Between divine and mundane
This week we read Parashah Shemini, which tells of the inaugural service of the Cohanim in the Mishkan, the tabernacle where the Children of Israel would encounter the indwelling God. On the eight day of the dedication service “the glory of God appeared to the entire people”. The late sixteenth century Torah commentator Rabbi Shlomo Ephraim ben Aaron Luntschitz, known for his Torah commentary Keli Yakar, taught: “The number seven represents the cycle of creation; the number eight represents the “circumference”–that which lies beyond the perimeter of time and space. This is why the Divine Presence came to dwell in the Israelite camp on the eighth day.”
The Lubavitch Rebbe taught from there: “If the number seven defines the natural reality, eight represents that which is higher than nature, the circumference that encompasses the circle of creation.
“Seven includes both matter and spirit, both the mundane and sacred, both involvement and transcendence, but as separate, distinct components of the cycle of creation; the seventh dimension will exert its influence on the other six, but only in a transcendent way–as a spiritual, other-worldly reality that will never be truly internalized and integrated within the system. In contrast, eight represents the introduction of a reality that is beyond all nature and definition, including the definition transcendence. This eighth dimension (if we can call it a dimension) has no limitations at all: it transcends and pervades, being beyond nature yet also fully present within it, being equally beyond matter and spirit and equally within them.”
Michael L. Munk in, The Wisdom in the Hebrew Alphabet, writes: “The number seven symbolizes the complete purpose of human existence, combining the spiritual level of the Sabbath with the physical effort of the week. Going beyond seven, the number eight symbolizes man’s ability to transcend the limitations of physical existence.” However, humans cannot transcend the limitations of physical existence except for fleeting moments, if that. Scripture teaches that while we are “little lower than the angels” we are also “taken out of the earth to which we will return.”
The appearance of the glory of God to the entire people is a unique but unsustainable moment in human consciousness. Tragically, right after the glory of the eight-day of service in the Mishkan and the conclusion of its dedication, Nadav and Abihu, two sons of Aaron die as they “offer alien fire that God had not commanded”. While much rabbinic commentary finds rationales to discredit Nadav and Abihu, Rabbi Chaim (ben Moshe) ibn Attar, known by his Torah commentary of the first half of the 18th century as Ohr HaChayim teaches, “they approached the supernal light out of their great love of the Holy, and thereby died.” From this we learn that man’s ability to transcend the limits of physical existence will lead to his physical demise. The number eight, which placed on its side becomes the symbol for infinity, represents the essence of being and existence – as much as we may strive for it, “No man may see My face and live.” (Exodus 33:20).
Thus Judaism teaches us to be grounded. The mitzvot of Torah teach us how to engage with the physical world, with the intention of being fully aware of and responsible for our actions. Thus, our parasha concludes with the teaching of the laws of kashrut, for as animals who consume animals, we must be conscious of the significance of our life-taking for our life-sustaining. This week’s parasha highlights that while we can imagine the realm of “eight”, we exist within the realm of “seven”. We remain bound in the physical realm, but we realise that with right understanding, intention and practice we can manifest the spiritual.
Rabbi Jeffrey Kamins
7 Ocean Street
Woollahra, NSW 2025
p: 02 9389 6444
Shabbat, January 30, 2021
17th of Sh’vat, 5781
Friday, January 29 2021 7:44PM
Motzei Shabbat 8:20PM
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