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אל חשקצו את נפשותיכם ... ולא תטמאו בהם ונטמתם בם

Do not draw abomination for yourselves… you shall not make yourselves impure, therewith, and thus become impure. (11:43)

Chazal (Yoma 39a) teach, “Sin stupefies the heart of a person who commits it.” This is noted from the pasuk, “Do not impurify yourselves with them, so you not be thereby impurified.” Do not read it as v’nitmeisem, and you will become impure. Rather, read it v’nitamtem, you will become stupefied/ befuddled/confused. In Yiddish, we would translate it as farshtupped, stuffed up. He no longer has control over himself; his sinful behavior seriously alters his ability to think rationally. Horav Eliyahu Lopian, zl, derives an important principle from here. When the Torah exhorts us al tishaktzu, do not draw abomination…

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ואת החזיר כי מפריס פרסה הוא ... והוא גרה לא יגר טמא הוא לכם

And the pig, for its hoof is split … but it does not chew its cud, it is unclean to you. (11:7)

The commentators explain the reason the Torah focuses on the pig’s singular kosher sign. The pig, which is the prototypical charlatan, puts forth its kosher sign as if declaring, “See, I am kosher,” expecting people to ignore that it does not chew its cud. Indeed, we have more to fear from those who claim to be observant than from those who do not conceal their estrangement from mitzvos. Despite its despicable nature in attempting to fool people, the chazir has one positive aspect to it, which is alluded by its name – chazir – which means “return.” The Shlah HaKadosh…

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ויאמר משה אל אהרן הוא אשר דבר ד' לאמר בקרבי אקדש ועל פני כל העם אכבד וידם אהרן

Moshe said to Aharon: Of this did Hashem speak, saying: “I will be sanctified through those who are nearest Me; thus, I will be honored before the entire people.” And Aharon was silent. (10:3)

What happened to Nadav and Avihu and the circumstances under which their deaths occurred are beyond us. Chazal present various reasons for their untimely deaths, but these reasons apply only to someone who, like them, had reached the capstone of closeness with Hashem. The higher one is, the closer one gets, the more Hashem demands of him. Aharon HaKohen’s reaction (or non-reaction) is equally beyond us. Anyone who has himself – or known someone who has – sustained such a mind-numbing tragedy, either stands in awe of Aharon or questions him. His muted reaction is mind-boggling. As soon as the…

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ותצא אש מלפני ד' ותאכל אותם וימותו לפני ד'

A fire came forth from before Hashem and consumed them, and they died before Hashem. (10:2)

The Talmud enumerates a number of deficiencies in the elevated rectitude of such tzaddikim as Nadav and Avihu, which led to their untimely tragic passing. One of the comments which begs elucidation is that they would walk behind Moshe Rabbeinu and Aharon HaKohen, with the rest of the nation following them, and they would say, “When will those two elders pass away, and you and I will lead the generation?” Hashem responded, “We will see who will bury whom.” Are we to believe that they were so callous as to “wait” for their father’s and uncle’s deaths; so that they…

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והתקדשתם והייתם קדשים ... ולא חטמאו את נפשתיכם ... להבדיל בין הטמא ובין הטהר ובין החיה הנאכלת ובין החיה אשר לא תאכל

You are to sanctify yourselves and you shall become holy … and you should not contaminate yourselves … to distinguish between the contaminated and the pure and between the animal that may be eaten and the animal that may not be eaten. (11:44,47)

A significant portion of Parashas Shemini is devoted to the laws of kashrus. Added laws are stated in Parashas Re’eh. This indicates the critical importance for a Jew to observe the kosher dietary laws. As in all mitzvos, both positive and prohibitive, Hashem has His reason for their commandment. The Torah alludes to the idea that, in order for us to maintain our sanctity, we must adhere to the dietary laws. Sforno writes, since Hashem is holy, He wants His people to likewise be holy, so that they will be eternal, perceive their Creator, and follow in His path. This…

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ואת החסידה

And the chasidah (11:19)

The chasidah is a bird which the Torah declares not be kosher. This is enigmatic, since it is called chasidah as a result of the chesed, kindness, that it performs toward the members of its species. If it is so compassionate and shares its food with other chasidos, why is it deemed unkosher? One would think that such a noble trait would be reason to render it kosher. A well-known explanation – attributed to varied commentators – is that, while the chasidah does indeed direct its kindness towards members of its species, it does so exclusively to them. It distinguishes…

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ואל בני ישראל תדבר לאמר קחו שעיר עזים לחטאת ועגל וכבש ... לעולה

And to Bnei Yisrael speak as follows: Take a he-goat for a sin-offering and a calf and a sheep… for an elevation offering. (9:3)

The Sifra identifies the sins for which the eigal, calf, and the se’ir izzim, he-goat, atoned. The eigal was offered to expiate the sin of the golden calf. The goat served as an atonement for the sin of selling Yosef as a slave and slaughtering a goat in order to dip Yosef’s multi-colored tunic into its blood. Understandably, the sin of the Golden Calf was the catalyst for the Mishkan which atoned for it. What does mechiras Yosef, the sale of Yosef, have to do with the eighth day of milluim, inauguration, of the Mishkan? Some form of identification was…

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ויהי ביום השמיני קרא משה לאהרן ולבניו ולזקני ישראל

It was on the eighth day, Moshe called to Aharon and his sons and to the elders of Yisrael. (9:1)

Rashi explains that, when Moshe Rabbeinu summoned Aharon, he also asked the zekeinim, elders, to join them. It was important for the zekeinim to hear/see that Al pi haDibur Aharon nichnas u’meshameish b’Kehunah Gedolah, v’lo yomru meieilav nichnas, “In accordance with the statement (dibur) of G-d, Aharon enters and officiates in the office of Kehunah Gedolah, and they should not say he enters the office of Kehunah Gedolah on his own.” Apparently, Moshe Rabbeinu was concerned that the people would criticize the appointment of Aharon HaKohen as Kohen Gadol. Thus, he underscored that it was al pi haDibur, by Hashem’s…

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להבדיל בין הטמא ובין הטהור ובין החיה הנאכלת ובין החיה אשר לא תאכל

To distinguish between the contaminated and the pure, and between the creature that may be eaten and the creature that may not be eaten. (11:47)

A Jew must know the Torah and its laws; otherwise, he is challenged to keep them. In order to carry out the will of Hashem, we must know what is His will and how to execute it properly. In most cases the distinction between “clean” and “unclean,” “pure” and “not pure,” what may be eaten and what may not be eaten, is evident and does not require a degree in higher Torah knowledge. It is, however, vital that we know how to distinguish between those categories that are similar to one another. For example, the slaughtering of an animal or…

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ולא תטמאו בהם ונטמתם בם

Do not contaminate yourselves through them lest you become contaminated through them. (11:43)

Noticeably, the aleph of v’nitamtem /v’nitmeisem is missing. We translate v’nitmeisem as, “and you have become contaminated through them.” In contrast, we read v’nitamtem as “and you become dulled by them.” Consuming forbidden foods will cause the mind to become dense (with regard to learning Torah, which he will have difficulty grasping) and ultimately blunt his spirituality. The following story is frightening and gives us all something to ponder. A devout family was blessed that all of their sons were accomplished talmidei chachamim, Torah scholars, except for their youngest child, who could not comprehend the simplest, most basic line of…

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