Shmini 5768

June 23, 2009

5 min read


Shmini (Leviticus 9-11 )

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GOOD MORNING! What do you really want out of life? Is it meaning? Is it love? It is to be good? Is it to be happy? Is it to be in touch with the transcendental? Is it something else?

It is obvious that the answer is important. If you don't know what you are living for, you don't really know what to direct yourself toward. Learning from experience can be painful and unproductive. You can invest years and money in seeking one goal, and find out it's not what you want. By then, it's not always easy or possible to seek something else.

Our rabbis said in the Talmud that human beings were created to take pleasure. The purpose of the Torah with its ethics and study, laws and observances, is to give us pleasure.

At first glance, this seems difficult to understand. Some laws and observance, ethics and study, may be necessary to live, but we don't think of them as pleasure. Pleasure means - getting out and having a good time, relaxing, sex, good food, watching the football game on TV...

However, if we examine more deeply, we see that there are many forms of pleasure. Relaxing at a movie is nice - but would you spend your whole life doing it? A good time is fun for a while - but it doesn't satisfy, and we start seeking lasting pleasure. All lasting pleasure is connected with what we would call "spiritual pleasures."

We strive for a career - not because of money alone, but because we think it's "meaningful" - it's "a challenge," through it we can "help people," we can "gain a respected position in society," it will make us "happy."

We seek a relationship - not because of sex, or even companionship, but a search for "love." We look for friends - not because of what they can do for us, but because of the pleasure we get from being with other human beings.

We travel to experience nature - not because of the physical pleasure of a walk in the woods, but because of the "beauty" of it. We help others - not because of what we can get from it but because it's "good" to do so.

Physical pleasures are all short-term. Today, you can't remember what yesterday's food tasted like. Spiritual pleasures are permanent - you can still remember what it felt like to love someone you knew years ago. Physical pleasures are momentary experiences that are superficial to our lives; spiritual pleasures are what we direct our life toward. Yet, if we're not aware of this distinction, we may spend a good part of our lives seeking the physical pleasures that are less important to us, and neglecting the spiritual pleasures that we really look for.

So, even for someone who doesn't believe in God, there is a fundamental principle about life to be learned: what we want out of life is to seek the most real spiritual pleasures, the ones that pay off for us much more than the pleasures we often spend time involved in, that have little or no lasting effect on us.

The Rabbis of the Talmud tell us that if we examine pleasure, we will find that the ultimate pleasure we are searching for is love of God, being in touch with an entity that transcends this world. However, the first step which you can take without believing in God, is to start clarifying for yourself: where do you get the most pleasure? (from "Choose Life - an Introduction to the Torah, the Jewish Guide to Living" by Rabbi Chaim Willis)

For more on "The Purpose of Life" go to!

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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 certain species of locusts. The portion concludes with the laws of spiritual defilement from contact with the carcasses of certain animals.

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Dvar Torah
based on Love Your Neighbor by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin

The Torah states:

"And these you shall consider an abomination amongst the birds, they shall not be eaten; they are detestable .. and the stork" (Leviticus 11:13,19)

The Talmud (Chulin 63a) states that the Hebrew name for the white stork is chasida, because it acts with kindness, chesed, towards its friends.

The Ramban, Moshe Nachmanides, a great Torah scholar, writes that the birds enumerated in this portion are forbidden for consumption because of their cruelty. Why, then, should the stork be considered "detestable" and an "abomination"? It should be permissible since it does kindness!

The Chidushai Ha-Rim answers: The stork does favors only for its friends. Since it doesn't do chesed for strangers, it is considered not kosher. Chesed, kindness, must be done for everyone, not only one's friends!

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Most people would sooner die than think;
in fact, they do so.
-- Bertrand Russell

Mazal Tov to
Avraham & Esther Packouz
on the birth of their daughter
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