On the eighth day Moses summoned Aaron and his sons and the elders of Israel. — Leviticus 9:1
The Torah portion for this week, Shemini, is from Leviticus 9:1–11:47 and the Haftorah from 2 Samuel 6:1–19.
Did the rabbis make a mistake?
At first glance, it seems that the beginning of this week’s Torah portion should have been included in the previous portion, Tzav. In that portion, we read about the first seven days of the inauguration of the Tabernacle. But just as we are about to get to the eighth day, that portion abruptly stops, and this week’s reading begins with the eighth day. This is the source of the portion’s name – Shemini, meaning “eighth.”
The Jewish sages wonder why the eighth day wasn’t connected to the first seven, and they conclude that there is something unique about the eighth day of the inauguration. The rabbis wanted to stress the qualitative difference between the seven days and the eighth one, so they completely separated the readings.
For seven days, the representatives of Israel served in the Tabernacle, but on the eighth day, the priests began their service. This is the practical difference between the days, but there is a spiritual differentiation as well.
According to Jewish tradition, the number seven represents the physical world. When God created the world, it took seven days. There are seven days in one week, and seven years in the sabbatical cycle. There are seven notes in a musical scale and seven spectral colors. Seven is the foundation of the earth.
Eight signifies the spiritual world. Eight is beyond seven, beyond the physical world. Eight represents eternity. In fact, if you turn the number eight on its side, you get the sign for infinity!
Normally, seven and eight don’t mix. This is symbolized by the separation between last week’s reading and this week’s Torah portion. Heaven and earth are separated. But this week’s reading also tells us that while heaven and earth are worlds apart, there is a way to bridge them. There is a way to bring heaven down to earth.
The end of this week’s Torah portion deals with the laws of kosher. This is symbolic of all God’s laws and service to Him. When God gives us a commandment to perform in this physical world, we are given the opportunity to transform something physical into something spiritual. Eating is no longer purely physical when it takes into account God’s laws and spirit. Every physical act can bridge heaven and earth when it is elevated for God’s purposes.
Here’s how we can join seven and eight, the physical and the spiritual: Take our daily activities and dedicate them to God. Eating? Say a blessing over the food. Exercising? Dedicate our healthy bodies to God’s service. Working? Commit to tithing our earnings. When we make the physical spiritual, we will succeed in bridging seven and eight, heaven and earth.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President