Text: Leviticus 9:1 - 11:47
Parashat (Torah portion) Sh’mini begins with the final day of an eight-day ceremony to ordain the new priests and consecrate the Mishkan (Tabernacle). Fire comes down from the sky to consume the sacrifices of the priests. But when Nadab and Abihu, two of Aaron’s sons, offer an uncommanded sacrifice of eish zara (“strange fire”), the heavenly fire consumes them instead of their sacrifice.
The portion continues with the laws of kashrut, the rules for eating only animals that are tahor (pure) and avoiding animals that are tamei (impure). Animals that fly are specifically listed by name, which are kosher and which are not. Land and sea animals get general rules: land animals must have cloven hooves and chew their cud (have multiple stomachs) – and certain locusts and grasshoppers happen to be kosher too, but not so with other insects. Animals that swim must have fins and scales – otherwise, God says, they impart impurity to those who come into contact with them. All of these laws are to help the Israelites maintain a level of spiritual purity worthy of being God’s holy people, for God tells the Israelites at the end of this portion, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”