This Week’s Torah Portion – Parashat Shemini (Leviticus 9:1-11:47)

I discuss the weekly Torah portion with Rabbi Rabbs Mondays at 7:00 pm PDT on my cam and on YouTube. Facebook Fan Page.

This week we study Parashat Shemini (Leviticus 9:1-11:47).

* Should a Jew study Torah primarily because God commands it or because he enjoys it? For what reason do you study Torah? Do you see a difference between those who study out of obligation vs. those who study out of desire? Those who do it out of divine command, they tend to have no intellectual curiosity.

* Do you do good deeds and abstain from evil deeds primarily because God commands it or for some other reason?

Rabbi Berel Wein writes: “The events described in this week parsha occur on the eighth day – after the seven day dedication period of the Mishkan and the installation of the kohanim/priests that would serve in that sanctuary. And this eighth day turns into a day of challenge and eventually sad tragedy. By emphasizing that all of this occurred on the eighth day, the Torah teaches us a vital lesson in life.

“The seven days of dedication are days of exhilaration and accomplishment. But such feelings and emotions cannot usually be maintained indefinitely. In life there always is the day after, the eighth day, which is one of challenge, struggle and even of pain. This day, though, can define and determine one’s life and future.”

I had something similar happen to me. After many hours spent at shul one yom tov, I bailed, only to learn afterward that a bunch of attractive young single women had shown up.

I tend to pick and choose in my Judaism and I miss out on a lot because of my tendency to bail and go walking on my own. I have a hard time being in a crowded room for longer than a couple of hours unless I’m strongly connected. I have the personality of an observer rather than that of a participant.

* Rabbi Berel Wein writes: “One of my revered teachers in the yeshiva put it to us starry eyed teenagers quite succinctly, if not somewhat ironically, many decades ago. He said: “Life is like chewing gum – a little flavor and the rest is simply chew, chew, chew.” And so it is.”

It was that kind of instruction in my teens that sent me fleeing from religion, looking for something more exciting like hotties.

Other people get into Hasidic Judaism, which is more exciting than run of the mill Orthodox Judaism. Most people want frequent experiences of ecstasy. Where are you going to get that in Judaism outside of Hasidic Judaism?

I need regular injections of ecstasy. I get them from watching movies, good TV, football, and listening to music.

* Rabbi Wein writes: “And perhaps that is what the rabbis meant when they indicated that the two sons of Aharon who were killed in the Mishkan died because they were inebriated from wine. They were still in the seven days of celebration mode which had ended and not in the eighth day mode which now descended upon them. Such errors in life can be fatal and often disastrous.”

* Rabbi Wein writes: “Judaism is not a “you’re okay, I’m okay” religion of relativism and constantly changing standards of behavior and belief. It not only stands for something – it defines clearly, in minute detail, what it is that it stands for.”

You can’t stand for anything unless you’re willing to be unpopular. On the other hand, if you needlessly choose unpopularity, you’re doing something wrong. If all I know about somebody is that he is popular, I figure he will be a pleasant companion. If I hear somebody is unpopular, he’ll probably be unpleasant company.

* Orthodox Jews frequently have a reputation for not being nice. One reason is that we are so busy with the commandments. We don’t have a lot of time for niceties. We have standards about what is permitted and forbidden and making these distinctions is our pre-eminent concern. It’s more important than being nice or convivial.

* Rabbi Wein writes: “It is obvious from reading and studying this week’s parsha that the Torah intended not only that we eat kosher food but that we become kosher people. Kosher speech, kosher behavior, kosher money, kosher dealings with others are all in the purview of being able to differentiate between what is to be eaten and is not to be eaten. Being careful in using products with proper kosher certification – a field of one-upmanship that has reached spectacular heights in our day and society – is commendable. But it is not the goal itself, it is only meant to be a means towards becoming a kosher person – one who is sensitive towards others and can differentiate between the petty and the solid, between the eternal and the transitory. Shmini cries out to us to sharpen our abilities to differentiate and aim towards becoming a holy people.”

* Why do you think most Jews are not Orthodox?

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been covered in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and on 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
This entry was posted in Torah. Bookmark the permalink.