Parshat Shemini: Being holy as God’s love

After the first sacrifices were offered in the altar of the mishkan [tabernacle], Moses and Aaron “blessed the people, and the Glory of God appeared [was seen] to [on] all the people.” (Leviticus 9:23).

The Hebrew verb translated as “appeared” means originally “shall see” or “seen”, which is the term used in the mishnah for the three pilgrimages to Jerusalem (Pesach, Shavuot and Succot) to “see” God. The Hebrew preposition in the text is not “to” but usually translated as “over” or “on”, hence the verse must be understood as saying that after we elevate our lower nature (symbolized by the animals burned [transformed] by God’s fire in the altar) to serve the Creator and fulfill His will, we will see His glory, His majesty on us, in our consciousness.


“Through them that are close to Me, I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.” (10:4)


This closeness is our permanent awareness that Love is guiding all aspects of our consciousness. For this we have to “put difference between the holy and the mundane, and between the unclean and the clean.” (10:10)


We know that we are vessels that are sustained and nurtured by God’s love. And we are not one single vessel, but many vessels because we have a multidimensional consciousness that encompasses intellect, mind, emotions, feelings, passions and instincts. These are the vessels that we must fill with God’s commandments.


“(…) whatsoever vessel it be, wherewith any work is done, it must be put into water, and it shall be unclean until the evening; then shall it be clean.” (11:32)


In Judaism the four elements that sustain life have extensive functions and meanings. Water and fire have cleansing attributes among other qualities and purposes. In the text water is the means to cleanse ourselves as the earthly vessels we are.


Our sages refer to the Torah as the living water that purifies us from the dirt of materialism and the illusions of darkness. Water also represents humility, because it always bows to earth by gravity. It means not just the action of cleansing but also making anew, and clearing the space to allow our bodies to be filled again with God’s love in order to do divine service.


In order to keep our lives (all levels of consciousness) clean, the Creator commands us not to eat certain animals due to their predatory or inferior nature. Therefore we not only sacrifice the negative traits and behavior represented by certain animals, but we also must avoid the consumption of those that reflect the lowest qualities that we don’t want into our consciousness.


“You shall not make yourselves detestable with any swarming thing that swarms, neither shall you make yourselves unclean with them, that you should be defiled thereby.” (10:43)


“Because I am the Lord your God, sanctify yourselves therefore, and you be holy because I am Holy; neither shall you defile yourselves with any manner of swarming thing that moves upon the earth.” (10:44)


Holiness is remarked again.


“Because I am the Lord that brought you up out of the land of Egypt, to be your God; you shall therefore be holy, for I am Holy.” (10:45)


The parshah ends reiterating the same principle.


“(…) to put difference between the unclean and the clean, and between the living thing that may be eaten and the living thing that may not be eaten.” (10:47)


Here God’s love reminds us several things.


First, God is our Creator that delivers us up from the bondage of the negative illusions of the material world (Egypt). He commands us to be aware that His holiness is our holiness, His love our love.


If we want to be aware of that we have to make a difference between those beliefs, thoughts, emotions, passions and actions that keep us close to Him; and those traits that separate us from Him, represented by the cruel and predatory qualities of the unclean animals listed in the Torah.


In every moment we must choose between embracing God’s ways and attributes, and the illusions of ego’s materialistic fantasies and illusions.

About the Author
Ariel Ben Avraham was born in Colombia (1958) from a family with Sephardic ancestry. He studied Cultural Anthropology in Bogota, and lived twenty years in Chicago working as a radio and television producer and writer. He emigrated to Israel in 2004, and for the last fourteen years has been studying the Chassidic mystic tradition, about which he writes and teaches. Based on his studies, he wrote his first book "God's Love" in 2009. He currently lives in Kochav Yaakov.
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