Parshat Shmini begins on the eighth and final day of the inauguration of the Mishkan (Tabernacle), and it was meant to be a day of pure celebration.
Having invested so much time, energy & money in the construction of the Mishkan, this centerpiece of the Israelite camp was intended to remind the people of their ongoing relationship with Hashem and their indebtedness to Hashem who had taken them out of Egypt and given them the Torah.
However, on this day the two eldest sons of Aharon named Nadav & Avihu offered up an אש זרה – a strange & unauthorized sacrifice, and while the mefarshim (commentaries) disagree about the nature of this offering, their swift punishment – where they themselves were consumed by fire like a sacrifice – demonstrated that ‘the priest’s function is not to introduce innovations in the Service, but to carry our God’s command’ (R’ Hirsch).
Understandably the people were in shock, yet in contrast to traditional mourning practices where close family members sit shiva, tear their clothes & don’t cut their hair, Moshe instructed Aharon, along with Elazar & Itamar (the brothers of Nadav & Avihu) not to do so. This strange response mirrored the strange sacrifices of Nadav & Avihu, and it conveyed the message that while the loss of Nadav & Avihu was great, G-d was greater.
But in addition to the message about strange sacrifices, there is a further lesson that we can learn from this narrative.
When Moshe spoke to Aharon, Elazar & Itamar, he told them ראשיכם אל תפרעו (Vayikra 10:6), which literally means ‘do not leave your heads unshorn’. However, as R’ Yisrael Taub (otherwise known as the Modzitzer Rebbe) explains in his Torah commentary called ‘Divrei Yisrael’, the Hebrew word תפריעו also means to interrupt or disturb (as evident from Shemot 5:4).
Had the ceremony of the inauguration of the Mishkan been halted, this would have done incredible damage to the image & function of the Mishkan. So by instructing his brother & nephews ראשיכם אל תפרעו he communicated that, to use the words of the Modzitzer Rebbe, העיקר בכל ענינים הוא ההתחלה – the essence of all things are established in their beginning.
But beyond this, as the Modzitzer Rebbe continues, this teaches us a life lesson since the way we begin each day is a reflection of how we wish it to continue.
It has been said that the period of the Omer is not just one when we count the days, but a period where we are meant to make our days count. Clearly, this is easier said than done, but I do think that we can change how we live each day by thinking about how we start each day.
Obviously each morning we should start with Modeh Ani and then, after getting ourselves ready for the day, we should daven. But as we know, far too often we spend time checking our smartphones before starting the day. I no longer do this and rather than sleeping with my cellphone next to my bed I charge it elsewhere. For me, it serves as a reminder that my appreciation of Hashem must be treated as a greater priority than my email or whatsapp messages.
While we no longer have a Mishkan, our homes are our mini-sanctuaries. Of course, we must always be careful not to allow אש זרה into our homes, but beyond this, let us also remember the lesson of ראשיכם אל תפרעו and make sure we start our days right, because this is probably the best way to help us make our days count too!