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Shemini 5775

Shmini (Leviticus 9-11 )

by Kalman Packouz

GOOD MORNING! In a recent email I answered a "yes or no" question about Judaism -- and the person lashed out with a non sequitur that, "for 4000 years people have been savagely slaughtering and killing each other over religion."

There are only 4 problems with his response:

  1. It was irrelevant to the topic we were discussing. It was from "left field" and was purely as an emotional attack.
  2. Those doing the slaughtering in the last 2,000 years were from other religions, not his own (Jewish) religion
  3. The Jews, more often than not, were the victims of those slaughters
  4. The 3 greatest mass murderers in history were Hitler (17 million), Stalin (23 million) and Mao (78 million ) who all killed in the name of other secular "isms" (National Socialism, Communism) -- and not in the name of religion.

So, other than those 4 points, my correspondent made a cogent point -- he's upset and angry at his own religion (and at me, too).

Why are people angry at religion? Firstly, no one likes to be told what they may or may not do. Religions by and large set up standards of behavior for individuals. The "Do's" and "Don'ts" often get in the way of our desires -- what we eat, what we do, who we do it with, where we go, how we spend our time. It's understandable that people don't want restrictions over their desires.

The Talmud tells us that the only reason that people engaged in idol worship was for the sake of having illicit relationships (in those days, it was going beyond the pale to conclude that there was no god, no Creator -- and therefore, no Divine rules for behavior). They set up their religion and rules so that people could follow their desires with a communal stamp of approval.

(A few years ago there was a fellow named Bob who set up his own religion with the one rule: Do what you want to do. He named it after himself "Bobism." He was once asked, "Why did you name it after yourself?" He responded, "I wanted to name it after my wife, Judy, but the name was already taken.")

Secondly, he is angry at religion because we too often see people pervert religion for their own interests while purporting to be righteous. Those people are hypocrites and desecrate the name of the Almighty and (if Jewish) His Torah. Our actions reflect not only upon our parents and our teachers, but upon our Father Who gave us the Torah as instructions for leading a moral, honest and truly spiritual life. The Torah clearly tells us that those who desecrate the name of the Almighty have no portion in the World to Come (Sanhedrin 10th chapter).

Religion is meant to provide a means to happiness and perfection -- and to answer essential questions regarding creation and the Creator -- how we should relate to the Creator, understand the purpose of life, how we are supposed to live our lives and whether there is something after this life. A religion is supposed to make the world a better place both for the individual and humanity -- to both guide a person and give meaning to his existence.

For example, the Torah teaches us, "What does the Almighty require of us? To do justice, love kindness and to walk humbly with your God" (Micah 6:8). Pirke Avos (Ethics of the Fathers) tells us, "What is the proper path for a person? Do that which reflects well on him and brings respect from his fellow human beings" (2:1).

According to Google, there are 4,200 religions in the world. If the religion claims to be based on a revelation from God, then it is rejecting 4,199 other claims of revelation. This, then, can make it difficult for a person seeking to find the true revelation. Most people follow in the footsteps of their forefathers -- or throw up their hands in despair of parsing through the claims of various religions. Some make an emotional leap to a religion that fulfills their needs. Others opt for atheism or agnosticism.

All will agree, however, that if there is a God and He did set up a system of rules for His creation, that it is in our best interests to know what they are and follow them. How do we know if any claim of Divine Revelation is compelling? Stay tuned until next week!


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Torah Portion of the week

Shemini, Leviticus 9:1 - 11:47

Concluding the 7 days of inauguration for the Mishkan (Portable Sanctuary), Aaron, the High Priest, brings sacrifices for himself and the entire nation. Nadav and Avihu, sons of Aaron, bring an incense offering on their own initiative, and are consumed by a heavenly fire (perhaps the only time when someone did something wrong and was immediately hit by "lightning").

The Cohanim are commanded not to serve while intoxicated. The inaugural service is completed. God then specifies the species which are kosher to eat: mammals (those that have cloven hoofs and chew their cud), fish (those with fins and scales), birds (certain non-predators), and certain species of locusts. The portion concludes with the laws of spiritual defilement from contact with the carcasses of certain animals.

* * *

Dvar Torah
based on Twerski on Chumash by Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski, M.D.

Moses saw Elazar and Ithamar, Aaron's remaining two sons, offer a sacrifice. He became angry as he thought that they acted improperly. However, they were correct in their actions. Aaron intervened and humbly asked a question to clarify the matter. Moses then realized that he himself had made a mistake.

The Torah tells us, "Moses heard (the point that Aaron was making with his question) and he approved" (Lev. 10:20). The Midrash tells us that Moses said, "You are right. I forgot what I had heard from God."

Rabbi Chaim Shmulevitz points out that Moses was confronted with an awesome decision. Moses was the sole conduit of the word of God, and there was no way to verify his instructions. If he were to admit that he had forgotten and had erred in conveying God's words, how would that impact on the authenticity of the entire Torah? Might people not say, "If Moses could have erred in one thing, perhaps he erred in others as well"?

Admitting that he had erred in this one instruction would place the validity of the entire Torah in jeopardy throughout eternity. Was this not adequate reason for Moses to stand his ground and say, "Do as I said. That is God's wish!"?

However, Moses knew that truth should never be compromised. He was obligated to speak the truth. Whatever consequences might flow from that was not his responsibility. Speaking falsehood cannot be justified. His responsibility was to adhere to the truth. The authenticity of Torah throughout eternity was God's responsibility, not his (Sichos Mussar 5731:1).

The truth of Torah is evidenced by Moses' refusal to deviate from truth, regardless of the consequences. We should follow his example.

* * *


Candle Lighting Times

April 17
(or go to

Jerusalem 7:24
Guatemala 5:58 - Hong Kong 6:25 - Honolulu 6:33
J'Burg 5:31 - London 7:42 - Los Angeles 7:08
Melbourne 5:34 - Mexico City 7:36 - Miami 7:27
New York 7:19 - Singapore 6:51 - Toronto 7:46

Quote of the Week

No God, no peace. Know God, know peace



In Loving Memory of
Our Father

Herbert Schnider (Chaim ben Yosef)

on the anniversary of his yahrtzeit
25 Nissan 5764

* * *

In Honor of Our Mother

Muriel Schnider

Dr. Stuart & Elizabeth Schnider
Robin Polansky, Marissa and Meredith Schnider


With Sincere Thanks to

Harvey Greenberg

Warner, NH



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