Shemini | פרשת שמיני

Sefer Vayikra | ספר ויקרא

Vayikra 9:1-11:47 [Hebcal] [על-התורה] וירקא ט א-יא מז

Haftarah: Shmuel Bet 6:1-19 (Sefardi) | Shmuel Bet 6:1-7:17 (Ashkenazi) | Unless it is Shabbat Parah or Shabbat ha-Chodesh

[Al Hatorah] הפטרה: שמאול ב ו א-יט (ספרדים) | שמאול ב ו א-ז יז (אשכנזים) | שמואל ב ו א-ז ג (תימנים) | אלא אם כן זו שבת פרה או שבת החודש

Jump to:

At the end of the previous parsha, Tzav, Aharon and his sons took part in a seven-day Miluim (inauguration or initiation) ceremony, readying them to begin service in the completed Mishkan. Our parsha begins on the eighth (shemini) day, on which specific korbanot, different from those of the previous 7 days, must be brought.

The Miluim: Inaugural Korbanot of the Mishkan

[Vayikra 9:1-24]

Whereas for the past 7 days the korbanot have consisted of a Chatat bull, an ‘Olah ram, and another ram called Eil ha-Miluim, along with various Minchah offerings, on the eighth day, they must be different: Aharon is to being on his behalf a calf for Chatat (sin offering) and a ram for ‘Olah (burnt offering), while on behalf of the people, a male goat is brought as Chatat and a calf and lamb as ‘Olah, plus an ox and a ram for Shelamim (peace or goodwill offering).

In the view of the people, Aharon approaches the Mizbe’ach and offers the korbanot. He begins with the calf of Chatat; his sons bring him its blood, and Aharon dipped his finger in it and spreads the blood on all four horns or corners (kornot) of the altar, pouring the rest at the base of the altar—as Moshe had done with the Chatat over the previous 7 days. The fat and specified entrails are burned on the altar, and the flesh and skin outside the camp. Next, Aharon slaughters the ‘Olah. His sons bring him the blood, which he dashes on all four sides of the altar. He washes the entrails and legs and burns them on the altar, again as Moshe had done.

Next, the people’s korbanot are brought. The goat of Chatat and ram of Olah are offered in the same way on behalf of the people. The Minchah (meal offering) follows, and then the two animals for Shelamim are slaughtered and offered. After this is done according to the rules of Shelamim, Aharon blesses the people. Aharon and Moshe enter the Ohel ha-Mo’ed (Tent of Meeting) and when they come out, bless the people again. Fire comes forth and consumes the korbanot on the Mizbe’ach, and the people fall on their faces.

Nadav and Avihu

[Vayikra 10:1-]

The next part of the parsha tells the strange and tragic story of Nadav and Avihu, the two eldest sons of Aharon. Nadav and Avihu take their fire pans (machtot – מַחְתָּת)—instruments of service in the Mishkan detailed earlier. They place fire (eish – אֵשׁ) in the fire-pans and on the fire, incense (ketoret – קְטֹרֶת), offering it to G-d. Immediately, a fire comes forth and consumes them. The reason for this is covered in depth by the commentators; the text here reads: “they offered before Hashem an alien (or foreign) fire (eish zara – אֵשׁ זָרָה), which He had not commanded them” (וַיַּקְרִבוּ לִפְנֵי ה’ אֵשׁ זָרָה אֲשֶׁר לֹא צִוָּה אֹתָם).

Moshe tells Aharon that this is what G-d meant when He said, “I shall be sanctified through those who draw near to Me and in front of the people I shall be respected” ( בִּקְרֹבַי אֶקָּדֵשׁ וְעַל פְּנֵי כָל הָעָם אֶכָּבֵד). Notably, we are told that Aharon was silent: va-yidom Aharon (וַיִּדֹּם אַהֲרֹן).

Moshe then summons Mishael and Eltzafan, the sons of Uziel the uncle of Aharon, to carry out Nadav and Avihu’s bodies outside the camp. They do so, carrying them out by their tunics. Moshe tells Aharon and his remaining two sons, Elazar and Itamar, not to mourn, lest they die; but Bnei Yisrael will mourn Nadav and Avihu.

At this point, G-d speaks to Aharon and tells him that he and his sons, the kohanim, must not enter Ohel ha-Moed while intoxicated. Moshe prompts Aharon and his sons to consume the relevant parts of the korbanot within the precincts of the Mishkan. When he learns that they have not, he is angry, but Aharon points out to Moshe that it would have been inappropriate given the events of the day, and Moshe agrees.

Kosher Animals

[Vayikra 11:1-47]

Here for the first time the laws of kosher animals are introduced.1 To be kosher, a land animal must (1) have true hooves with clefts through the hooves (mafreset parasah ve-shosa’at shesa parasot – כֹּל מַפְרֶסֶת פַּרְסָה וְשֹׁסַעַת שֶׁסַע פְּרָסֹת); and (2), chew its cud (ma’alat gerah – מַעֲלַת גֵּרָה). Animals that do not have these two kosher signs, and their carcasses, are tamei (טָמֵא), ritually impure. Examples given are the camel (which chews its cud but does not have cloven hooves), likewise the shafan (שָּׁפָן – probably a rock hyrax) and the hare (arnevet – אַרְנֶבֶת). The pig (chazir – חֲזִיר), meanwhile, has true hooves but does not chew cud.

Animals of the seas and rivers, to be kosher, must have (1) fins (snapir – סְנַפִּיר) and (2) scales (kaskeset – קַשְׂקֶשֶׂת). Those creatures that lack fins and scales are sheretz (שֶׁרֶץ – swarming things) of the water and an abomination (sheketz – שֶׁקֶץ).

Following this a list of birds is given that are also forbidden as sheketz, mostly larger birds of prey.2 In addition, winged swarming things that walk about on four legs (sheretz ha-of she-holekh al arba –  שֶׁרֶץ הָעוֹף הַהֹלֵךְ עַל אַרְבַּע) are sheketz, with the exception of specific species with jointed legs: locusts (arbeh– אַרְבֶּה), the sola’am (bald locusts – סָּלְעָם), the cricket (chargol – חַרְגֹּל), and the grasshopper (chagav – חָגָב).

Animals that lack true hooves (as defined above) or do not chew cud, along with animals who walk on four paws, are tamei and cause one who touches their carcasses to become ritually impure until the evening. This also includes the category of sheretz ha-shoretz al ha-aretz (שֶּׁרֶץ הַשֹּׁרֵץ עַל הָאָרֶץ), swarming things of the land, including mice, moles, and a variety of lizards. If one of these touches an object while dead, they impurify that object. Ceramic vessels would need to be broken, while most other items can be purified by means of water. (Exceptions are a dead sheretz touching a water cistern or grain to be sown, which don’t require purification.) Permissible animals, after they have died (i.e., without having been properly slaughtered), confer impurity as well. Further forbidden animals to eat include those that crawl on their belly or have many legs.

Haftarah – ויסף עוד דוד

[Shmuel Bet 6:1-19 (Sefardi) | Shmuel Bet 6:1-7:17 (Ashkenazi)]

When Shemini does not coincide with either Shabbat Parah or Shabbat ha-Chodesh, the haftarah, from Shmuel Bet, tells the story of King David transporting the Ark. A man named Uzzah who is helping to accompany the Ark at one point reaches out to steady it, as the oxen have stumbled. Uzzah is immediately struck down, causing David to worry. Instead of bringing the Ark to the City of David, it is kept in the home of Oved-Edom the Gittite, where it brings blessings upon the house. Comforted, David decided to bring the Ark to the City of David after all, accompanying it by jubilant dancing, which draws the ire of Michal, the daughter of Shaul. David places the Ark in the Ohel, offers korbanot, blesses the people, and distributes bread and cakes to all. At this point, the Sefardi reading ends. The Ashkenazi reading continues with the situation with Michal, who criticizes David. David tells her he is proud to dance before Hashem and Michal remains childless.

Then, King David expresses the desire to build a Temple for the Ark, a desire that is initially met with approval from the prophet Nathan. The night following, however, Nathan receives word that the tent in which the Ark is begin kept is not an affront, and it is not David that should built the Temple. Rather, the kingship will pass to David’s son, who will be the one to built the Temple. Furthermore, the kingship will never pass out of the Davidic line. Nathan reports this propechy to King David.

Image: James Tissot, Nadab and Abihu are killed in the Tabernacle, Leviticus 10:2, c. 1900. Public domain.


  1. They’ll be reviewed again in Devarim 14.
  2. The list is in Vaykira 11:13-19.