And it came to pass on the eighth day, that Moses called Aaron and his sons, and the elders of Israel…
This “eighth day”—the day that followed the seven-day inauguration of the Sanctuary—was the first of Nissan, a day that “wore ten crowns”: it was a Sunday, the first day of the week; it was the beginning of a new year;it was the first day that the divine presence came to dwell in the Sanctuary; the first day of the kehunah (priesthood); the first day of the service in the Sanctuary; and so on. There is even an opinion that this was the anniversary of the creation of the universe.
With so many “firsts” associated with this day, why does the Torah refer to it as “the eighth day”?
The number seven represents the natural reality. The world was created, and continues to be created anew each week, in a seven-day cycle. There are seven sefirot, divine attributes that define G-d’s relationship with our reality; these are reflected in the seven middot, the seven traits of the human heart.
Thus our sages explain the special significance of the number eight. If seven is the number of creation’s natural cycles, “eight” represents that which is higher than nature, the “circumference” that encompasses the circle of time and space. On that eighth day, the day that the divine presence came to dwell in the Israelite camp, we were granted the potential to reach beyond the natural and the norm, to break free of the seven-dimensional cycle that defines and confines our existence.
A Timely Reading
Shemini, “The Eighth,” is the name of the Torah section (Leviticus 9-11) we read this week, which derives its name from its opening verse:
“And it came to pass on the eighth day…”
A Jew “lives with the times,” drawing inspiration and guidance from the weekly Torah reading. Each year, when the section of Shemini comes along in the annual Torah-reading cycle, it inspires us to liberate ourselves from the systems and routines that have come to define our lives and reach for that higher, “eighth” dimension.
Indeed, the section of Shemini is usually read on the Shabbat after Passover, when we are engaged in the “Counting of the Omer” that connects Passover to Shavuot. The Counting of the Omer is itself a quest for the “eighth dimension”: a seven week, 49-day count leading to a 50th day (7×7+1) that is the scene of the divine revelation of Shavuot.
A Turn of the Calendar
This year, the configuration of our calendar emphasizes the lesson of Shemini in a most unique way.
Each of the Torah’s 53 sections is generally read during one week of the year—in part on Monday and Thursday mornings, and the previous Shabbat afternoon, and in its entirety on Shabbat morning. At times, however, a particular section may be “lived with” for more than one week. When Shabbat coincides with a festival, a special reading associated with the festival is read, and the regular reading is moved ahead to the next week. The Shabbat afternoon readings, however, and the Monday and Thursday readings (when these are not themselves festival days), are still from the “weekly” section—the section that would have been read that Shabbat were it not a festival.
This year, both the first and last days of Passover fall on Shabbat. As a result, the section of Shemini is twice “postponed” and is publicly read in the synagogue eight times over the course of three weeks: on the Shabbat afternoon, Monday and Thursday before Passover; on the afternoon of the first day of Passover; on the afternoon of the last day of Passover; on the Monday, Thursday and Shabbat mornings the week after Passover.
So this year, the lesson of Shemini is even more compelling than in other years. It is read eight times, granting us the power of eight, eight times over.
Based on an address by the Rebbe, Shabbat Shemini 5751 (April 13, 1991)
Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe by Yanki Tauber
. Though the Jewish year is usually reckoned as beginning on the first of Tishrei, the month of Nissan is designated by the Torah as “the first of the months of the year” (Exodus 12:2. See Our Other Head, WIR, vol. IX, no. 26).
. Talmud, Shabbat 87b.
. Ibid. Cf. Talmud, Rosh HaShanah 10b.
. Keli Yakar on Leviticus 9:1. Thus, the mitzvah of circumcision on the eighth day of life takes precedence over the mitzvah of Shabbat, the seventh day of the cycle of creation.
. See The Journey in last week’s issue of Week In Review.
. Sefer HaSichot 5751, vol. II, pp. 475-477.