Innovation and Routine
Summarized by Jeremy Winson
"Vayehi ba-yom ha-shemini" - on the eighth day, the mishkan was dedicated. Chazal enumerate many unique aspects of this festive day. The Gemara (Gittin 60a) mentions eight sections of the law which were taught on that day. Rashi (quoting Shabbat 87b and the Seder Olam) emphasizes that it was a day of "firsts" - it marked the inauguration of the kehuna, the sacrificial service, the priestly blessing, etc. Undoubtedly, the pinnacle of the day was reached when the fire descended from Heaven for the first time and devoured the sacrifice. It was a day of innovation, the beginning of a new chapter for the Jewish people.
There is, however, another perspective on "the eighth day," which both complements and contrasts with its being a day of innovation. The previous week had been that period known as "Yemei Ha-miluim" - a Grand Opening ceremony. According to Rashi, every day the mishkan had been assembled and dismantled; each day the mishkan was something new and extraordinary. The eighth day heralded a new era for the mishkan - that of routine service. True, it was the beginning of this new epoch, but by its very nature it was an ORDINARY day, from which point on the mishkan and avoda (service) would be permanent fixtures in their lives.
The transition from the extraordinary to the routine is further exemplified by the personalities with whom the avoda was associated. Moshe Rabbeinu was the sole servant in the mishkan during the Yemei Ha-miluim. Apparently, his status cannot be seen as that of a temporary Kohen Gadol (High Priest). The Gemara (Avoda Zara 34a) notes that when Moshe served in the mishkan during the seven preparatory days, he wore only the four white garments of a regular kohen, and not the additional four golden garments of the Kohen Gadol. Rashi (ibid., s.v. Moshe) explains that Moshe's service in the miskhan was "al pi ha-dibbur," by a special divine directive, and was unconnected to the kehuna (priesthood). Hence, the "Yom Ha-shemini" represents the transition from world of prophecy, personified by Moshe, to the world of priesthood, characterized by Aharon.
Prophecy is pure, direct spirituality and religious inspiration, in contrast to the formalized institution of kehuna. The priesthood is handed down from father to son, whereas the gift of prophecy is not inherited. Furthermore, no area has more detailed halakhot explicitly described in the Torah than the Temple. In essence, the kehuna represents the world of organized religion.
Why were the Yemei Ha-miluim at all necessary? Was it purely a Grand Opening ceremony?
The week of inauguration, we suggest, was designed to set the tone for the institution of kehuna. Judaism vehemently rejects the notion of "pure spirituality" untamed by the rigors of Halakha. However, the dangers of organized religion are also clear; the prophets regularly criticize meaningless and uninspired performance of religious ceremonies. By working in the mishkan for the first week of its existence, Moshe infused the institution of priesthood with the burning enthusiasm and deep fervor that typifies prophecy. Indeed, according to one opinion in the Gemara (Zevachim 101b), Moshe continued to receive matnot kehuna (priestly gifts) during the rest of the Israelites' forty-year sojourn in the wilderness; the umbilical cord between prophecy and priesthood may not have been cut during that entire period.
The tension and balance that exist on a national level between the excitement and innovative spirit of prophecy, on the one hand, and the constancy of kehuna, on the other hand, are integral to every individual's religious struggle. Our lives are necessarily rooted in the rigors of day-to-day activities, and our religious observance is detailed and prescribed by Halakha, down to the minutest details. The challenge, though, is to unite this structured life with inspiration, fervor, and fire - to unite kehuna with prophecy.
(This sicha was delivered on leil Shabbat, Parashat Shemini 5755 .)
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