Shmini 5763

June 23, 2009

7 min read


Shmini (Leviticus 9-11 )

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GOOD MORNING!  A father was at the beach with his children when his four-year-old son ran up to him, grabbed his hand, and led him to the shore, where a seagull lay dead in the sand. "Daddy, what happened to him?" the son asked. "He died and went to Heaven," the dad replied. The boy thought a moment and then said, "Did God throw him back down?"

And do you think it is going to be any easier answering your child's question about Pesach? Thirty days before each holiday we are directed by the Sages to prepare for the holiday. We are now less than 30 days and closing on Passover! The Seders are Wednesday night, April 16th and Thursday night, April 17th - about three weeks away. What would make this Pesach different than all other Pesachs? Perhaps all other Pesachs have been "Maxwell House Haggadahs and let's hurry up and eat." How can we make this one more meaningful?

Like everything in life first must come a decision, then a plan and finally the discipline of sticking to the plan. The more you prepare and understand, the more you will benefit from the Seder and be able to help others grow from the experience.

First, go to your Jewish bookstore to browse for Haggadahs, tapes, even videos. Buy a copy of The Passover Survival Kit by Rabbi Shimon Apisdorf. Also, get one or more Haggadahs. Picking a Haggadah is a personal thing. There are many commentaries and orientations that you'll find something to fascinate you. There is a Sephardic Haggadah, A Family Haggadah, A Children's Haggadah (with beautiful pictures to keep them interested!), Haggadahs with commentaries of great Sages like the Vilna Gaon or the Abarbanel. My personal favorites are the Artscroll Haggadah by Rabbi Joseph Elias which has a lucid and concise commentary and the Lehmann Haggadah which has greater depth and development of themes (available from your local Jewish book store or by calling toll-free 877-758-3242). Check out and

You can go online to for a wealth of information
on Passover. There are many other great websites to explore, too.

Make it a family affair. Ask each of the people coming to your Seder to take a section and to study the commentary on those pages. It will empower the participants and transform them from spectators to participants in the Seder!

There are cassette tapes to help you with the Seder and the songs. Turn drive time into preparation for the Seder time! Here are some Aish tapes that you can get either online at or by calling toll-free 800-Voices3 (864-2373) by Rabbi Yitzchak Berkowitz: Passover: The Birth of a Nation (BY520A-B) and How To Run a Traditional Seder (BY524B) or Rabbi Ari Kahn: Pesach Hagaddah: Why Egypt? (KI520E) Pesach Hagaddah: Tasting the Redemption (KI520A), Pesach Seder: The Wicked Son (KI520B), Pesach Hagaddah: Its Structure (KI520D). Ask for topics that interest you.

Set a time each day to learn and to prepare for the Seder. Before you know it will be upon you. If you don't start now, soon it will be too late to put in the necessary time to prepare. The more you invest in understanding the Hagaddah, the Exodus from Egypt, and the concept of Freedom, the greater your dividends and the dividends for your family.

A parent only owes his child three things - example, example, example. Which example do you wish to imprint upon your child's soul? The parent who loves Pesach and is involved with every aspect of his being in preparing for the Seder - or the parent who exudes "I don't know what this means, I don't understand it, I'm embarrassed and feel inadequate - so let's hurry up and eat!"

The story is told of a young boy who heard about a "miracle rabbi" who could see to the depths of a person's soul and could perform wonders. Deciding to expose the rabbi as a fraud, the boy devises a plan - he will hold a bird in his hands behind his back and ask the rabbi what he has. If the rabbi happens to guess correctly that he has a bird, then the boy will ask "Is it alive or dead?" If the rabbi says "Alive," he will kill the bird and drop it to the ground in front of him; if the rabbi says "Dead," he will hold up his hands and let the bird fly away.

Brought before the rabbi, the boy asks, "What do I have in my hands?"

"A bird" says the rabbi.

The boy then asks, "Is the bird dead or alive?"

The rabbi looks the boy straight in the eye and is quiet for several seconds. Then the rabbi says, "That depends upon you. The decision is in your hands."

What kind of Seder will you have this year? That depends upon you. The decision is in your hands!

Torah Portion of the Week

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 insects ( 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 Growth Through Torah by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin

Moshe (Moses) thought that his brother, Aharon (Aaron) - the Cohen Gadol (High Priest) had made a mistake regarding an offering and censured him. Aharon explained why his action was proper. The Torah then reports:

"And Moshe heard and it was good in his eyes." (Leviticus 10:20)

What lesson for life can we learn from Moshe's reaction?

Many people, when they find out that they are wrong, become defensive. They are embarrassed by their mistake - and then try to defend themselves or attack the other person on a character basis, rather than dealing with the facts. If we are aware of this tendency, we can check the urge in ourselves and respond more appropriately. The goal of discussions should be clarity and truth, not defending egos.

The commentator, Rabbi Obadia Sforno, elucidates that Moshe felt joy upon hearing the reasoning of Aharon. He had pleasure that Aharon was correct in his decision.

This is a wonderful and high-level response. Moshe so loved wisdom and truth - and his brother Aharon - that he took great pleasure even though he himself was wrong and embarrassed. Our goal is to strive for truth and clarity and to keep our egos in check.


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When two egotists meet,
it's an I for an I.

In Loving Memory of
Esther Rosenfield
Chaya Esther bat Dov Behr v'Elke

by Daniel and Sharon Malumphy

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