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Eight Is Judaism’s Number for New Beginnings
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Parshat Shemini

Eight Is Judaism’s Number for New Beginnings

The mystics see a symbol for aspiring to a higher spiritual plane.

“Ba’yom hashemini” (on the eighth day), Aaron officially begins his holy task of serving as high priest (Leviticus 9:1). Is there any significance to it occurring on the eighth day?

Considering that Moses had been preparing Aaron for seven days to assume the priestly responsibilities, the Torah quite simply states that on the eighth day Aaron’s tenure begins. But, does “shemini,” the very number eight, go beyond this surface account?

Samson Raphael Hirsch suggests that eight is a number indicating that “the condition of the previous period is entirely closed, and with the eight, a new beginning is made.”

Thus, it’s on the eighth day that circumcision takes place; by entering the covenant, the child experiences a new beginning.

And on the eighth day, we celebrate the holiday of Shemini Atzeret — the day after Hoshanah Rabbah, which falls on the seventh day of Sukkot, when, according to the rabbis, the judgment period of the High Holidays ends – and “a new beginning is made” (Zohar, Tzav 31b). 

Similarly, we celebrate Hannukah for eight days, as on the eighth, new, pure oil arrives, marking the dawn of the Temple revitalized.

And so, Aaron is called forth on the eighth; his preparation period has ended, and it is his time to begin serving.

The mystics identify the “newness” that the eighth day represents. Numbers have meaning: six, for example, is commonly associated with physicality. After all, it was in six days, or six stages, that God created the physical world.

Rabbi Avi Weiss

Seven represents the spiritual, as on that day God created Shabbat. It is a day set aside to acknowledge God, a Sabbatical day when we step back from the humdrum of our lives and have the time to spiritually work on ourselves and our relationship with others.

Eight, the mystics say, is meta-spiritual; it’s the number that transcends and takes us to an even higher plane.

As Aaron begins his service on the eighth day, he begins on this meta-spiritual high.

Rabbi Ari Hart, a young, dynamic rabbi and gifted musician, points out that eight is the “higher octave.” The musical cycle contains seven notes, popularly sung to do-re-mi-fa-sol-la-ti. There is, however, an eighth note – do. The eighth is the same as the first, except it is sung one octave higher.

Rabbi Ari Hart, a young, dynamic rabbi and gifted musician, points out that eight is the ‘higher octave.’

In this spirit, the Kli Yakar maintains, “All of Moses’s songs begin with az [then],” a Hebrew word with the numerical value of eight, as the songs of Moses were all encompassing, all inspiring, going beyond the seven-note scale, reaching a higher, new plane.

And so Aaron is purposefully called forth on the eighth. The call was that he serve on a higher, new spiritual plane, singing the song of the “higher octave.”

Rabbi Avi Weiss is the founding rabbi of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, Bronx, N.Y., and founder of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah and Yeshivat Maharat rabbinical schools. He is a co-founder of the International Rabbinic Fellowship and longtime Jewish activist for Israel and human rights.

Candelighting, Readings

Friday, April 9, 2021
Nissan 27, 5781

Light Candles at 7:11 pm

Saturday, April 10 
Nissan 28 

Torah Reading: Shemini: Leviticus 9:1 – 11:47
Haftarah: Samuel II 6:1-19

Shabbat ends 8:12 pm

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