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שְּׁמִינִי / Shemini Parsha Overview: Reminders of Holiness

וַיִּקְרָא / vayikra / Leviticus 9:1-11:47

This is a basic overview of the parsha story in a format adaptable for kids of any age. Sources include parsha text, commentaries and midrash, though when introducing midrash, I try to include the words “some people think” or something similar. 

Please see the Vayeishev overview for how we use these narratives  in our homeschool.  I also have copywork sheets to go with the weekly parsha… enjoy!

image What if you were really, REALLY mad at somebody?

For a good reason, too:  maybe they did something just terrible.

Now, here’s the thing:  they apologized already.  They said “sorry”; they fixed what they’d done.

They even helped you out in some other ways – they’ve been super-nice ever since.

So can you forgive them?  Really; all the way?  You might stay just a little bit mad, even after all those things.


The Egel HaZahav was so terrible that Hashem hadn’t forgiven bnei Yisrael all the way yet.

While the Mishkan was being built, Hashem was watching to see how bnei Yisrael would behave.

Maybe He needed to see…        

·         How generously they brought gifts to build the Mishkan!

·         How well they listened to Moshe, Betzalel and Oholiav while building it!

·         Whether they would accept the kohanim as their leaders!

Shemini means “eighth” – it was the eighth day; the day the kohanim started their permanent jobs in the Mishkan.


image image The Mishkan was built, the kohanim were ready… the preparations were finally complete.

All of bnei Yisrael gathered outside the Mishkan to see what would happen.

A fire came down from Hashem, and Aharon and his sons’ korbanos were burnt up completely.

Aharon, the new Kohen Gadol, raised his hands and bentsched the people with birkas kohanim.

Bnei Yisrael were so excited to see this proof that they were forgiven that they sang out loud!


That was when something really, really sad happened.

When you’re celebrating, it’s easy to want to make the celebration even bigger. 

That’s what Aharon’s sons Nadav and Avihu decided to do.  They wanted to get even closer to Hashem.

They decided to bring a korban of their own.  Some say they brought it into the kodesh hakodashim – the holiest place!

Maybe that sounds like a great idea – but it wasn’t.


A few weeks ago, in Parshas Vayakhel, we learned about good intentions – wanting to do the right thing.

Good intentions are not enough without a good plan.  Nadav and Avihu didn’t ask Moshe or Aharon about their plan.

Maybe they thought that because they were from Aharon’s family, they could do what they wanted. 

But they couldn’t!  Even tzaddikim are not allowed to make their own plans; they still have to follow the Torah.

Right away, a huge fire came and burnt them up!


When his sons died, Aharon didn’t say anything.  He was probably very upset, but he didn’t complain.

Sometimes, bad things happen that we cannot understand; they make us feel like life isn’t fair.

Hashem then spoke to Aharon directly, reminding him of how holy the Kodesh Hakodashim is.

image What a great reward!  Usually, Hashem only gave instructions directly to Moshe.


The rest of Parshas Shemini talks about “tamei” and “tahor” – pure things we’re allowed to eat and touch. 

These rules are not just for the kohanim – they are for every single Jew, even today! 

Hashem cares about every tiny detail of our lives!

image Animals we can eat are called KOSHER.  It’s easy to know if an animal is kosher!  Is it…

A land animal?  Then it needs to have split feet, and chew cud.  One of these signs isn’t enough; it must have both!  That means no snakes (no feet!), no pigs (split feet, but no cud), but cows and moose are just fine.

A sea animal?  Check if it has fins and scales on its body.  One of these signs isn’t enough; it must have both!  Most of what we call fish have both – but octopus, shrimp, crab and other sea creatures do not.

A bird?  Hashem gave Moshe a long list of kinds we CANNOT eat, but today, we don’t know which ones we can’t have.  So we only eat the kinds that our ancestors knew about – like chickens, ducks, geese and pigeons.  “Birds of prey” – carnivorous hunting birds are never kosher; only plant-eating birds (and animals) are kosher.

An insect?  Yes, there are kosher insects!  Hashem gave Moshe a short list of locusts that we are allowed to eat.  Some Sefardi Jews (from Northern Africa, Asia and Southern Europe) have a tradition to eat locusts; others do not eat them.


Separating “tamei” from “tahor” reminds that bnei Yisrael must stay “tahor” – pure and holy in every way.  Next week, we will learn about Tzara’as, a disease that reminds us of other ways Hashem asks us to stay holy.


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