While preparing this essay, something interesting happened: I discovered a Jewish concept which has no secular parallel. The concept is that of "accepting the yoke of Heaven" (in Hebrew, "kabalat ol malchut shamayim"); it is a way of acting that derives from our obligation to G‑d, rather than out of love or fear of Him.

The name of the parasha, Shmini - translated as "eighth", refers to the eighth day of erecting the Tabernacle (which turned out to be the first day of the actual service), when the Jewish people prostrated themselves upon seeing the Heavenly fire descend and consume offerings to G‑d. This was a truly lofty moment as the Jews witnessed a tremendous G‑dly revelation.

This event was shortly followed by the deaths of two of Aaron's sons, priests who were so drawn to G‑d that they caused their souls to depart. Their passing was a further demonstration of the elevated spiritual state of the Jewish people at that time, to such a degree that the rest of the people had to prevent their souls from escaping their bodies in their great spiritual thirst.

After these events the Torah continues with Jewish dietary laws, including the one not to eat "creepy-crawlies". Only a Jew at an extremely lowly spiritual level might be capable of even eating these impure (and usually un-desirous) creatures. Therefore, it appears that this section includes two spiritual extremes: from extraordinary G‑dly revelations and spiritual sensitivity to the basest culinary choices.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe discusses how the Torah's combining of these two extremes comes to teach us a key concept - one that I would like to again emphasize is foreign to the secular world. Do I
perform G‑d's
only because I understand that they cause great cosmic effects…?

Serving G‑d is based on accepting the Heavenly yoke. This concept far outdoes common obedience or allegiance. Accepting the Heavenly yoke is our ability to perform mitzvot from a level that exceeds our understanding of G‑dliness. It might be supposed that accepting the Heavenly yoke is the way to serve G‑d when one is not so spiritually aware: A "do as I say whether you like/understand it or not" approach to performing mitzvot. This is far from the truth!

This is applicable even to a Jew who has attained spiritual heights, who has much G‑dly understanding, and whose emotions are pure. Elevated emotions and intellect are not enough. Do I perform G‑d's commandments only because I understand that they bring about great cosmic effects, bring reparation of my soul, unite opposing spiritual extremes, etc.? These reasons are good ones; nevertheless, above and beyond these motivating factors, a Jew must perform mitzvot because G‑d commanded them.

When a person relies on his or her finite, fallible intellect and emotions for doing something, there is a certain danger of toppling from his or her spiritual heights to impure depths. On the other hand, when we make the acceptance of the yoke of Heaven our ultimate motivator for doing mitzvot, we connect ourselves to G‑d's infinite Will. In a way, this is our spiritual insurance policy that prevents us from straying spiritually. Parashat Shmini comes to teach us that accepting the yoke of Heaven is mandatory for every Jew. Start today!

Shabbat Shalom, Shaul

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