (מִנְחָה) also equals “sons” (בָּנִים) plus the inclusive 1.

Eternal Statutes

Towards the end of the fourth reading, we find the phrase “for they are your due portions and your sons’ due portion” repeated twice in two consecutive verses.[22] The concept of something that is “due” generally indicates permanence and eternity, especially when the Torah mentions it in proximity to the phrase “an eternal right” (חֹק עוֹלָם), as it does at the very end of the fourth reading.

Furthermore, the word “due” (חֹק) is the two-letter root associated with the sefirah of victory/eternity (netzach) in the model of the Albam transformation[23] of letters of the Hebrew. The word “due” (חֹק) appears 5 times in the span of three verses.

The value of the two words, “due” and “eternal” (חֹק נֶצַח) is 256, the same value as “Aharon (אַהֲרֹן). Though generally, Moses is associated with the sefirah of “eternity” (netzach) while Aharon is associated with the sefirah of acknowledgment (hod), clearly the eternal nature of the priesthood stems from the sefirah of eternity (netzach).

(from Amudeha Shivah, Shemini)



וַיִּשְׁמַ֣ע מֹשֶׁ֔ה וַיִּיטַ֖ב בְּעֵינָֽיו (ויקרא י, כ)

“Moses heard and it pleased him” (Leviticus 10:20)

Fifth Reading: Admitting One’s Mistakes

Moses’ Error

We have been talking about the number 956, which is the sum of the names of the bride and groom. We have already seen a few phrases and verses that have this same value. Now let us turn to a verse from parashat Shemini, “Moses heard, and it pleased him” (וַיִּשְׁמַע מֹשֶׁה וַיִּיטַב בְּעֵינָיו), whose value is also 956.

We saw earlier that 956 also equals “Moses Torah” (מֹשֶׁה תּוֹרָה). It follows then that since we have the word “Moses” (מֹשֶׁה), 345, in our verse, the rest of the words, “head, and it pleased him” (וַיִּשְׁמַע וַיִּיטַב בְּעֵינָיו) equal “Torah” (תּוֹרָה), 611.

Rashi explains that “He [Moses] conceded and was not embarrassed [and did not attempt to justify himself] by saying: ‘I did not hear.’” Rashi is quoting the Talmud, which has an interesting continuation: “conceded and was not embarrassed [and did not attempt to justify himself] by saying: ‘I did not hear,’ rather, he said: ‘I heard, and I forgot.’”[24] Seemingly, this is different from what Rashi explained, almost the opposite.

What happened there? Aaron and his sons burnt the goat of the sin offering for Rosh Chodesh (the first of the month), which is a sacrifice that is offered in perpetuity and Moses was upset at them. He challenged their decision to burn the sacrifice entirely despite their being a state of pre-burial of their relatives (Nadav and Avihu)—a state in which a person is not obligated by the commandments because his mind should be focused on burying his relation. Moses contended that since Aaron was a High Priest, he was permitted to continue his service in the Tabernacle without disruption.

The point of contention between Moses and Aaron was regarding the status of sacrifices offered in perpetuity and those that were ad hoc due to the inauguration of the Tabernacle and the priesthood. This can be summarized as a distinction between Moses and Aaron’s conception and connection with time. Moses whose consciousness transcends time does not distinguish between something that is ad hoc and something that is for perpetuity. The sages sometimes refer to this distinction as the difference between “momentary life” (חַיֵּי שָׁעָה) and “eternal life” (חַיֵּי עוֹלָם). Prayer is considered “momentary life” while Torah learning is considered “eternal life.” But for Moses they are equivalent, because he transcends time.

Aaron though lives within the limitations of time and therefore distinguished between the two, which is why he ostensibly did not eat the perpetual offering for the New Month. His reasoning was apparently that the two other sin-offerings sacrificed on the eighth day of the inauguration of the Tabernacle and the Priesthood, were of exceptional character, for they were only brought on that day and for that occasion and should therefore be eaten. When Moses heard his brother explain the temporal difference between the two types of sin-offerings he conceded that this was the manner in which most people experienced reality, differentiating between occasional and perpetual actions.

The Cycle of Anger and Error

The sages add something more that Rashi does not mention in his commentary. The translation or the Torah into Aramaic known as Targum Yonatan adds that Moses declared throughout the encampment, “I erred,” so that everyone would know that he had made a mistake. Why does Moses err? Because he was angry at Aaron and his sons!

The sages tell us that “when one comes to anger, one comes to err”[25] (בָּא לִכְלַל כַּעַס בָּא לִכְלַל טָעוּת). The point that is interesting in the sages’ statement is that anger causes one to err, that is the regular explanation for the relationship between anger and errors. However, here they note both sides of the relationship, “because he was angry he erred,” and “because he erred, he was angry.” To first err is a mistake in the intellect. The intellect must be straight. If there is some error in judgment or in one’s mindset, the mistake will cause him to become angry at someone else. It is a vicious cycle, because the angrier you get, the more mistakes you make, and the cycle continues.

If a person finds himself in a vicious cycle of this nature, what should he do, how can he break it? Regarding the errors in judgment, those are hard to see and so we might not be able to fix them. But we can stop our anger, our irritation.

So, someone who wants to break the cycle must decide that he will never be vexed at a friend, certainly not at our spouse, then we will not make mistakes.

Though Moses made mistakes, it says that Mashiach will not. Apparently, he will be even more calm and patient than was Moses—never angry and never irritated by anyone. If we can resolve to never be angry (especially if we resolve to do so on Rosh HaShanah), we will sweeten all the harsh judgments that stand against the Jewish people. God to will not be angry with us, no matter the situation, for there is an important principle taught by the Maggid of Mezritch, that “God is your shadow on your right hand”[26] meaning that God follows your lead; however you act, God acts the same with you. This is the moral to be learned from the verse, “Moses heard, and it pleased him.”

The Joy of Admitting a Mistake

What else do we learn from this verse? With all the irritation and the mistake that Moses experienced, he is still the humblest of all men. Once he hears an explanation that satisfies him, that convinces him that Aaron was justified in his actions, he immediately admits his mistake and even publicizes it. He actually enjoys admitting in public that he was wrong—so that everyone knows that even Moses can err. About Moses it says, “You have made him little less than Divine”[27] (וַתְּחַסְּרֵהוּ מְּעַט מֵאֱ-לֹהִים). The word translated as “Divine,” is God’s Name, Elokim (אֱ-לֹהִים), whose value is 86. There is a well-established principle that states that the minimum of a plural is 2, and if we make the Name Elokim “less” by 2, we get the value of the word, “erred” (טָעָה). The value of the phrase, “Moses our teacher erred” (מֹשֶׁה רַבֵּינוּ טָעָה) is the same as “the essence in physical form” (עַצְמוּת בְּגוּף). You can be Moses and even be described as a little less than Divine and yet still err.

There are people for whom admitting that they made a mistake is very difficult, but there are people like Moses, whose humility makes it enjoyable for them to admit their mistakes. In fact, the ability to do so is the sign of a true rebbe, a true spiritual leader and reveals that the individual is “the extension of Moses into every generation.”

Hearing in Depth

In Chasidic thought, to hear, i.e., “Moses heard,” is indicative of what is known as “inner hearing,” which in Yiddish is called derher—it refers to being able to hear the inner meaning of an issue and to connect to its depth of meaning. Derher, inner hearing, is in some ways more powerful than sight, in connecting a person.

About Moses, it is said, “Moses merited understanding.” Understanding corresponds with hearing and Wisdom with sight. So even though it says that “Moses see what God sees”[28] (וּתְמֻנַת הוי' יַבִּיט), in this verse he merits to hear. Even though Moses heard, in the end “it pleased him” which is written using an idiom, that literally means “it was good in his eyes.”

Actually, all three intellectual sefirot were involved. We already mentioned hearing and sight (good in his eyes), and the fact that it was “good,” corresponds to the sefirah of knowledge (da’at). When something spiritual is absolutely clear, it is like seeing it with the eyes—just like we say about “seeing creation out of nothingness at every moment.” This is the spiritual sight of wisdom. But when you hear something and it sits well with you, these are the eyes of knowledge. Knowledge also has “eyes” according to Kabbalah. The two eyes are the 5 aspects of loving-kindness and the five aspects of might in the sefirah of knowledge.

(from a Kabbalat Panim, 23 Elul, 5777)



כֹּל֩ הוֹלֵ֨ךְ עַל־גָּח֜וֹן (שמיני יא, מב)

“Anything that crawls on its belly” (Leviticus 11:42)

Sixth Reading: Rectifying the Snake and the Pig

The Talmud recounts that,[29]

The first Sages were called “Those who count,” because they would count all the letters in the Torah, as they would say that the letter vav in the word “belly [גָּחוֹן]”[30] is the midpoint of the letters in a Torah scroll…. Similarly, in the expression: “The boar out of the wood [מיער] ravages it,”[31] the ayin in the word "wood" [יער] is the midpoint of Psalms….

Thus, after the Talmud marks the letter vav of “belly” (גָּחוֹן) as the center of the Torah, it notes that the center of Psalms is the hanging letter ayin in the verse “the boar out of the wood ravages it” (יְכַרְסְמֶנָּה חֲזִיר מִיָּעַר). There is no reference in the rabbinic literature to the centers of the other books of the Bible. We can thus deduce that there is an intrinsic connection between the center of the Torah and the center of Psalms.

The Pentateuch and Psalms

A hint to the close relationship between the Torah and Psalms can be found in their internal division—just as the Torah is divided into Five Books of Moses, so too is the Book of Psalms divided into five books. In the tradition of Israel, the books most familiar in the Bible, in which even the simple Jews were proficient, are the Torah and the Book of Psalms. Specifically, the relationship between the Torah and Psalms is like the relationship between Torah and prayer.

The Torah is an absolute Divine revelation, shining from above to below—from God to man. In contrast, the Book of Psalms is man’s call to God—filled with human emotion of “the prayers of David son of Jesse”[32] (כָּלּוּ תְפִלּוֹת דָּוִד בֶּן יִשָׁי) from below to above—this is the 'prayer book' within the Bible. In other words: the Torah and Psalms encompass within them the entirety of the reciprocal relationships between the Jew and the Holy Blessed One—the instructions of God to man and man's prayers to God.

The Snake and the Boar

In relation to the central points of the Torah and Psalms, a fascinating matter arises—the center of the Torah is associated with a snake (as per the rabbinic interpretation that "it goes on its belly" refers to a snake, where it is said “upon your belly you shall go”), and the center of Psalms is related to a pig: “the boar out of the woods.” These two animals are symbols in the tradition of Israel for the source of all impurity and abomination—the ancient snake is the root of sin (which introduced death into the world, the father of all impurity), and the pig is a symbol of disgust and abomination, whose differentiation from it is a principal separation of Israel from the nations.

The appearance of the unique middle letters of the Torah and the Book of Psalms—the abundant vav and the hanging ayin—reveal to us about the power of Torah and prayer to stop the filth of the snake and weaken the strength of the pig. The relationship between the snake and the pig is like that between pride and boastfulness—the snake brought into the world exaggerated self-awareness, whereas the pig spreads its hooves and boasts, saying “I am pure.”

This utmost detestable pride, because it is the root of all evil (and a person full of ego arouses hatred), while boastfulness causes disgust (for what is more repulsive than someone who knows his own worthlessness yet pretends to be something he is not, with a superficial show). The revelation of Torah from heaven (from a supreme source that subdues man) diverts his attention from himself to the Torah of God—moving him from self-awareness to Divine awareness—and thereby breaks the snake’s essential blemish.

The work of prayer, in which a person acknowledges his inner emptiness and his need for God, overcomes pride, which tries to present an outward facade of confidence and self-sufficiency. Still, both the pig and the snake are destined to be elevated and rectified.

(from Ma’ayan Ganin, Vayikra, Shemini)


[1]. This occurs in years whose siman is הכז, which means that the year starts (Rosh Hashanah is) on a Thursday (ה), the months of Cheshvan and Kislev are “normal” (כְּסִדְרָהּ)—i.e., Cheshvan has 29 days and Kislev 30—and the first day of Passover is on Shabbat (ז). The last הכ"ז year was 5778 and the next one will be 5789.

[2]. Minchah of Shabbat Hagadol (1), the Monday (2) and Thursday (3) of the week before Passover, Minchah of Shabbat which is the first day of Passover (4), Minchah of Shabbat which is the last day of Passover (5), the Monday (6) and Thursday (7) of the week after Passover, and Shabbat Shemini (8).

[3]. Sichah of Shabbat Shemini 5751.

[4]. Ecclesiastes 11:2.

[5]. Leviticus 9:24.

[6]. Ibid. 12:2.

[7] Ibid. 9:4.

[8]. Leviticus 9:23.

[9]. Genesis 3:15.

[10]. Zohar 3:20a.

[11]. Psalms 90:17.

[12]. See Rabbi Moses Cordovero, Pardes Rimonim 23:14.

[13]. Job 38:7.

[14]. Leviticus 9:24.

[15]. Psalms 100:2.

[16]. In fact, the first three letters of the Aramaic translation in this case (וְשַׁבָּחוּ) spell the word for “return” (שׁוֹב).

[17]. Leviticus 10:1

[18]. Ibid. v. 2.

[19]. Deuteronomy 6:5.

[20]. Leviticus 9:1.

[21]. I.e., they are the “morning stars” mentioned in the verse.

[22]. Leviticus 10:13 and 14.

[23]. In the Albam transformation, alef becomes lamed (אל), beit becomes mem (בם), and so on. Chet becomes kuf (חק).

[24]. Zevachim 111a.

[25]. Rashi on Numbers 31:21. Sifrei 157:9.

[26]. Psalms 121:5.

[27]. Psalms 8:6.

[28]. Numbers 12:8.

[29]. Kiddushin 30a.

[30]. Leviticus 11:42.

[31]. Psalms 80:14.

[32]. Psalms 72:20.

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