17/18 Apr: Shemini :Shabbat comes in 7:46 pm, ends 8:53 pm
Parashat Shemini – On the Eighth Day…
I sometimes like to – entirely jokingly – call myself Musaf’s only fan. It’s not true, because plenty of people like Musaf, but I think it’s fair to suggest that it is a rare breed who consider Musaf their favourite service. I, however, adore Musaf.
My love for Musaf comes from the same place in me that hugely enjoys the second day of festivals. Outside of Israel, Jewish tradition has been to double festival days (hence our two Seder nights in ḥutz la’aretz – ‘outside of the Land’ – and the single Seder night in Israel). Some rabbis, including rabbis in the Conservative Movement of the USA, argue that the second day of the festival should not be considered obligatory anymore. Though my disagreement with them is rooted in halakhah (Jewish law), it is also impacted by the same part of me that loves Musaf.
I think that it is beautiful that sometimes we finish an obligation, and we decide to do it all over again. We finished Shacḥarit (the morning prayers), and then we say ‘well, it’s a special day, so why not do the Amidah all over again?’. We finish a festival day, but we don’t just let go of it and move back into the world – we decide to stick around and celebrate some more. It’s an idea that is especially evident in Sukkot, which the Torah tells us is a seven-day festival, and then informs us of our obligations for the eighth day of that seven-day festival.
Parashat Shemini is also about an eighth day. We are in a section of Torah dealing with the sanctification of the mishkan (the tabernacle – the moving Temple of the Wilderness). For seven days, Aaron and his sons have been engaging in ritual observances in order to inaugurate themselves to the priesthood. Our Torah portion opens up with what happens on the eighth day, which includes more sacrificial services, as they move from their inauguration into the active position of priesthood.
I’ve been contemplating this eighth day, and my love of Musaf, as the days blend together in this strange period of time. For many of us, it’s not as easy to feel joy during Shabbat and festivals when we’re unable to congregate. My love of Musaf and the doubling of festival days is harder to access in this situation. But the tradition remains here, providing structure for us, reminding us that days are not all the same. And when we are able to be together again – soon, please God – Musaf will feel all the sweeter.
So in terms of a punishment for the people of Noah’s time, the flood and the destruction of all living things does seem a bit extreme. One of my rabbis, Rabbi Brad Artson argues, that is exactly the point the Torah is trying to make.
Destruction, even when it comes from the God who is “slow to anger and abounding in kindness” bursts beyond any manageable or fair limitations. Even punishments, originally intended to be measured and reasonable, provoke unanticipated suffering and hardship.
Rabbi Paul Arberman.
Abraham Joshua Heschel believed that Adam’s sin was primarily in hiding from God and from himself. This is not, in Heschel’s eyes, an abstract idea; we all hide from God and from ourselves. Heschel expresses it thus in the third verse of his poem I and Thou:
” Often I glimpse Myself in everyone’s form,
hear My own speech – a distant, quiet voice – in people’s weeping,
as if under millions of masks My face would lie hidden. ”
Heschel is describing a personal experience in which he has hidden from himelf, his essence absorbed within society. His face is masked, hidden from view, making the idea to “know thyself” impossible.
I’m not sure why we hide from ourselves so well when we are young — or perhaps we just don’t take the time to think through who we are — but I can say definitively, that one of the great joys of getting older is the unmasking — getting to know yourself — what you actually enjoy or don’t enjoy doing.
Written by Rabbi Paul Arberman