This week’s Sedra is called Shemini meaning “eight” (as it refers to the eighth day after the seven days of the inauguration of the Tabernacle). On the eighth day (said to be the 1st Nissan), Aaron and his sons begin to officiate as Kohanim (priests); a fire issued from HaShem to consume the offerings on the altar, and the divine presence came to dwell in the Sanctuary. A tragedy occurred – Aaron’s two elder sons, Nadav and Avihu, offered a “strange fire before G‑d, which He commanded them not” and they died as a result. Aaron is silent in face of his loss. We later learn the laws of Kashrut and some laws of ritual impurity.
Numbers have meaning in Judaism. Seven is a recurring theme throughout the Torah; we are now in the seven weeks of counting the Omer (connecting Pesach to Shavuot), we have seven days of creation (with the 7th day being a recurring day of rest – Shabbat), 7 x 7 year cycles reaching each Yovel (Jubilee) 50th year, and Tishrei, the month full of festivals, is the 7th month of the Hebrew calendar. Seven is said to represent nature and natural order.
The number eight, however, is said to represent a power of holiness greater than nature. Several examples exist – the eight days of Chanukah where nature was overturned by a miracle, and the 8th day of life when we perform a Brit (circumcision). In this week’s Sedra, after seven days of sacrifices, it was only on the 8th day that the divine presence (Shechina) was said to settle in the Mishkan.
“And it was on the eighth day . . . and the glory of the L‑rd appeared to all the people . . . And fire went forth from before the L‑rd and consumed the burnt offering and the fats upon the altar, and all the people saw, sang praises, and fell upon their faces”.
Only after the people celebrated the seven days of inauguration, representing the culmination of our human achievement, did HaShem appear. As it said in Exodus 25:8 “they shall make Me a sanctuary and I will dwell in their midst”.