Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Eighth Day

This article appears in the Jewish Star

Parshat Emor

“A newborn ox, lamb or goat remains with its mother for seven days. Then, after the eighth day, it shall be acceptable as sacrifice for a fire offering to G-d.” (Vayikra 22:27) A similar verse in Shmot 22:29 says that “on the eighth day, you shall give it to me.”

The difference is that the Shmot passage refers to setting the animal aside for G-d, while our verse refers to the actual offering of the animal. (Chizkuni)

What is the significance of the eighth day that changes the baby animal from being unacceptable to being acceptable to G-d?

Ibn Ezra compares the animal’s eighth day of life (the day of “m’ruba,” when a quarter-month has passed) to that of a human baby – just as the baby may now be circumcised so may an animal be brought as an offering.

In a lengthy exposition of this verse, Targum Yonatan explains the significance of the quarter-month in that a seven day waiting period proves the animal’s viability as it assures us the animal is not a “nefel” – the halakhic category of a stillborn, which would obviously be unfit to be a korban. (Rabbi Shimon Ben Gamliel – Shabbat 135b. For a human, the “nefel” status is removed at thirty days.)

As a mohel, one Torah thought I hear a lot at brisses is that the eighth day is “l’maalah min hateva” – above nature, or supernatural. Through circumcision, we elevate ourselves and our bodies to G-d, by removing something natural to help attain a spiritual level previously unreachable.

But some of the commentaries have different thoughts on the subject.

Chizkuni notes how a Zav, metzora and one who comes in contact with a corpse come out of their tumah (spiritual impurity) on the eighth day – the day after a seven-day waiting period.

Baal Haturim examines how each day of beginning of the animal’s life parallels the days of creation. One who sacrifices an animal on its first day will be viewed as sacrificing to the heavens and earth (created on the first day), on the fourth day as if to the luminaries, etc. The animal must experience its seventh day (parallel to Shabbos) for the one sacrificing it to remember that G-d created the world, and that it is to Him that we are sacrificing on the eighth day.

Whether outside of nature, a new life post-removal from the camp, or a reminder that, first and foremost, G-d created the world in seven days, we can begin to understand how the animal’s status is changed on day eight when it is finally worthy to be a korban – an offering that helps a person come closer to G-d.

In the first mishnah of Avot 4, ben Zoma reminds us of the verse in Tehillim 119:99 which says “Mikol m’lamdai hiskalti.” We can learn from any one who teaches us and should accept the truth from whatever source it may come.

In Thornton Wilder’s novel “The Eighth Day,” a character describes his generation at the turning of the 20th century as the Eighth Day. “Man is not an end, but a beginning. We are at the beginning of the second week. We are children of the eighth day.” In other words, the eighth day represents progress. It is when G-d’s initial input into the world is set, and humans take a stab at what their G-d-given gifts can create, what they can invent, what they can put together to foment advancement in civilization.

We can look at all that is natural and supernatural in the world, and it is very easy for us to fall back on it all and say, “It’s all G-d. It’s always been G-d. It will always be G-d. There is nothing else.”

But we are on this earth for a purpose, and our first job is to discover that purpose. If G-d created the world in six days and rested on the seventh, we are meant to emulate Him through our own creativity for six days, as we too rest on the seventh. But the progress of human development and creativity begins on the eighth day. It is the day when we take action, when we perfect the world under G-d through the actions we take to get closer to him.

When we circumcise our sons, when we take the animal that is now over a week old, we take action and turn a being that has not yet accomplished much to a point of spiritual fullness that could not have been accomplished without our input. This is the turning point of the eighth day, a day of action and a day that looks toward a brighter tomorrow.

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