Studying Torah Requires Searching the Scriptures

At the very center of the Torah are the words “Search, search!” The same words can be understood to mean, “Study, study!”

Light coming from the center of a book. Concept of wisdom through study. (Image © Bigstock/Michal Bednarek)

Shemini

Regular Shabbat Readings

Read / Listen to these Portions

  • Shemini (שמיני | Eighth)
  • Torah: Leviticus 9:1-11:47
  • Haftarah: 2 Sam. 6:1-7:17
  • Gospel: Matthew 3:11-17

Note: The regular readings are often interrupted with special readings on Jewish holidays, special Sabbaths, and Rosh Chodesh. Refer to the annual Torah Portion schedule for these special portions.

Portion Outline

  • Torah
    • Leviticus 9:1 | Aaron's Priesthood Inaugurated
    • Leviticus 10:1 | Nadab and Abihu
    • Leviticus 11:1 | Clean and Unclean Foods
    • Leviticus 11:24 | Unclean Animals
  • Prophets
    • 2 Samuel 6:1 | David Brings the Ark to Jerusalem
    • 2 Samuel 7:1 | God's Covenant with David

Portion Summary

Shemini is the twenty-sixth reading from the Torah and third reading from the book of Leviticus. The word shemini (שמיני) means "eighth," and it comes from the first words of Exodus 9:1, which says, "Now it came about on the eighth day that Moses called Aaron and his sons and the elders of Israel" (Leviticus 9:1). The text goes on to describe the events of the eight day after setting up the Tabernacle, a phenomenal worship service followed by a tragic incident. The reading concludes with the biblical dietary laws regarding animals fit for consumption and prohibitions regarding those that are unfit.


Leviticus 10:16 says, “Moses searched carefully for the goat of the sin offering, and behold, it had been burned up!” The words “searched carefully” translate the repeated Hebrew verb darash (דרש). Darash means “to search.” In Hebrew, the verse repeats the verb darash to indicate a diligent search. It says, “darosh darash,” literally, “searching, he searched.”

The same word applies to the study of Torah. For example, a short teaching on Torah is sometimes called a derashah, and a traditional interpretation of Torah is called a midrash (מדרש). Midrash comes from the same word—“to search.” Studying Torah requires searching the Scriptures.

The Torah actually commands us to study the Torah. Deuteronomy 6:7 says, “You shall teach the commandments of the Torah diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up.” The sages explain that this commands us to study Torah because to teach the Torah one must study it first. A person should search the Torah, study it, and discuss it, at home and on the way, evening and morning.

The Master repeats this commandment to search the Torah when He rebukes the Pharisees in John 5:39, saying, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me.” The Greek of John 5:39 can also be read in the imperative sense: “Search the Scriptures diligently. In them you have eternal life because it is these that testify about Me.” As we diligently search the Torah, we encounter Messiah.

Most printed editions of the Torah contain a masoretic note on Leviticus 10:16 stating that these two Hebrew words—darosh, darash--are the exact halfway mark of all the words of the Torah. That is to say that if one person started with the last Hebrew word of the Torah and started counting backward, one word at a time, and another person simultaneously started with the first Hebrew word and started counting forward, they would meet at the exact center, in Leviticus 10:16, where it says, “darosh, darash.” Right at the very center of the Torah are the words “Search, search!” The same words can be understood to mean, “Study, study!”

These two words are the exact halfway mark of the words of the Torah. This is to teach us that the entire Torah revolves around constant inquiry. One must never stop studying and seeking ever deeper and broader understanding of the Torah. (Degel Machaneh Ephraim)

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