A fire offering to the LORD

Marc Chagall’s “Mother and Child”

From Menahem Nahum of Chernobyl, Meor Einayim, Parshat Ha’azinu.

When a calf or lamb or goat is born, it must be left with its mother for seven days. From the eighth day on, it will be acceptable as a fire offering to the LORD. Leviticus 22:27

God has commanded us to dwell in the sukkah, which shelters us like a mother shelters her children and like the Creator shelters and protects us (1). So, by dwelling in the sukkah, we draw down divine protection for the rest of the year (2). Now the end of everything we do in this month — [the mitzvot for] Rosh Hashannah and Yom Kippur, blowing shofar and dwelling in the sukkah and waving the lulav — is the final holiday of Shmini Atzeret, when we unite with the Creator in absolute union (3).

In the Torah it is written, “the righteous rules over the fear of God,” and the sages take it to mean that “the Holy One of Blessing decrees, and the righteous one annuls” (4). How can we say such a thing? The answer is written in the verse itself: With what does the righteous one rule? With the fear of God, which is God’s kingdom (5). For when the righteous person cleaves to and unites with God, it is in his power to rule over all the worlds, which are under God’s rule. This is the meaning of “on the eighth day you shall gather, atzeret” (6), for atzeret can also mean “rule” (7), and on Shmini Atzeret we are given rule over all the worlds, because we are united with the Creator in complete unity.

In this way we can understand our verse, When an ox or sheep or goat is born… These three animals represent the three levels of morality: righteous, middling, and wicked… Their day of birth symbolizes Yom Kippur, when everything is forgiven and we are like newborn babies. It must be left with its mother for seven days refers to the seven days of Sukkot, when we are sheltered in sukkot as by our mother. From the eighth day on it will be acceptable as a fire offering to the LORD refers to Shmini Atzeret, when we offer ourselves up to draw close and unite with God in absolute union. Then the “fire,” that is, divine judgment, will be drawn close and offered up to YHVH, the LORD, divine mercy (8). Thus God decrees and the righteous one annuls.


1) Zohar III 255b   2) As the first month of the year, it sets the tone for the rest of the year, in the same way that a slight adjustment of an arrow while still in the bow can have great effect on the arrow’s flight.   3) Shmini Atzeret is the culminating festival of the Tishrei holiday season, but the Torah gives little indication of what it is supposed to celebrate or commemorate.   4) 2 Samuel 23:3; Moed Katan 16b; The verse in context reads, “He who rules men with righteousness, he who rules [in] awe of God,” but the language is strange and begs a different reading, which the sages give it, breaking up the lines and reading it as “the righteous rules [in/over/with] Awe of God.” The Hebrew preposition can mean “in,” “over,” or “with.” For some scriptural texts behind this, see Psalm 103:19, Zohar Parshat Bereishit 45b, and Tikkunei Zohar 33:77a   5)  Yirah, “fear,” and Malchut, “Kingdom,” are both terms for the Shekhinah, the indwelling divine.   6) Numbers 29:35, the source text for the holiday of Shmini Atzeret.   7) See 2 Samuel 23:3   8) See Zohar III 255a, Yerushalmi Berachot 9:5, and Sifrei Va’etchanan 26.

For related teachings, see the Meor Einayim on returning divine judgment to its source, the Baal Shem Tov on judgment and freewill, and the Kedushas Levi on G!d’s names.

Jeff says…

Our sages tell us that on Rosh Hashannah our fate for the year is written and on Yom Kippur it is sealed, but in stressing God’s mercy and our chance to do teshuva, they add that the judgment is not handed down until the end of Sukkot, and the gates are finally closed and locked on Shmini Atzeret. The Meor Einayim doesn’t like the idea of us being locked out, but as he points out, if we’re “united with the Creator in absolute union” then we’re already on the inside.

This entry was posted in Days of Awe, Ha'azinu, Hasidic Masters, Holidays/Days of Remembrance, Menahem Nahum of Chernobyl/Meor Einayim, Parsha, Samuel, Shmini Atzeret, Sukkot. Bookmark the permalink.

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