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Brought to You by the Number 8 #719

03/25/2022 04:33:00 PM


Rabbi Irwin Huberman

Parashah Shmini

Brought to You by the Number 8

As a grandfather of a three-year-old, I’ve become reacquainted with Sesame Street, a program many of us were either raised on or watched with our children.

So, it’s my pleasure to inform you, that this week’s Torah portion is brought to you by the Number 8.

Why is this worthy of mention? Perhaps because within Judaism, numbers play such an important role.

So many things Jewish are brought to you by the Number 7. It’s the number of completion.

There are the seven days of the week.The original Jewish menorah had seven branches. We embrace a new couple under the chupah with seven blessings. Seven circles are included in the Jewish marriage ceremony.

We sit shiva for seven days. The Torah assigns seven commandments for all humanity. Farmers rest their fields every seven years.

Yet often lost in the discussion of Jewish numbers, is seven’s older sibling, shmona — eight. Shmona forms the root of this week’s Parashah, Sh’mini.

Eight is the number that signifies new beginnings. It inspires us not only to perform what is required, but to take life one step higher. It is the number of potential.

Rabbi and musician Ari Hart points out that eight represents the ‘new octave.’ It encourages us to stretch to a higher, sweeter note.

A Jewish boy is circumcised at eight days. The ritual, after one completed week of life, points a child into the future.

We light eight Chanukah candles to project light into a second week. Within the diaspora, we celebrate eight days of Passover. After Succoth, we add an extra day known as Shemini Atzeret — the eighth day of assembly.

It is a message within Judaism, that life is never complete. If you are looking for an existence without challenge or disappointment, then you have come to the wrong place.

The Number 8 reminds us that there is always work to be done, and that we can always take life one step higher. Stagnation is not part of the Jewish bargain.

In last week’s Torah reading, we witnessed seven days of sacrifices and festivities as the tabernacle, the Israelites’ traveling sanctuary, is commissioned.

But as parashah Sh’mini opens, Aaron, Moses’ brother, takes on the challenge of bringing the highs of those opening rituals down to everyday observance.

And that challenge speaks to each of us. 

As a society, we have become fixed upon the next major event or festival, whether that be Rosh Hashanah, Passover or Thanksgiving. We often forget the sacred nature and opportunity presented to us on a daily basis.

Within each day, there exists the potential to give thanks, to smile at a stranger, to celebrate our loved ones, to be kind.

During the past two years, restricted and regulated by Covid, I have sometimes felt that every day is the same. I’ve found myself asking, “Is it Tuesday or Wednesday?”

Some weeks it seems that our lives are slipping away. We are all one week older than we were last week — two years older than we were at the start of Covid.

So much around us has changed. We work, meet and pray differently than we did two years ago. In many ways, that’s a good thing.

Yet one of the most disturbing trends we’ve seen over the last few months, is what has been termed “The Great Resignation.”

According to the Department of Labor, this past January, more than 4.3 million Americans quit their jobs, an increase of 23 percent over pre-pandemic levels. There are currently more than 11 million open jobs in America.

It’s understandable that — after the two years of Covid — so many have rearranged their priorities. But life and challenge are not over.

This week, we are reminded that while we often need a break from routine, we are just as good as our next obstacle. Aaron instituted a series of sacred rituals for everyday living. And in many ways — over generations — those traditions — changed and upgraded — have carried us forward to this day.

It is natural for all of us to be currently assessing our priorities. We have been through a lot. But let us not approach life in terms of completion.

As Jewish people, we have always been a little different. We buck popular trends. So, as we reflect on the process of renewal, let us also consider that the answer to having survived Covid, is not to drop out of life — to join the Great Resignation — but rather to embrace new challenges, now more than ever.

Let us each, in our own way, welcome Yom Ha’shmini — the eighth day. 

The tragedy unfolding within Ukraine calls upon us to transfer focus from ourselves toward the healing of this often-brutal world. And, of course, let us not forget there is still poverty, homelessness, and hunger in this world.

Covid has inspired us to look at life differently. Less stress. More family. Fewer empty hours. More quality time. Indeed, there is more to do.

What new challenge, new job, new language, new book, new undertaking are we planning?

After two years of Covid — we have entered a new phase similar to what Aaron contemplated more than 3,000 years ago.

As we approach Pesach, perhaps the most meaningful and reflective time on the Jewish calendar, we must reject the Great Resignation, and consider "what now" as we move our lives forward.

For beyond our survival, the question remains, “what have we learned and how will we apply it to everyday life?”

These important questions, as they have for more than 3,000 years, are brought to you this week by the Number 8.

Shabbat shalom, v’kol tuv.

Rabbi Irwin Huberman


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