Shemini – A thought for the week by Michael Lewis

This Shabbat is the 13th day of counting the Omer and we approach the month of Iyar. With the thought of Yom Ha Shoah fresh in our minds it is appropriate to remember that it is a time when walls came down. In 1273 BCE the walls of Jericho fell and 76 years ago, in 1945, Buchenwald Concentration Camp was liberated on 29 Nisan.


The Sedra, Shemini, is the exact middle of the Torah, and can be read as divided into three sections: In the first burnt offerings are made. This is followed by the unsettling story of the death of Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron who offered “strange fire”.

The Sedra then continues without a pause to set out details of Kashrut and how to be sanctified.

לְהַבְדִּ֕יל בֵּ֥ין הַטָּמֵ֖א וּבֵ֣ין הַטָּהֹ֑ר
to distinguish between the unclean and the clean

But why did Aaron not mourn? He stays silent. He is forbidden to leave the sanctuary in order to bury Nadav and Avihu. Moses tries to comfort his brother and according to Rashi his words were:

don’t give up, don’t lose faith, don’t despair. Your children died not because they were evil but because they were holy. Though their act was wrong, their intentions were good. They merely tried too hard.

To lose a parent is to lose your past. To lose a wife, a husband, a brother or a sister is to lose your present. To lose a child seems incomprehensible; they were your future.

The past year has been a dark place. Few of us have been untouched by loss; of family, friends or members of our community both near and far. Silence is understandable but mourning turns into remembrance. As we light a candle at a yahrzeit or a yellow candle on Yom Ha Shoah we show that we remember.

During the Yizkor service we speak of “Kiddush Hashem”, Sanctification of His name by those who perished in the Shoah. Whilst we count the Omer, we should also count our own days. We too can become sanctified, in how we live our daily lives and in our own deeds.

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