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Torah Sparks

SHEMINI
April 6, 2002 - 5762

Prepared by Rabbi David L. Blumenfeld, PhD
Department of Services to Affiliated Congregations

Annual Cycle: Lev. 9:1-11:47 Hertz, p. 443; Etz Hayim, p. 630
Triennial Cycle I: Lev. 9:1-10:11 Hertz, p. 443; Etz Hayim, p. 630
Haftarah: II Samuel 6:1-7:17; Hertz, p. 454; Etz Hayim, p. 643

Torah Portion Summary

(9:1-24) Concluding the narrative of the ordination of Aaron and his sons as kohanim - priests. On the eighth and final day of ceremonies, Moses instructs Aaron and the Israelites in the proper rituals of consecration. Aaron offers a sin- offering for himself, then Aaron and his sons offer a sin-offering on behalf of the people. Moses and Aaron bless the people, and the Kavod (glory) of God descends upon the Tabernacle.

(10:1-7) Nadav and Avihu, Aaron's sons, offer "strange fire" which God had not told them to offer, and they die by fire that comes forth from before God.

(10:8-11) Kohanim are prohibited from drinking alcoholic beverages when they are to serve in the Tabernacle.

(10:12-20) Instructions to the kohanim regarding the various portions of the offerings that they may eat. Moses finds that Aaron and his sons are not eating the portions of the sacrifices that belong to them, and he instructs them to do so.

(11:1-12) The signs of kashrut for land animals, and sea creatures.

(11:13-23) A list of forbidden birds and forbidden and permitted insects.

(11:24-47) A list of animals whose dead carcasses can cause ritual defilement, and the laws regarding ritual impurity and defilement from carcasses of animals and from reptiles. A general warning to guard against defilement and to be concerned about ritual purity.

Theme: The Elderly in Our Disposable Society

"Aaron's sons Nadav and Avihu each took his fire pan, put fire in it, and laid incense on it; and they offered before the Lord alien fire, which He had not enjoined upon them. And fire came forth from the Lord and consumed them..." (10:1-2)

On Valuing Elders

  1. One of the rabbinic explanations for the tragic death of Aaron's sons, Nadav and Avihu, is that they had low regard for their elders (ie. Moses and Aaron). They asked themselves, "When will these old men die? How long must we wait to lead the congregation?" (Midrash, Leviticus Rabbah)
  2. You shall rise before the aged and show deference to the old; you shall fear your God: I am the Lord. (Lev. 19:32)
  3. Rabbi Johanan would stand up even before an aged heathen peasant, saying "What storms of fortune has this old man weathered in his lifetime!" (Talmud, Kiddushin 33a)
  4. Regarding old age Rabbi Nachman Bratzlever declared three things:
    • Old men bring stability to Israel and give good counsel to to the people
    • The prosperity of a country is in accordance with its treatment of the aged.
    • Elderly men who are popular with young women are usually without wisdom (Sefer Ha-Middot, p. 66)
  5. Rabbi Judah said: Be careful to honor an old man who has forgotten his learning (from old age), for both the second Ten Commandment tablets and fragments of the first tablets were placed in the Ark together. (Talmud, Bava Batra 14b)
  6. The Book of Job states, "With the aged is wisdom, and with the length of days, understanding" (Job 12:12). Regarding this a talmudic sage declares that "if the old tell you to pull down and the young tell you to build up, then pull down and do not build up. This is so because the pulling down of the elderly is constructive and the building of the young destructive" (Talmud, Megillah 31b)
  7. You sense that you are old when you know all the answers but nobody asks you questions anymore. (From "Over The Hill" Quotations)

Aging and the elderly have emerged as priority issues in America. There are new concerns which were not being addressed before. In this regard, we might ask ourselves what should we be considering which might benefit the senior population of our congregations?

On Elderly Parents

  1. Among the storks, the old birds stay in the nests when they are unable to fly while the children fly... gathering from every quarter provisions for the needs of their parents. With this example before them, may not human beings, who take no thought for their parents, deservedly hide their faces in shame? (Philo Judaeus [Jewish philosopher, c. 20 B.C.E.- 40 C.E., Alexandria, Egypt] - On the Decalogue, Sects 115-18)
  2. If the mind of his father or his mother is affected, the son should make every effort to indulge the vagaries of the stricken parent until God will have mercy on the afflicted. But if the condition of the parent has grown worse, and the son is no longer able to endure the strain, he may leave his father or mother and go elsewhere, and delegate others to give the parent proper care. (Maimonides [Rabbi Moses ben Maimon, known as RaMBaM (1135-1204). Halachic codifier, philosopher, commentator on Mishnah. Spain and Egypt.], Mishneh Torah, Ch.6, sect. 10)

Do we "owe" our parents, now that they are elderly? If so, what would they probably appreciate most?

On Valuing Your Own Old Age

  1. When Shmuel asked a certain rabbi what he had taught his pupils that day, the rabbi replied: "I explained the verse 'You shall rise before the aged and show deference to the old'". Then Shmuel went to the rabbi's pupils and questioned them as to what they learned that day. "Our rabbi taught us how to live," they replied. Shmuel was puzzled so he returned to the rabbi and asked: "You tell me one thing and your students are telling me another. Whom shall I believe?" "The verse we studied," explained the rabbi, "teaches us that we are to revere our elders but we should also respect our own old age. If we live in a manner that when we reach old age, we can truly respect ourselves and have earned the respect of others then Ashray yaldutenu shelo bishah et ziknatenu. "Happy is our youth which has not brought shame to our old age' " (S.Z. Kahana, Heaven on Your Head, p. 131)
  2. According to all standards we employ (in our society)... the aged person is condemned as inferior... May I suggest that man's potential for change and growth is much greater than we are willing to admit, and that old age be regarded not as the age of stagnation but as the age of opportunities for inner growth. (A.J. Heschel, "To Grow in Wisdom", Judaism, Spring 1977)
  3. Freed from the cares and responsibilities that have weighed down upon us through the years, only now can we dedicate ourselves wholeheartedly to goals beyond ourselves, and make some contribution to an ideal which we believe. We live in a world replete with problems. Instead of sitting and wringing our hands, lamenting the good old days and castigating the new, we can resolve to choose one tiny corner of the world and help set it aright. (R. Gordis, Leave A Little To God, p.246)

When thinking about retirement, what do you see yourself doing on a daily basis? Does it include something which lends special worth to your later life?


 
 
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