Shemini 5782 (Shabbat Parah)
Leviticus 9:1 – 11:47
Rabbi Gary Pokras 


Things start to move quickly in Shemini: the altar and the priesthood are dedicated with pomp and ceremony, and then later, Aaron’s sons are consumed by Divine fire for not following the laws of sacrifices. With all this drama, it is understandable that another, equally dramatic verse, is often overlooked: 

“And Moses said, ‘This is the thing which the Lord commanded that you should do; and the glory of the Lord will appear to you.’” [Lev. 9:6] 

The “glory of God?” Moses once asked to see the glory of God (Ex. 33) and was told that no person can see God and live. The best God could do, and only for Moses, was to let Moses see what remained after the Divine presence passed by. From that moment on, Moses was a changed man. The text describes horns of light emanating from his head, which so disturbed the Israelites that he remained hooded in public for the rest of his life. 

If nobody can really see the glory of God, and only Moses was permitted to see whatever it was that he saw, then it appears as if Moses is promising the impossible: ‘Just do the thing that the Lord has commanded, and the glory of God will appear to you.’ 

What is this thing God has commanded?  

We do not know. The text does not provide an answer.  

Frustrating, isn’t it? 

There is some debate, as you might imagine, among the rabbis. Most of the classical commentators either look to the next verse for context or offer creative descriptions of the glory of God. However, if we look at the surrounding verses, things only get more confusing. In verse 5, the whole community gathers at Moses’ command at the front of the Tent of Meeting, so Moses is clearly speaking to all of them about seeing the glory of God. In verse 7, Aaron the High Priest and his sons alone are commanded to bring their sin offering as part of their ordination ceremony, to make atonement for themselves and for all Israel. Furthermore, there is no mention of the appearance of the glory of God. 

The early Hassidic masters brought a different sensitivity. Some suggest that it was the gathering of all Israel before the tent of Meeting which allowed the Divine glory to appear. However, a different consensus emerges through an often-cited commentary called Torat Kohanim, which reads: “If you remove this thing (I.e., the Evil Inclination) from your heart, the glory of the Lord will appear to you.” 

While we cannot know if this is what Moses meant, the idea is intriguing. The rabbis teach that all people have two primal urges: one to do good, to affirm life, to follow Torah [the yetzer hatov or Inclination for Good], and another, to do wrong, to hurt life, and to follow our own selfish agendas [the yetzer hara or Inclination for Evil].  

Among other things, the yetzer hara is the seat of human arrogance. When we are arrogant, we are full of ourselves, and when we are full of ourselves there is no room for anyone or anything else. Many of the worst problems the world faces today are a direct result of human arrogance, for when the arrogant flex their self-serving power, others will inevitably suffer.  

Yet when we temper our arrogance, and control our evil inclination, then we begin to make room for each other, and we learn how much more beautiful it is to be together in mutual support rather than to be alone. And as we make room for each other, it becomes possible for us to make room for God. And then we begin to see that the glory of God has always surrounded us, and it is even more beautiful than we ever imagined.  

Could it really be that simple? 

“And Moses said, ‘This is the thing which the Lord commanded that you should do; and the glory of the Lord will appear to you.’” [Lev. 9:6]