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Summary of Parshat Shemini

by the editors    
of Torah from Dixie    

Parshat Shemini (Leviticus 9:1-11:47) begins by discussing the events which occurred on the eighth and final day of the melu'im, inauguration service in the Mishkan (Tabernacle). After months of preparation and anticipation, Aaron and his sons are finally installed as Kohanim (priests) in an elaborate service. Aaron blesses the people, and the entire nation rejoices as Hashem's presence rests upon them. However, the excitement comes to an abrupt halt as Aaron's two eldest sons, Nadav and Avihu, are consumed by a heavenly fire and die in the Mishkan while offering a ketoret (incense) on the altar. The Torah states that they died because they brought a "strange fire" into the inner sanctum of the Mishkan, the meaning of which is discussed by the commentators at great length. Aaron is informed that the Kohanim are forbidden to enter the Mishkan while intoxicated, and the Torah continues to relate the events which occur immediately after Nadav and Avihu's tragic death. The portion concludes with a listing of the kosher and non-kosher animals, and various laws about tumah, ritual contamination.

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