Parashah of the week: Shemini

“And the entire congregation drew close and stood in front of Hashem. And Moses said: ‘This is the [specific] matter that Hashem has commanded you to do, so that the Divine Presence will appear to you’” Leviticus 9:5-6


In his ground-breaking bestseller The Five Love Languages, Gary Chapman pioneered a fresh new take on relationships: different people experience love in often drastically different ways. We tend to express love to others in the way that we prefer to receive it and, despite the best of intentions, acts of love can actually be the cause of frustration, confusion and conflict.

Throughout the Israelites’ construction of the Mishkan, the Tabernacle, the portable forerunner to the permanent Temple in Jerusalem, one theme is pre-eminent: we engaged in the project on God’s terms, not our own.

Recently freed from oppressive bondage, the Children of Israel are given an opportunity through the Mishkan project to return the favour and express their love and gratitude to God for the redemption.

Despite the overwhelming and very natural urge to seek total poetic licence through the expression of individual creativity, the Mishkan’s blueprint is surprisingly restrictive and decidedly pre-determined. Every single hook, thread and tapestry is dictated in intricate detail, down to the very colour scheme of the curtains.

So, the entire nation gathers, eagerly awaiting the Mishkan’s transformation from hollow edifice of wood, metal and material into God’s dwelling place on Earth. Moses again warns them: a space for divinity can only be created if we first vacate it, removing ourselves from the equation by following the terms and conditions of the divine love language.

And what if those terms are not met and instead we default to individual distinctiveness and originality? The implication is simple. albeit stark: that would be lovely, but it will not result in God’s presence being revealed. A true expression of love must be built in the language of the receiver, not the giver.

Indeed, it is no coincidence that the centrepiece of our portion is the tragic death of Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu, who sought closeness to God but entirely on their own terms. The Mishkan’s construction and Moses’s subsequent announcements are clear: such an approach doesn’t produce real closeness. Because at some fractional level, we are in a sense drawing the receiver closer to our own ego and worldview, rather than drawing ourselves closer to them.

So, too, in every relationship. True closeness is achieved if we occasionally curb our own individualism and produce a pure, empty space for the other and the uniqueness of their love language. Do we love them to know that we love them, in which case any expression of love suffices; or do we truly love them?

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