Parshat Shemini Summary

Parshat Shemini is the 3rd parsha in Sefer Vayikra (also known as Leviticus).

This parsha is verses Leviticus 9:1 – 11:47, or a total of 91 verses.

Here is a brief summary for each aliyah.

Aliyah 1: Leviticus 9:1 – 9:16, 16 verses

The parsha begins with the words, “It was on the eight (in Hebrew, “shemini,” hence the name of the parsha) day …”

This verse brings us back to the end Parshat Tzav. Moses commanded Aaron and his sons (verse 8:33) that they were not to leave the Tabernacle during their 7 days of inauguration.

Those days have been completed and it now time for Aaron and his sons to serve as priests for the first time.

According to Jewish tradition, these events occurred on the first day of the Jewish month Nissan (Rosh Chodesh Nissan).

Here are the special offerings that Aaron and his sons brought on that day:

  • a bull as a sin offering for Aaron
  • a ram for a burnt offering
  • a male goat as a sin offering for the Jewish people
  • a calf and a sheep for burnt offerings
  • a bull and a ram for for peace offerings
  • a wheat offering mixed with oil

In coming verses we will discover that other offerings were also brought.

Passover is coming soon! Click here to download a guide to simplify preparing for the festival. It's free. Passover Cleaning.

Aliyah 2: Leviticus 9:17 – 9:23, 7 verses

Aaron brought the wheat offering which was listed above. And then he brought the offerings for the people.

In verse 17 it’s mentioned that the offerings being described are “in addition to the morning burnt offering.” In the Tabernacle and the Temple, the priests brought a burnt offering at the beginning of every morning. We learn in this verse that Aaron brought that morning burnt offering before the other offerings listed above.

Aaron raised his hands and blessed the people with the Priestly Blessing (see Numbers 6:22 – 27). Even though this blessing is first mentioned later in the Torah, it had already been taught to Moses.

After all this the glory of God appeared to the entire Jewish people.

Aliyah 3: Leviticus 9:24 – 10:11, 12 verses

A fire came down from God and consumed all of the offerings that were on the outer altar.

Aaron’s two oldest sons, Nadab and Abihu, put fire and incense on their fire pans and presented them before God. A fire came out from God and consumed (killed) them.

Moses comforted Aaron (verse 10:3). Then Moses instructed Aaron and his remaining sons (Elazar and Ithamar) the proper way for them to mourn the deaths.

God commands Aaron and his sons not to drink wine or intoxicating beverages before performing the Divine Service.

Aliyah 4: Leviticus 10:12 – 10:15, 4 verses

Moses instructed Aaron and his sons to eat the wheat offering and the peace offering that they had brought that day.

Aliyah 5: Leviticus 10:16 – 10:20, 5 verses

Moses sought to determine what had been done with the “male goat of the sin offering.” According to tradition, this was the sin offering brought every Rosh Chodesh as described in Numbers 28:15.

The offering had been totally burnt on the altar. Moses thought that Aaron and his sons should have eaten it. Aaron explained to Moses why it should not be eaten. Moses accepted Aaron’s explanation.

Aliyah 6: Leviticus 11:1 – 11:32, 32 verses

Readings 6 and 7 teach many of the rules of forbidden and permitted foods.

The land animals that are permitted to eat are those that have both a split hoof and chew the cud.

The Torah lists 4 animals that have only one of these signs: camel, hyrax, hare, and pig.

The fish that are permitted to eat are those that have both fins and scales.

As for birds, the Torah does not give the characteristics of permitted birds. Rather, it lists forbidden species of birds.

Most insects are forbidden to be eaten. However, there are some types of insects (probably locusts) that are permitted.

The Torah explains some of the laws of spiritual contamination or impurity (in Hebrew, “tumah”). When a person touches or carries the carcass of certain animals he or she comes “contaminated” or “impure.”

Aliyah 7: Leviticus 11:33 – 11:47, 15 verses

An earthenware vessel becomes impure if certain types of impurity are inside it. This impurity cannot be repaired and the vessel must be broken.

If an animal permitted to be eaten (a kosher animal) dies, a person who touches the carcass is impure until evening. If a person carried the carcass, his clothing also becomes impure.

A Jew is forbidden from eating “creeping” animals.

The Torah informs us of the reason for the laws of permitted and forbidden animals. We make ourselves abominable and impure by eating these forbidden critters.

God wants us to sanctify ourselves and become holy, because He is holy. Refraining from eating the forbidden animals is one way we sanctify ourselves.

Haftarah Summary

Ashkenaic tradition: 2 Samuel 6:1 – 7:17

Sephardic tradition: 2 Samuel 6:1 – 6:19

King David tried to bring the Ark of God to Jerusalem. The Ark was placed on a wagon. Uzzah, one of the men guiding the wagon, touched the Ark and was killed by God.

Several months later, David tried again. But this time he had the Levites carry the Ark, which is the proper way to transport it. They successfully brought it Jerusalem.

King David tells Nathan the prophet that he wants to build the Temple as a permanent dwelling place for God. God tells David that he cannot build it, but rather his son will build the Temple.

Further Reading

The concept of tumah / impurity is mentioned several times at the end of Parshat Shemini. A question that many people wonder about is if tumah is relevant to us today. I try to answer that question here.

A Note on the Translations
The translation of Bible verses is based on the Judaica Press Tanach.
The translation of Gemara is based on the Soncino Talmud.
Click here to grab your copy of my free ebook How to Learn Chumash with Rashi.