Inviting God in
Shemini | Leviticus 9:1-11:47
You need a good memory to fathom this week’s sedra, because it continues the portion from three weeks ago, Tsav. Having taken time off for Passover, we now resume the tale of Aaron’s investiture as high priest, with the enigmatic beginning, “On the eighth day.” The eighth day of what?
Remember: Tsav ended with Aaron and his sons (newly ordained) having to wait seven days outside the Mishkan, the Tent of Meeting. Only now, on the eighth day, can they enter to initiate sacrifice on behalf of the people. By doing so, they celebrate the fact that God has come to dwell there.
A talmudic tradition says the eighth day corresponded to Nisan 1, when God began to speak the universe into being. If so, our parsha really does require a good memory! It assumes you are thinking back to Bereshit, the first sedra of the year. We saw there how God created the world in seven days. Now, though countless centuries have elapsed, we come to the eighth day: not just of Aaron’s ordination, but of creation itself.
The universe was apparently incomplete, awaiting a final act of creation that even God cannot do. God can make the world, even visit it on occasion, but God cannot live here without the work we do that invites God in.
So that is what the last many weeks of readings have been about. All that detail — about hammering boards and sockets, sewing priestly garments, preparing the eternal light, even Aaron’s crash course in sacrifice — was about bringing God here, to Earth, to dwell.
Architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe reputedly said, “God is in the details.” He did not mean God’s details (though they are beautiful enough); he meant our own. Yes, all these weeks of Torah readings have been about finding God in our details, the details of a desert Mishkan that, made right, invites God in.
When God finished the divine share of creation, “God blessed the seventh day and rested.” God rested because there was nothing left for God to do. Creation now had to be delegated to us. That is why the sixth day ends with: “God looked at everything he had done.” Everything God had done, not everything there is to do — like a builder who erects a house but must await the electrician to light the place up. From the seventh day on, God awaited this eighth day, when God’s creatures might finish the job by doing the one thing God could not: make a dwelling place here for God.
We are invited to continue that tradition. Whatever our tasks — planting a garden, serving a customer, representing a client — we are to do them with such excellence of detail that even God would feel comfortable dropping by. Are you raising a family? Attending to business? Volunteering in a synagogue? These are not mere pastimes; they are examples of an updated Mishkan, of the human ability to find creativity meaningful and work fulfilling. So whatever you do, do it right. You may find God coming to live nearby. And some day, someone may write of you: “It was an evening and it was a morning: an eighth day.”