Dr Annette M. Boeckler

Masorti Reflections Shemini 2009

Who knows eight?


"On the eighth day Moses called Aaron and his sons, and the elders of Israel" (Lev 9.1), thus begins this week's torah portion. "We might suppose that the eighth day of Nisan is meant, since the Tabernacle was erected on the first day of the month (Exod 40:17). However, the Commentators say that this occurred on the first day of Nisan, and that during each of the seven days of installation Moshe had erected the Tabernacle and destroyed it, in order to accustom the people to it and to instruct them", explains Abraham ibn Ezra. The contradiction between Exod 40:17 and our parashah would thus be dissolved. Aaron and his sons started their priesthood after a seven day inauguration period. (cf. Rashi). It seems to be of some importance that this was the eighth day, as the torah explicitly mentions it.

          Eight is indeed a special number. We have eight thread-ends in our ziziyot and it is also the number of windings between the second and the third knot. In the famous pessach song, eight symbolizes the brit milah. If we search for eight in the torah, we'll find much more: from the eighth day onwards a firstborn animal can be sacrificed as firstborn offering (Exod 22:29). If someone became impure and had to undergo a purification ritual, he is clean on the eighths day (Lev 14:10.23; Num 6,10). Salomon's Temple was completed in the 8th month after an 8 year building time (1 Kings 6:38). And we all know: The creation of the world was finished after 7 days and history started after this, on an eights day. The eighth day is a refined first day, not a complete new beginning, as we approach the new time period with the experience from seven days gone by. Samson Raphael Hirsch observed: "The completion of a count of seven days symbolizes the conclusion and completion of the condition that has prevailed until now; the eighth day marks a new beginning on a higher level - the beginning of a higher 'octave', as it were." Seven stands for preparation or purification - in our parasha the installation of the priests, - eight marks the start of everyday live and normality. "Seven days the Kohanim abided at the entrance of the tent of meeting. This brought to a close the condition in which the kohanim lived only the personal lives of individuals. On the eighth day they entered a new, loftier phase of life, consecrated to God and to his people" (S.R. Hirsch). The eights day is not only for the priests in the past but in general a chance for a new beginning on a refined level. We start our everyday tasks, but we know better, we come prepared from 7 days gone by. Did you know: the eights day is tomorrow.


Dr. Annette M. Boeckler 

is librarian and lecturer at Leo Baeck College and a member of KNM.