Fervor and Joy are at the Center of Holiness and Serving G-d
Concerning the verse, “It came to pass on the eighth day that Moses called Aaron” (Leviticus 9:1), the Zohar cites Rabbi Yitzchak’s comments on a verse in the book of Job: “When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of G-d ya’riu [emitted a broken sound]” (Job 38:7). He explains that when all the righteous and the assembly of Israel sing together like the mornings stars and emit sounds of joy, something awakens (hit’orirut) and breaks (teruah: “broken sound”). This is because all harsh decrees, which are called “the sons of G-d,” are broken with the arrival of morning, which awakens the world.
What connection does this verse have with Parsha Shemini?
To explain, we must recall that the plan to create the Children of Israel came prior to the creation of the world (Bereshith Rabba 1:4), and that it was to them that G-d gave the Torah, His daily delight (see Proverbs 8:30). Our Sages have said that it was also His working tool, the model that He looked at when He created the world (Bereshith Rabba 1:1). In addition, He engraved His Name in each letter of the Torah. It is therefore present in every created thing, and so if a person partakes of food without having recited a blessing on it, it is as if he had warped a sacred object, and he deserves to be called a thief (Berachot 35b). In fact G-d’s Name is found in everything, and if a person benefits from that which he has not said a blessing on, it is as if he has stolen G-d’s Name, for it is engraved on every object. Thus if G-d gives “the earth to the children of men” (Psalms 115:16), it is only after they have recited the proper blessing (Berachot 35b).
Consequently, all Israel should come closer to G-d by realizing that His Name is present throughout Creation. How can we attain such a realization? It is by demonstrating our fervor, according to the directives of the Tur and the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 1); it is by being as strong as a lion upon arising in the morning to serve our Creator. This is essential. True, the Torah completely purifies a person (see Berachot 22a), yet for his part he must demonstrate some enthusiasm, a characteristic that elevates him above nature, to the level of the eighth (shemini). Thus he will progress “from strength to strength” (Psalms 84:8), for in the morning, upon leaping from his bed, his enthusiasm will immediately bring him to the highest level, a leap that can reconnect him to the Shechinah for the entire day. In his writings, the Arizal states that in the morning a holy soul descends from the supernal world after having spent the entire night under the wings of the Shechinah in a state of spiritual elevation. The intelligences follow the same process, evoked by the verse, “They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:23). [Note: Concerning the intelligences, refer to what we have written in Parsha Bereshith: “The Renewal of the Work of Creation”].
However the morning (Hebrew: boker) can also be transformed into kover (“gravedigger”), an allusion to the slothful who deserve to be called “dead,” similar to the way that the wicked are called “dead” even during their lifetime (Berachot 18b). They cling to the kelipah (husk) of impurity named “death,” for everything depends on a person’s enthusiasm and the determination he shows in the morning. Either he elevates himself and destroys the kelipah of impurity by immediately leaping from his bed to thank G-d, in a state of mind that reflects the level of the eighth (shemini), or he fails and clings to the kelipah.
This is what Rabbi Yitzchak alluded to by evoking the verse, “When the morning stars sang together” (Job 38:7). It refers to those who occupy themselves with Torah during the whole night by connecting day and night in Torah study (Mishnah Berurah, Orach Chaim 1, par. 2). They vigorously arise in the morning to serve G-d, thus donning the aspect of the eighth (shemini), which is above nature, to the point that a thread of chesed (lovingkindness) extends over them during the day (Hagigah 12b). Furthermore, they annul severe decrees and weaken the power of the kelipah. Therein lies the connection between Parsha Shemini and the verse in the book of Job.
We can offer yet another explanation: “When the morning stars sang together” alludes to the seven planets (Zohar I:24a, 188b) that sing to Hashem in the morning when bowing before Him after having concluded their evening service. Immediately afterwards, “All the sons of G-d shouted for joy” (another possible translation of ya’riu), a reference to the righteous who leap from their beds in the morning and take the place of these seven planets to thank and praise G-d. The world exists by their merit, for they have arrived at the level of the eighth (shemini), above nature. In fact the world only exists by the merit of the Torah and serving G-d, as it is written: “If not for My covenant, I would not have appointed days and nights, the decrees of heaven and earth” (Jeremiah 33:25). The Sages interpret this to mean: Without the Torah, heaven and earth could not endure (Nedarim 32b). Man’s actions are more important than the songs of the celestial bodies. It is written, “All the sons of G-d shouted for joy” – these are the Children of Israel, the sons of Hashem. [Let us recall that it is stated, “You are the children of the L-RD your G-d” (Deuteronomy 14:1)]. Through their prayers, they bring down an abundance of favor and kindness into the entire world, and they are at the level of the eighth, insofar as they maintain the existence of the entire world.
If our view is correct, this will allow us to understand the Midrash on the verse, “And Aaron was silent” (Leviticus 10:3): “What could he have said? There was reason to complain about circumcision” (Midrash Pliah 70). This requires an explanation. What connection is there between the mitzvah of circumcision and the death of Aaron’s two sons? After what we have just said, the answer becomes clear: Through circumcision, a baby achieves the holiness of the eighth (shemini), above the level of nature. This is what happened to Aaron’s two sons, who on the eighth day achieved a great degree of holiness, surpassing the norm. True, they sought to honor G-d by presenting an offering that they had not been commanded to make (Leviticus 10:1). However they did this only because they deeply yearned to come closer to G-d. It was concerning this that Aaron should have protested, arguing that his sons had achieved the level of holiness reached by a baby on its eighth day, when it is circumcised. Nevertheless, “Aaron was silent,” not protesting against G-d or His decrees.
In the final analysis, we see that the main thing in serving G-d is the enthusiasm that we put into accomplishing mitzvot and studying Torah. This idea allows us to better understand the verse, “This is the thing that the L-RD commanded you should do; and the glory of the L-RD shall appear to you” (Leviticus 9:6). Many commentators, in fact, have asked what exactly it was that Hashem commanded, something that the verse does not specify. Can we assume that Moses told the Children of Israel, “Why are you standing here and doing nothing? Since the giving of the Torah, when you said, ‘All that the L-RD has said, we will do and obey’ [Exodus 24:7], you have accomplished nothing of all you said or heard!” This was a kind of rebuke that he issued to them before the Shechinah rested on them on the eighth day (Torah Kohanim, Seder Olam 7). It was said in order to break their hearts and encourage them to quickly repent.
In the expression, “This is the thing that the L-RD commanded you should do” (Leviticus 9:6), what is stressed is that they should do, for “not study, but practice is the essential thing” (Perkei Avoth 1:17). Moreover, the word tzivah (“commanded”) also evokes diligence, since the Sages have said that the word tzav (“command”) is used to incite fervor (Torat Kohanim, Tzav 6:2). Consequently, a person must fight against the evil inclination in two areas: Action and enthusiasm. He should not be satisfied with remaining in his present spiritual state, and he must avoid being like those who listen to rebuke, yet fail to act on what they hear because they show no enthusiasm immediately after being reprimanded. As a result, the evil inclination already has time to seep into their hearts and disrupt them.
This is the meaning of Moses’ statement, “This is the thing that the L-RD commanded you should do.” It is not enough to be here without taking action, for “it is time to act for the L-RD; they have voided Your Torah” (Psalms 119:126). This means that we must act for Hashem, otherwise we will have desecrated His Torah because the evil inclination will come to disrupt a person in serving G-d. As a result, he should always hasten to act when serving Him.
If we manage to achieve this enthusiasm, we will have arrived at the level of the eighth, the level above nature. This will tremendously weaken the forces of darkness and evil. In the opposite case, this weakening will occur to a person himself. These ideas allow us to understand what is written at the beginning of the parsha: “Vayehi [And it came to pass] on the eighth day, that Moses called Aaron…and he said to Aaron: ‘Take a young calf…’ ” (Leviticus 9:1-2). This requires an explanation, for we know that the word vayehi always indicates the approach of trouble (Megillah 10b), as emerges from the verses: “Vayehi [And it came to pass] in the days when the judges ruled, that there was a famine in the land” (Ruth 1:1), and “Vayehi [And it came to pass] in the days of Ahasuerus” (Esther 1:1), which is followed by the story of Haman. Now here, when the Shechinah came to reside among the Children of Israel (Torah Kohanim, Seder Olam 7), this was an occasion for great joy. The verse should have therefore used the word vehaya, which indicates a joyous event. Instead, why does the verse use a word that evokes sorrow?
There is yet another difficulty: Why did Moses feel the need to summon together all of Aaron’s sons, as well as all the elders of Israel, before telling Aaron to take a young calf, as the verse describes?
To explain this in a satisfactory way, we will see that the answer to one question is also the answer to the other. We know that Aaron sinned during the incident of the golden calf, as it is written: “And Aaron said to them, ‘Take off the golden earrings, which are in the ears of your wives….’ And he received them from their hand, and fashioned a molten calf with a graving tool” (Exodus 32:2,4). Consequently, Moses now told Aaron to take a young calf as an atoning sacrifice, in order to redeem the sin of the golden calf (Tanhuma, Shemini 10). Moses told him this in the presence of his sons and the elders of Israel, in order for all of them to witness the rectification of the sin. Even though Aaron had made the calf without the intention of idolatry, Moses commanded him to take a calf for atonement in order to erase any suspicion of sin on his part among the Children of Israel. From this we learn that a person should not be ashamed to rectify the harm he caused in public, just as his sin was committed in public.
We may therefore fully understand why the word vayehi, which expresses grief, is used in our verse. It is due to the grief incurred by the sin of the golden calf, a sin that had to be rectified. It is also because Aaron only achieved perfection after experiencing many hardships, as the Zohar states: “Rabbi Yehudah began his discourse by saying, ‘Vayehi [And it came to pass] on the eighth day’ [Leviticus 9:1], once Aaron had achieved perfection during these seven days” (Zohar Shemini 38a). The rectification of all sin, in fact, implies going through suffering in order to achieve integrity, even if a sin was committed involuntarily.
It is therefore perfectly clear that the expression “the eighth day” shows that the rectification was achieved during the first seven days, corresponding to the seven days of the week. It also shows that a person can become completely accomplished and called “perfect” only on the eighth day, which is above nature, along the lines of the verse: “Give a portion to seven, and also to eight” (Ecclesiastes 11:2).
We may also say that the suffering alluded to here [by the word vayehi] was that of the evil inclination, for it saw how a person rectified his sins, even his involuntary ones. In fact the evil inclination suffers when it sees a person elevating himself to the level of the eighth, above nature, in holiness and purity. Even more so, it despises a person bettering himself through the means of tzav, by showing extreme enthusiasm. Fervor is one of the rungs in the ladder of Rabbi Pinchas ben Yair (Shekalim 9b), a rung that enables a person to achieve the level of the eighth through humility and self-effacement. The Shechinah rests upon a person at that point, which tremendously weakens the kelipah and brings great joy to G-d, Who rejoices in the holiness of His flock.