Shemini: The Calf and the Heavenly Flame

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This week’s class is dedicated in loving memory of Mrs. Rivkie Barber, Shlucha of the Rebbe in Melbourne, Australia. Yartzeit 19 Adar.

 

By her children, Levi & Perel Shmotkin, Dovi & Mushka Barber, Chili & Chanie Biston, Efraim & Shaina Duchman, Leah Barber and Mendel Barber.

After months of work, Aaron & Moses inaugurate the Tabernacle, and… nothing happens. The Divine presence remained absent. Why didn’t G-d’s presence rest in the Tabernacle? What was still missing?

Lesson Contents:

A. Heavenly Flames

In this week’s Torah portion, we read about the inauguration of the Tabernacle. The sacrifices were offered, the service was performed, but the Divine presence did not rest. The fire did not descend from heaven. Aaron told Moses, “Surely, it’s because of the Golden Calf!” Moses told him to offer a calf, and then the heavenly fire descended (Source 1-3).

B. The Middleman

What exactly happened here?

Commentaries explain that the “mixed multitude” — the main instigators of the Golden Calf — did not deny G-d’s existence. they just wanted a middleman, because they felt that G-d was too lofty for them. It is reminiscent of Maimonides’ explanation regarding the evolution of idol worship (Source 4). 

When Aaron offered the calf, he was burning the middleman. It was a statement that G-d’s connection with the Jewish people is immediate and close, no intermediaries necessary.

C. The Modern-Day Calf 

Today, Torah and mitzvot represent the Tabernacle and its vessels. As the Rebbe explains in Reshimos, Torah is an internal worship of G-d, and Mitzvot is an external form (Source 5).

The message of this story is that a Jew should always remember his direct and constant connection to G-d. Whether he is praying or working or eating (see also Source 6), he must always remember this direct connection, and then G-d’s presence will dwell within him.

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