Well, Passover has passed over, and it’s time to move on to the next weekly reading of the Torah. This week’s sedra bears the euphonious appellation of Shemini, which translates to “Eighth.” This isn’t a reference to the date (today is the sixth) but to the eight days after Aaron and his brood were made priests. When they were first appointed, they partied for seven days, then it’s get your (((asses))) back to work time on Day 8. Really, the sedra should have been named “Hangover.” And People Doing Stupid Shit After A Bender, as we will see.
Much of this sedra revolves around sacrifice- not the Lenten kind or tithing, but (in an ironic foreshadowing of 20th century Germany) burning up some animal or other. There are exceptions, but mostly, it’s bye-bye to some poor cow, goat, or sheep. The sacrifices were done at the Tent of Meeting (Tabernacle), which today is apparently at some U Haul storage place in Syria. And Shemini hauls out a bunch of them:
- Sin Offering
- Burnt Offering
- Peace Offering
- Meal Offering
- Wave Offering
That’s a lot of offerings (note: we like to say “offering” instead of “sacrifice,” much in the manner that Progressives like to say “investment” rather than “flinging around other people’s money for their own moral satisfaction”). Most of them differ by exactly where you kill the animal (Tabernacle altar, doorway, plaza…), the animal species, scrupulous instructions on what special marks you have to make with the blood, how the organs are to be cut up, what parts are burnt and what parts are left uncooked, presumably for priestly delectation. Oh, and repeated bans on eating the fat or blood. “Yahweh owns that, keep your dirty little Jew-paws off of it!” But coincidentally, they all end up with goodies being left behind at the Priestly Tent.
It’s a complicated mess, but honest-to-Yahweh, the obscure Wave Offering is the very best priestly grift. See, you bring stuff to sacrifice to the Tabernacle- it doesn’t have to be animal, it can be crops, bread, olive oil, banknotes, real estate, whatever- and then you wave it at the Tabernacle. Yes. You wave it in that direction.
Then it’s handed over to the priests.
It’s not hard to guess how this all got written in, let’s not go there, but note that the rules here are insanely complex, incredibly specific, and are… enforced. There’s lots more sacrifices (my favorite being the, no shit, Heave Offering), but the ones in this sedra are enough for now.
So… this takes us to the best part of the sedra. A couple of Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu, were supposed to do a burnt offering. Now, of course, all the kindling and incense to make the fire had to be bought from the Tabernacle’s equivalent of the museum gift shop. That was the rules straight from Yahweh. Still a bit fuzzy from the week-long party, the Aaronsons decided that they were going to DIY, and made their own incense.
This was a career limiting move. Realizing that this was fake stuff and not purchased through the officially sanctioned priestly concession (an ancient example of regulatory capture), Yahweh flipped on his flamethrower and turned the boys into Krispy Critters. Fucking around with Yahweh’s crew is as bad as trying to steal from the Mafia. A couple of their cousins carry out what’s left of the former Aaronson Brothers.
And in the manner of the Middle East’s unique brutality that persists to this very day, Yahweh then comforts Aaron in his own special way: “Dry the fuck up. No funeral. No monuments. And no mourning. None. I catch you mourning, you’re next. Don’t fuck with Yahweh.”
“Oh, and let’s make sure this sort of bullshit doesn’t happen again. You’re cut off. No drinking for you and the descendants of the kids you still got. So far.”
The rest of the sedra is anticlimactic, though edgy- the remaining kids spend a ton of time working out the details of the correct way to do one of those sacrifices without getting zapped. Moses tries peer review, then in the finest Jewish tradition, an argument breaks out.
Moses loses. But he was a good sport about it, that’s the kind of guy he was.