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Shemini: Rav Schwab: Two Steps of Separation

The 14th of Adar is the Yahrtzeit of Rav Shimon (ben Yehuda) Schwab (1908-1995). Born in Frankfurt-am-Main, Rav Schwab learned at Mir and Telz  before becoming dayan in Darmstadt and Rav in  the district of Ichenhausen in Bavaria. Escaping nazi Germany in 1936, Rav Schwab served as Rav in Baltimore, then in New York in the Washington Heights  area, following Rav Joseph Breuer. He authored Maayan Beis Hashoeiva.  Additionally, several books contain his drashos – including “Selected Writings,” (C.I.S. Publishers, 1988) and “Selected Speeches,” (C.I.S. Publishers, 1991). (My favorite is Rav Schwab on Prayer, published by Artscroll)


“In order to distinguish between the sacred and the profane, and between the contaminated and the pure, and to teach the Children of Israel all the decrees that God had spoken to them through Moses (Vayikra 10:10–11).” We have to examine this verse carefully because there is a difference between the way it opens and the way it closes. At the beginning of the verse, the “holy” is mentioned before the “profane.” At the end of the verse, the “contaminated” is mentioned before the “pure.” We can ask a similar question about the final verse in the portion; “to distinguish between the contaminated and the pure, and between the creature that may be eat-in and the creature that may not be eaten (11:47).” In this verse the order is reversed; it opens with the “contaminated” before the “up your,” and it ends with the “creature that may be eat-in,” before the “creature that may not be eaten.”

We find a similar issue with a later verse, “you shall distinguish between the clean animal and the unclean, and between the clean bird and the unclean; and you shall not render your souls abominable through such animals and birds, and through anything that creeps on the ground, which I have set apart for you to render unclean.” The verse begins with that which is pure before that which is impure, but concludes by beginning with the abominable first. This switch in order is clearly a pattern.

“You shall be holy for Me, for I, God, am holy; and I have separated you from the People’s to be mine (20:26).” In this verse there are two stages; the first stage is, “I have separated you from the people,” and then it adds, “to be Mine.” This teaches us that separation from others is insufficient, there is a second stage of, “to be Mine.”

This can refer to the fact that there are two different perspectives on the laws that separate us from other nations. We are forbidden to copy their ways, and they are forbidden to observe some of the mitzvot (Sanhedrin 58b).

This is why when we recite the Havdalah we say, “who separates between the holy and the profane, between light and dark, and between Israel and the nations.” None of these separations are only from one side; they all work from both.

Just as Shabbat is separated from the week, the mitzvot of the week are separated from the Shabbat. We are forbidden to build the Mishkan on Shabbos.

This is why the verse consistently switches the order between the holy and the profane, to teach us that just as the holy must separate itself from the profane, the profane must work to separate itself from the holy.

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