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The Importance of Preparation

Shmini (Leviticus 9-11 )

by Rabbi Yehonasan Gefen

At the end of the previous Torah Portion of Tzav, Aaron and his sons were commanded to remain at the Tent of Meeting for seven full days, while Moshe Rabbeinu performed the inauguration service. In this period, each day Moshe would erect the Tabernacle, perform the service himself, and then disassemble the Tabernacle again. During this seven-day period, the Shechinah did not dwell at all in the Tabernacle, and so Moshe’s actions were in essence a kind of dress rehearsal for the actual functioning of the Tabernacle. This week’s Portion of Shemini begins with the day when the Shechinah would descend and describes it as the “eighth day”, implying that it is a continuation of the previous seven days.

Rabbi Dovid Feinstein notes that it is somewhat peculiar that the Torah refers to this occasion as the “eighth” day. The first seven days were merely a dry-run rehearsal. Every day, Moshe put up the Tabernacle and then took it down, and the Divine Presence did not rest within it. Accordingly, it would seem that this was really the “first” day of the beginning of the functioning of the Tabernacle, and the previous seven-day period was a separate entity to itself. Yet the Torah emphasizes the previous seven days nonetheless, even calling the whole Portion “Shmini”, meaning ‘eighth’. What message is the Torah giving us?

Rabbi Feinstein suggests that the Torah is teaching us a very important lesson: In the spiritual realm, matters, preparation for a spiritual undertaking, is almost as important as the actual undertaking itself. Had the Torah had called this “Day One” instead of “Day Eight”, it would have been sending the message that all the preparation was merely practice and it was not intrinsically connected to the actual beginning. The Torah comes to teach us that preparation is vital for spiritual matters. Preparations place the mitzvah in its proper perspective and enable the person to perform the Mitzva on the optimum fashion. Without this preparation, the performance of the Mitzva is severely lacking. Therefore, the Torah emphasizes that this day is a direct continuation of the previous seven, not a separate unit of time. One of the main aspects of the importance of the preparation is that it helps put the person into a mindset that will enable him to perform the Mitzva with the proper intent.

This idea is applied in Jewish law in the area of prayer. The Mishna1 relates that very righteous people (known as the ‘pious ones’) would prepare for one hour before prayer. This is clearly too much for most people, but the Shulchan Aruch2 rules that one should prepare himself for a short time before prayer. The purpose of this preparation is to clear his mind from the things occupying him, so that he can fully focus on prayer, and to contemplate that the Shechinah is in front of him.

Likewise, the Nefesh HaChaim3 makes a similar point with regard to one’s attitude before Torah learning: “Whenever one prepares himself to learn, it is proper for him to spend at least a small amount of time contemplating a pure fear of God with a pure heart.”4 The Nefesh HaChaim even argues that at times one should take a small break during his learning to rekindle his fear of God and this can serve as preparation for the rest of his learning time.5

The essential need for preparation also applies to major aspects of one’s life. For example, in the realms of marriage and parenting, if a person just dives into these totally new challenges without any preparation, he will likely find it very difficult to adapt to his new circumstances. There are two aspects of the necessary preparation in these areas. One is that it is highly advisable for a person to get guidance through the various available meansxxz'6.

The second is that both areas are excellent testing grounds for one’s character traits. Accordingly, if a person has not worked on his character traits before marriage and having children, he will be met with numerous tests to his character that he will find it extremely difficult to overcome. In this vein, the story is told that when a couple had a baby, they asked a Torah Sage about when they should start preparing for being parents, and he answered them that they were twenty years late. He was conveying to them that all of a person’s life he should be working on his character traits, not only for the present, but also to help him through the future tests of marriage and parenting. Needless to say, even if a person prepares in both ways as much as possible, when he actually faces the challenges in reality, will be the time when he can really face the challenges in a tangible manner, but this does not take away from the fact that the preparation time beforehand is essential to his future success in these areas.

We have seen how the preparation time for spiritual endeavors is almost as important as the actual undertaking of the endeavor itself. May we all merit to prepare in the best way possible, so that we can succeed at the time of the Mitzva or endeavor itself.

  1. Brachos, 30b.
  2. Orach Chaim, Simun 98, Sif 1.
  3. Written by Rabbi Chaim of Volozhin.
  4. Rav Chaim Volozhin, Nefesh HaChaim 4:6.
  5. Ibid. 4:7.
  6. This includes classes, books, and personal advice. For example, it is widespread that before marriage, the man and woman are taught one on one the Torah approach to marriage.

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