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And on the Eighth Day God Created–

Growing up in Greater Boston in the 50’s, there were certain professionals that one could reliably assume were Jewish. The pharmacist, the dentist, and, most definitely, accountants. I get the idea of Jewish accountants (and mathematicians), because we Jews have always loved numbers. The Kabbalists are working out Gematrias; little kids are singing ‘Who Knows One’. So, it should come as no surprise that there is much debate about a Torah portion which begins with the words, ‘And it was on the eighth day…(Leviticus 9:1). 

Rashi and the Ibn Ezra immediately begin the arguments by claiming that this ‘eighth day’ fell out on different dates. Rashi gives the famous Midrashic position by declaring that this eighth day was really the first day of Nissan, at the beginning of the second year after leaving Egypt. Reb Avraham Ibn Ezra claims that the literal meaning should be that we are discussing the eighth day of that month. Rashi’s opinion has become the dominant approach, and the preceding seven days of practice for the MISHKAN service were the last seven days of Adar. 

The Midrash expands greatly on this ‘the eighth day was really the first day’ concept by listing 10 ‘firsts’ on that momentous eighth day: 1) It was the beginning of the second year since the exodus. 2) It was the first day on which Aharon functioned as High Priest. 3) It was the first day on which sacrifices were offered in the Tabernacle. 4) It was the first time the people of Israel received the priestly blessings. 5) It was the first day on which heavenly fire descended onto the copper altar. 6) It was the first time the male goat of the New Moon offering was ever offered. 7) It was the first time that animals which had been slaughtered were permitted to be eaten. 8) It was the first day when the Shechinah took up residence on earth. 9) It was the first of the twelve days on which the tribal princes offered gifts. 10) It was the first day on which people who had contracted ritual impurity had to leave the camp. 

Cool! But what is the reasoning behind this ‘eight is really the first’ position. I am going to present two views on this topic. The first is from Rav Jonathan Sacks OB”M. He begins his exposition by drawing on the weekly drama of the Havdalah service. The great Rabbi explains that when we light the multi-wicked Havdalah candle, we’re recreating, not the first Motzei Shabbat, but the first day of Creation, when God declared, ‘Let there be light!’ The first week was for God; the second week was for humanity to begin their creative career. 

Rav Sacks describes how the building of the Mishkan in the desert was parallel to God’s creation of the Universe. This is based mostly on the appearance of similar language in both descriptions. He then concludes: The eighth day is when we celebrate the human contribution to creation. 

It is for this reason that BRIT MILAH takes place on the eighth day. Every human bears the ‘image and likeness’ of God, but to enter into the covenant, a partnership with God, requires a willful human act. The eighth day represents the moment when humans take upon themselves the responsibility to guard and grow God’s world.  

The second Gerer Rebbe in his S’fat Emet commentary also saw the eighth day as a significant milestone in human development, but mostly in the spiritual sphere. He begins his exposition not from Breishit, but from Mishlei: Wisdom has built her house; she has set up its seven pillars (AMUDIM, perhaps ‘columns’, 9:1). The Rebbe emphasizes that humans are the ultimate purpose of the Creation, and are expected to not just expand upon God’s creative labor, but, perhaps, more importantly to protect it. 

The S’fat Emet quotes from the Midrash in Vayikra that these seven pillars of wisdom are the seven days of Creation. He then explains that our obligation to protect Creation is accomplished through KEDUSHA. We sanctify it. The Midrash, in Mishlei, calls this act of protective sanctification TIKRAT HaOLAM, the roof of the world. If the world is a hall of columns, then humanity’s major enterprise must be to protect it by roofing over it, to keep out all negative forces (not to mention rain). 

Now let’s combine an idea of the Rebbe’s with an idea of the Chief Rabbi’s. Rav Sacks emphasizes that the big eight in Jewish life is BRIT MILA. But now when we add the Rebbe’s point of view, the major job of parents with the BRIT is to protect the young man from all the bad stuff out there. We cover and enclose our precious child with an enveloping shelter of KEDUSHA. 

So, we Jews love to count, but it’s critical that we understand the meaning and obligations of those numbers. In conclusion, we can’t just ask ‘Who knows Eight?’, but, rather, ‘Who understands and is willing to implement number Eight?’ Hopefully, the answer must be: All of us!!       

About the Author
Born in Malden, MA, 1950. Graduate of YU, taught for Rabbi Riskin in Riverdale, NY, and then for 18 years in Efrat with R. Riskin and R. Brovender at Yeshivat Hamivtar. Spent 16 years as Educational Director, Cong. Agudath Sholom, Stamford, CT. Now teach at OU Center and Yeshivat Orayta.
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