“On the eighth day, Moses summoned Aaron, his sons, and the elders of Israel.” That is what he does at the beginning of Shemini, which describes the sacrifices, so meticulously prescribed earlier, to inaugurate the Tabernacle. The whole community is there before God, watching, and all seems to be going well, until a terrible event occurs. Aaron’s sons, Nadav and Avihu, gripped by some overpowering enthusiam, rush to offer an unauthorised sacrifice, perhaps an ‘unholy’ sacrifice, and they are consumed by fire. I have read over the years quite a few texts justifying, or at least explaining, the sudden retribution that befalls them, but each time that we come to this episode, the same sense of shock is renewed. The shock is all the greater as, immediately after their deaths, Moses turns to Aaron and his two surviving sons and says, “Do not go without a haircut and do not tear your vestments…” How matter-of-fact, even banal, this sounds. It turns out that Moses is not as insensitive as this make him sound. Later he excuses Aaron and his sons for not eating the sin offering as instructed, when Aaron reminds Moses of the tragedy that has befallen him and how wrong it seemed to him to eat on that day.
There follow the dietary laws, and so we come to Tazria, which opens with the law of circumcision. Rabbi Lord Sachs draws an interesting parallel between the day after the Creation, the day Adam and Eve left Eden (thought to be the day after Shabbat) the day of the inauguration of the Tabernacle and the day of the brit milah. In each case, it is the eighth day and in each case human beings assume the role of creators, in a sense taking over from God on earth. The main concern of Tazria are the laws relating to the ‘leprous curse’, though leprous is not to be understood as referring to the disease we now know as leprousy. M’tzora continues the theme with the purification of the ‘leper’ and goes on to deal with other forms of uncleanness. But I have written (more than) enough, and for prayers, insight and the shared experience of the community come along on Saturday at 10.30. Liz Berg will be leading us on this great Sabbath before Pesach.