On the Weekly Torah Portion of Shemini

Maimonides

The Torah portion for last week was shemini (Leviticus 9 – 11). For various constraints, I was not able to submit the commentary on the portion before Shabbat, which is what I attempt to do normally; but the commentary on this week’s portion, tazria (Leviticus 12 – 13), will in fact pertain to both portions, as it will concern itself with the symbolism of the number eight (shemini means “eighth”).

However, in the spirit of the Talmudic statement:

לפוטרו בלא כלום אי אפשר
One cannot get away with nothing (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Chullin, 27b)

I hereby offer a short comment regarding last week’s reading. not, however, with regards to the weekly reading of the Torah, but rather the reading of the haftarah*.

Because of the peculiarity of the Jewish calendar, and this year being a leap year, the haftarah reading for last week was from Ezekiel 36:18-38, which contains an inspiring description of transformation:

וְלָקַחְתִּי אֶתְכֶם מִן-הַגּוֹיִם, וְקִבַּצְתִּי אֶתְכֶם מִכָּל-הָאֲרָצוֹת; וְהֵבֵאתִי אֶתְכֶם, אֶל-אַדְמַתְכֶם. וְזָרַקְתִּי עֲלֵיכֶם מַיִם טְהוֹרִים, וּטְהַרְתֶּם:  מִכֹּל טֻמְאוֹתֵיכֶם וּמִכָּל-גִּלּוּלֵיכֶם, אֲטַהֵר אֶתְכֶם. וְנָתַתִּי לָכֶם לֵב חָדָשׁ, וְרוּחַ חֲדָשָׁה אֶתֵּן בְּקִרְבְּכֶם; וַהֲסִרֹתִי אֶת-לֵב הָאֶבֶן, מִבְּשַׂרְכֶם, וְנָתַתִּי לָכֶם, לֵב בָּשָׂר. וְאֶת-רוּחִי, אֶתֵּן בְּקִרְבְּכֶם; וְעָשִׂיתִי, אֵת אֲשֶׁר-בְּחֻקַּי תֵּלֵכוּ, וּמִשְׁפָּטַי תִּשְׁמְרוּ, וַעֲשִׂיתֶם. וִישַׁבְתֶּם בָּאָרֶץ, אֲשֶׁר נָתַתִּי לַאֲבֹתֵיכֶם; וִהְיִיתֶם לִי, לְעָם, וְאָנֹכִי, אֶהְיֶה לָכֶם לֵאלֹהִים.
I will take you from among and nations and gather you from all the countries, and I will bring you back to your own land. I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean: I will cleanse you from all your uncleanness and from all your fetishes. And I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit into you: I will remove the heart of stone from your body and give you a heart of flesh; and I will put My spirit into you. Thus I will cause you to follow My laws and faithfully to observe My rules. Then you shall dwell in the land which I gave to your fathers, and you shall be My people and I will be your God. (Ezekiel 36:24-28)

The great Maimonides taught, that the visions of the prophets are not relating to events that occur in the objective physical world but rather in the consciousness of the prophet (I tend to read most, if not all, the Jewish Bible in this manner, not just the Prophets). It is interesting to read Ezekiel’s words in this light, not as referring to historical events in the future, but as a description of the transformation of one’s psyche when one gets in touch with Being, either through meditation, through prayer or through Grace.

Ezekiel, using the expressing “you shall be my people and I will be your God” which was used by other prophets, basically asserts that this relationship of “God’s people” is not a function of DNA, but rather a result of an inner transformation, of purification, and profound humanity.

———–

* The recitation of scripture at the synagogue on Shabbat morning includes not only a parashah, a weekly Torah portion, but also a haftarah, a portion from the prophets section of the Hebrew Bible, generally one which has some thematic resemblance to that of the parashah.

Copyright © 2014 Igal Harmelin-Moria
(Copyright does not pertain to illustrations)