Unless otherwise noted, "This week's Parsha" comprises articles taken from contributors to the Chabad.org website. We show the original author's name here, so that proper attribution is given. For the sake of brevity, footnotes cited in the original author's writings are omitted from this website. If you need to see the citations, please refer to the original articles on the Chabad.org website.
A Lifetime of Forward Steps
Our Parshah exhorts us to "be holy" and the reason given is "for I (G-d) am holy." The Midrash adds that though we are encouraged to reach for G-d's holiness, it will always remain beyond us.
What did the Midrash seek to accomplish by this statement? Try to reach Me but know that you really will. What a disheartening thought!
Learning to Walk
In teaching his child to walk, a father will place the child on the floor and stand a little distance away. He will then reach to the child, encourage him to take his first step and thus reach his father. Encouraged by the thought, the child happily takes the step. Seeing this, the father now takes two steps back, hoping the child will follow suit.
A mature child may stop and wonder: why would his father foster an allusion of nearness only to later retreat? Why does he ask me to take a step forward only to become elusive once again? The father is looking to teach his son the true objective of life: it is not important to reach your father, it is important to walk on your own. This simple yet incredible piece of information will enable the child to take a lifetime of forward steps.
Our father in heaven interacts in the same way. he places us under the illusion that we can indeed reach him. However, the more we learn, the more we discover how humble and insignificant we truly are. The more we know, the more we learn how much we truly don't know. We may wonder in exasperation: why he would appear to be so close only to hide himself once again.
The wise Jew remembers that the goal is not to reach Him but to learn to take forward steps. Indeed a lifetime of forward steps.
Birth and Bar Mitzvah
"And G-d spoke to Moses saying: Speak to the children of Israel, saying: If a woman becomes pregnant and gives birth to a boy..." (Leviticus 12:2).
Several verses earlier, at the close of the previous Torah reading (Shemini) the Torah exhorts, "And you shall sanctify yourselves and you shall be holy" (ibid. 11:44). One of the Torah commentators explains that the juxtaposition of these two verses suggests that a husband and wife must sanctify themselves prior to conception, for their preparation may have a lasting effect upon the nature of the child to be born. This effect continues throughout the child's life. The parents' conduct is a major factor in molding the character of the child for the good -- or for the bad.
Dwarves on Giants' Shoulders
This week's Parshah, Shemini, describes events of the eighth day following the seven days of inauguration of the Tabernacle. It was also a day, our sages tell us, which possessed many "firsts": it was a Sunday, the first day of the week; it was the 1st of the month of Nissan, marking the beginning of a new year, it was the first day that the Divine Presence came to dwell in the Sanctuary, the first day of the Priesthood, the first day of the service in the Sanctuary, and so on. With so many "firsts" why does the Torah refer to it –- and by extension, to the entire Parshah –- as "the eighth day"?
The answer is that the number "eight" defines certain qualities. Seven is the order of nature –- represented in the seven days of the week; eight is "higher than nature." On the other hand, the Torah is connecting this day to the seven days that preceded it –- it is not just a day in its own right, but the "eighth day" following a cycle of seven. This teaches us that an event or concept does not just exist in its own right, but has a link to the preceding events.