Shemini: When God Makes an Appearance

Why did the Divine Presence appear on that day?

When the Tabernacle was complete, the wedding between God and Israel could finally proceed!

Table for Five: Shemini

Edited by Salvador Litvak, the Accidental Talmudist

And Moses and Aaron went into the Tent of Meeting. Then they came out and blessed the people, and the Glory of the Lord appeared to all the people.     

-Lev. 9:23

Rabbi Gershon Schusterman, Rabbi, Mashpia, Writer, Businessman

This event occurred on the inauguration day of the Tabernacle, AKA the Tent of Meeting, because that’s where the Jews encountered G-d. For the prior seven days, Moses simulated the services, erecting and breaking down the structure daily, and doing the sacrificial service. G-d’s “Presence” was not expected. On the eighth, the inauguration day, there was one major change: Aaron led the actual service—then and thereafter. But there was a problem: the Divine Glory did not manifest itself! The Jews were devastated! G-d’s presence in the Tabernacle which they built was to signify the rapprochement after the sin of the golden calf, but it didn’t happen! Were they unworthy? They complained to Moses. Perhaps Aaron too was sullied by the sin and he wasn’t suitable?

Moses assured them that Aaron was greater than he and was the one worthy to serve. Why Aaron? In the marriage of the Jews to G-d, Moses was the Groom’s best man and Aaron was the bridesmaid. Moses brought G-d to the people and including the wedding ring, the Torah. Aaron, through the sacrifices, called korbonos (from karov, close) brought the bride to her bridegroom. Moses couldn’t do what Aaron could and did!

Thus, “And Moses and Aaron went into the Tent of Meeting. Then they came out and blessed the people and prayed: “May G-d’s pleasantness be upon you and may the Shechina rest in the works of your—the Jews’—hands,” “and the Glory of the Lord appeared to all the people.”

Rabbi Janet Madden, PhD, Fountainview at Gonda Westside

The opening image of our text is remarkable in its brevity: Moshe and Aaron, prophet and priest, are admitted into the bounded sacred space of the Ohel Moed, privileged to commune with the Divine. In the unseen territory of the numinous, something happens, something unnamed but clearly, something transformative. Moses and Aaron emerge as a conduit of blessing, transmitting Holiness from the place to Mystery to the place of Manifestation.

Every person—without restriction as to age, gender, tribe or status—is able to witness the realization of the promise that “In this world My Shekhinah will dwell among you and within your sight” (Midrash Tanhuma/Exodus 24:1).

The inclusive, egalitarian blessing of all of the people models the power of blessing, demonstrating that the act of blessing releases a shefa of holiness that is available to all. It also reminds us that Divine Presence is not confined to—or containable within—designated sacred spaces, that Holiness is found not only in supernal spaces but in the everyday material world that we humans inhabit. Shekhinah is an imminent, intimate gift, Divinity in relationship, a personal and communal Holy Companion. The intensity of this awareness prompts us to offer a reciprocal blessing:

Baruch shem kevod adonai mimekomah; Blessed is the Shekhinah of the Holy One from the place of Her Presence.

Ilan Reiner, Architect & Author of “Israel History Maps”

The Glory of Hashem appeared right after Moshe and Aaron blessed the people. This can explain the significance of that blessing. Hashem’s Glory was the beginning of the blessings’ fulfilment.

There are two types of blessings in the Torah – one before a mission begins and one at the conclusion. Hashem blessed humankind on the sixth day of creation as humanity embarked on settling the world. Hashem also blessed Shabbat as the conclusion of creation. Moshe blessed the people as they finished building the Mishkan (Tabernacle). In our parasha, just before Moshe and Aaron went into the tent, Aaron raised his hands and blessed all of Israel for completing the dedication of the Mishkan.

This blessing of Moshe and Aaron together was given to the people as they were about to set forth on a spiritual journey to service Hashem in the Temple. One that would encourage them to follow the path of the Torah. It was important that the blessing be given by both of them, the prophet and the priest. This demonstrated that the Glory of Hashem appears when there’s unity and collaboration.

Years later, at the end of the forty-year journey through the wilderness, Moshe will once again bless the people. It was a blessing of encouragement as they were about to fulfil God’s promise of settling in the Land of Israel. A blessing that still echoes with us until this very day, as our mission of living in Israel is forever ongoing.

Atara Segal, Yoetzet Halacha, Teacher, Shalhevet High School

“They toil and we toil. They toil and don’t receive reward, we toil and receive reward,” is a highlight of the Hadran recited upon completing a section of Torah study. The particularism of these words unsettles me. However, I also feel great pride at this testament to the value of process in learning Torah. An hour spent struggling with a difficult Talmudic concept or a verse of Torah – regardless of success, even with the student totally befuddled – is still immeasurably precious.

And yet – we can’t let this aspirational ideal dictate our educational choices. If we want our children to appreciate the process of learning, we must ensure they also feel the tangible flush of success in unraveling a complex thread of Talmud, of identifying the crux of an argument between Biblical commentaries. R. Yosef Bechor Shor understood this and, with an unconventional perspective, viewed the “blessing” of Moshe and Aaron as a mundane plea. These leaders asked God to reveal the Divine presence so the people would knowthat their efforts were successful, and their sacrifices accepted. A moment that many view as a sublime revelation, rivaling Sinai, is narrowed to merely a transactional relationship. “Show your Presence so the people know they didn’t toil in vain.” True, the process is paramount. However, Moshe and Aaron, leaders par excellence, knew that to disappoint the people who had invested so much in the Mishkan would undermine their commitment. Let’s make sure to foster authentic religious success.

Rabbi Tal Sessler, Sephardic Temple

Alfred Whitehead once argued that Western philosophy is but a footnote, a sustained and millennia-old meditation upon Plato’s Republic. In the Republic, we find a formidable contention with the chief questions of the human condition.

In one of the most riveting parts of the book, we find Plato’s celebrated simile of the cave. According to Plato, most mortals conceptually reside in metaphysical darkness. We inhabit a dark and grim intellectual cave, and thus we cannot behold the luminous aura of truth.

Truth, continues Plato, is akin to the glorious light of the sun. However, since we are stuck in a cave, we merely behold sporadic reflections of the sun/truth, which are but disparate and distorted glimmers of veritable enlightenment.

Only the philosopher as an independent thinker, postulates Plato, is able to exit the cave, in his unyielding quest for truth. And when the philosopher finally leaves the cave, he is temporarily blinded and overwhelmed by the sheer intensity of verity.

Later on, after gradually adjusting his inner eye to the glory of truth, the philosopher’s vocation culminates in returning to the cave, in order to enlighten and educate the multitudes.

The same principal applies to our parshah. Moses and Aaron commune with the Divine in the Tent of Meeting. They grow and glow in soul. They are radiating light and truth. But then they must exit the sacred space and return to the people, in order to empower others to also grow in soul and actualize their own spiritual potential.

With thanks to Gershon Schusterman, Rabbi Janet Madden, Ilan Reiner, Atara Segal and Rabbi Tal Sessler

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Read more at the Jewish Journal.

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