Parshas Shemini

This week’s Torah portion begins by discussing the events which occurred on the eighth and final day of the inauguration service of the Mishkan. After months of preparation, Aaron and his sons are finally installed as Kohanim in an elaborate service. Aaron blesses the people, and the entire nation rejoices as G-d’s presence rests upon them. However, the excitement comes to an abrupt halt as Aaron’s two eldest sons, Nadav and Avihu, are consumed by a heavenly fire in the Mishkan while innovating an offering of incense on the altar. This incident stresses the need to perform the commandments only as G-d directed. Later, Moses consoles Aaron, who grieves in silence.

Have you ever wondered where the laws of kosher food come from? Parshas Shemini concludes with a listing of the kosher and non-kosher animals. The identifying signs of a kosher animal are that it has split hooves and chews, regurgitates and re-chews its food. A kosher fish is one that has both fins and scales. All birds not included in the list of forbidden fowl are permitted. However, today the identity of these non-kosher birds is doubtful. Therefore, we’re forbidden to eat any species of bird unless there is a well-established tradition that it is kosher. The Torah forbids all types of insects except for four species of locusts. Chocolate-covered grasshoppers, anyone? The laws of kashrut help us to be distinct and holy — like G-d, Himself.