Shemini: A Path to Follow

“And Moses said to Aaron and to his sons Eleazar and Ithamar, “Do not bare your heads [rasheichem al-tifra’u] and do not rend your clothes, lest you die and anger strike the whole community. But your kin, all the house of Israel, shall bewail the burning that [YHVH] has wrought.”
— Leviticus/Vayikra 10:6 (TWC translation*)

Commentary from Onkelos:*
The entire house of Israel, may mourn. This teaches that when Torah scholars have difficulties, their problems are a burden for the entire community, who are expected to grieve over their distress (Rashi based on the Babylon Talmud, Moed Katan 25a)


from Stone Chumash:*
The entire house of Israel. The Sages derive from this verse that the suffering of a talmid chacham [a Torah scholar, in this case, the grieving Aaron and his sons] should be shared by all Israel (Rashi).

True, a Jew should try to accept God’s justice with faith that it is for the best — as Aaron did and as his sons were commanded to do — but other people should mourn and grieve over the misfortunes of a fellow Jew (R’ Shlomo Kluger)


All Are (Like) Kin?

I have not studied the Talmud* section cited above, but I see that it includes a discussion of whether “all are kin” or “all are like kin” to Torah scholars. This, I think, is one fascinating path raised by this week’s text:

What is our kinship to Torah scholars?

How does that apply in a community of egalitarian learning/teaching?

For the rabbis of the Talmud, was “Torah scholar” code for “one of us”?

And, if so, what is the implication for other communities, whatever the level of “scholarship” of each individual in the community?

What is the nature of communal grieving?

Do we ever grieve instead of our scholars or leaders, i.e., while they cannot grieve, perhaps for reasons to do with their leadership roles? How?

Are there other ways in which “their problems are a burden for the entire community”?

Bitter Water and Loosened Hair

A bit further in the discussion (25b) appears what strikes me as an unusually poetic quote attributed to Raba:

When more than ‘a third” wadeth in water deep
Remember the covenant and mercy keep
We strayed from thee as a wayward wife
Leave us not: as at Marah, save our life.

Footnotes reference Numbers/Bamidbar 5:22 (“the Sotah”), wherein the suspected wife is given bitter water to drink. This I find fascinating in part because the sotah’s hair is unloosed, using the same verb which is so awkwardly, and variously, translated into English:

“And Moses said to Aaron and to his sons, Eleazar and Ithamar, ‘Do not bare your heads [rasheichem al-tifra’u]…'” (JPS)

“…’Do not let your hair grow long [rasheichem al-tifra’u]…'” (Onkelos)

“…’Your heads, do not bare [rasheichem al-tifra’u]…'” (Fox)

“…’Your heads, you shall not dishevel [rasheichem al-tifra’u]…'” (Alter)


What is the relationship between loose hair and mourning?

What is the relationship between loose hair, mourning and bitter water?

We at least think we know what “arm” or “hand” mean, metaphorically, when they appear in the Torah as God-parts. But what does “hair” mean in this context?

Is hair simply a vehicle for describing age? See, for example, p.247 in The Many Faces of God: A modern reader of theologies. Or does hair represent something else or something more?

I don’t know — haven’t been far enough down this path — but it looks worth exploring.


* Please see Source Materials for full citations, on-line source links and additional information.

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Click on the “WeeklyTorah” tag for more resources on the weekly portion throughout the year, or on a portion name for parashah-specific notes. (The series began with Numbers; posts for Genesis, Exodus and Leviticus are being drafted, week-by-week.) You can also zero-in on particular types of “Opening the Book” posts by clicking Language and Translation, Something to Notice, a Path to Follow, or Great Source in the tag cloud.

The “Opening the Book” series is presented in cooperation with the independent, cross-community Jewish Study Center and with Kol Isha, an open group pursuing spirituality from a woman’s perspective at Temple Micah (Reform). “A Song Every Day” is an independent blog, however, and all views, mistakes, etc. are the author’s.
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