D’VAR TORAH BY: RICHARD N. LEVY
The second half of Sh’mini, as the Reform Movement has divided it (see commentary on last week’s portion for a discussion of this division), begins with a discussion of the offerings that Aaron and his remaining two sons are to eat—including the goat for a sin-offering. When Moses hears that the goat already has been burned on the altar rather than eaten by Aaron and his sons within the holy space of the Mishkan, Moses becomes angry. And Aaron, who had remained silent after Nadab and Abihu were consumed with fire, shows his anger to Moses: “they brought their sin offering-and these things happened to me!” (Leviticus 10:19). This and the next sentence (“Had I eaten the sin offering, would that have been good in the eyes of God?”) suggest that Aaron is frustrated that he had done all the proper things, and his sons were killed anyway (Leviticus 10:20). Moses certainly seems insensitive to his brother’s pain here, but he once again makes clear that he sees his primary responsibility as making sure the people obey God, no matter what else is happening in their lives. In Exodus 34:5ff. God grants Moses a glimpse of God’s announcing the Holy One’s Thirteen Attributes of Mercy, which Moses was to use to remind God when the Holy One lapsed into anger. Perhaps God needs to return the favor here and remind Moses!
As part of their consecration ritual, described in Parashah Tzav and in last week’s portion of Sh’mini,Aaron and his sons partake of bread and meat at the door of the Tent of Meeting as they sit for seven days absorbing the holiness (kedushah in Hebrew) of the food and of the precincts of the Tabernacle. What follows now in Leviticus 11 can be understood as a way to consecrate the people by outlining the kinds of foods that they are to eat, which, like those consumed by Aaron and his sons, will imbue them with holiness as well. The connection is underscored by the indication that one of the priestly offerings, the sh’lamim, the “whole offering,” may also be eaten by the lay offerer as part of a regular meal, which elevates the act of eating into a holy act akin to bringing an offering (see Leviticus 7:16ff). Jews may not eat anything that cannot be offered to God.