Shemini starts on the eighth day of the priestly ordination of Aaron and his sons Nadav and Avihu, described in the last parasha – Tzav. Moses tells them to offer up more sacrifices as part of the culmination of the hole priestly initiation rite. They then are able to leave the Tent of Meeting, where they continue the offerings.

During these rituals, Nadav and Avihu offer up to God what the torah calls “alien fire”. This was not according to God’s commandments. The result was the immediate death of both of Aaron’s sons, who were consumed by fire sent by God. The text points out that Aaron was silent when this happened.

Moses explains to Aaron, saying that these deaths were a result of Nadav and Avihu disobeying God’s commands. The lesson was that the priests must only do what God commands. Moses commands Aaron’s nephews to dispose of the bodies, and tells Aaron and his relatives not to mourn the loss of the two. In addition, through Moses, God commands that the priests must not drink wine or other intoxicating drink when they perform their duties as priests. God explains that they need to be able to tell the difference between sacred and the profane (the holy and the everyday).

Moses asks Aaron about a specific ritual surrounding eating the remains of a sacrifice. Moses gets angry at Aaron (and his remaining sons) for not fulfilling their obligation regarding this offering. Aaron responds by saying that because of the events of the day, it would have been inappropriate for them to have eaten this food. Moses agrees.

God now tells Moses and Aaron about the foods that the Children of Israel are allowed to eat. These are the laws of kashrut – of keeping kosher. They include:

  • Mammals that have split hooves and chew their cuds;
  • Any fish that have both scales and finds;
  • A list of forbidden birds is given, which include eagles, hawks, vultures, owls as well as other birds;
  • Four legged insect are forbidden, unless they can jump, like grasshoppers, locusts and crickets.
  • Lizards are also forbidden.

The portion continues with rules about ritual purity and how animal carcasses are to be treated.

Torah portion in English

1)On the eighth day Moses called Aaron and his sons, and the elders of Israel. 2)He said to Aaron: “Take a calf of the herd for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering, without blemish, and bring them before the Lord. 3)And speak to the Israelites, saying: Take a he-goat for a sin offering; a calf and a lamb, yearlings without blemish, for a burnt offering; 4)and an ox and a ram for an offering of well-being to sacrifice before the Lord; and a meal offering with oil mixed in. For today the Lord will appear to you.”

5)They brought to the front of the Tent of Meeting the things that Moses had commanded, and the whole community came forward and stood before the Lord. 6)Moses said: “This is what the Lord has commanded that you do, that the Presence of the Lord may appear to you.” 7)Then Moses said to Aaron: “Come forward to the altar and sacrifice your sin offering and your burnt offering, making expiation for yourself and for the people; and sacrifice the people’s offering and make expiation for them, as the Lord has commanded.”

8)Aaron came forward to the altar and slaughtered his calf of sin offering. 9)Aaron’s sons brought the blood to him; he dipped his finger in the blood and put it on the horns of the altar; and he poured out the rest of the blood at the base of the altar. 10)The fat, the kidneys, and the protuberance of the liver from the sin offering he turned into smoke on the altar—as the Lord had commanded Moses; 11)and the flesh and the skin were consumed in fire outside the camp. 12)Then he slaughtered the burnt offering. Aaron’s sons passed the blood to him, and he dashed it against all sides of the altar. 13)They passed the burnt offering to him in sections, as well as the head, and he turned it into smoke on the altar. 14)He washed the entrails and the legs, and turned them into smoke on the altar with the burnt offering.

15)Next he brought forward the people’s offering. He took the goat for the people’s sin offering, and slaughtered it, and presented it as a sin offering like the previous one. 16)He brought forward the burnt offering and sacrificed it according to regulation.

Getting to Know my Parasha

What Does my Parasha Say?

  1. What were the different offerings called?
  2. What did the priest do with the blood of the offering?
  3. What happened to Aaron’s sons? What do you think “Alien Fire” is?
  4. What was Aaron’s reaction to this event?
  5. What explanation was given to Aaron?
  6. Why did Moses get angry at Aaron and his other sons?
  7. What was Aaron’s explanation to Moses?
  8. What types of fish are not kosher?
  9. Give an example of a mammal that is not kosher. Why?
  10. What types of birds are forbidden?
  11. What bugs are we allowed to eat?