Parashat Shemini opens with a discussion of the eighth day of the inauguration of the Mishkan, on which it was completed. Just from the name of this week’s Parasha, “Shemini,” we receive the impression that there is something special about the number 8. In order to understand its significance we have to be familiar with another and maybe even more common symbolic number: 7. These two numbers appear throughout Torah. The world was created in 7 days. As we read in our Parsha, the Mishkan was inaugurated after its completion on the 8th day. A child is circumcised on the 8th day of his life. An animal is acceptable as a sacrifice on the 8th day of its life. These two numbers are not only important by themselves but are also related to one another. Pesach and Succot are both 7 days long, and immediately following Succot we celebrate Shemini Atzeret on the 8th day. Following Pesach, we count 7 weeks of 7 days (The Omer) and then we celebrate Shavuot at the beginning of the 8th week.
The Maharal, in the first two chapters of his book “Tiferet Yisrael,” goes into great detail explaining the philosophical and mystical meaning behind specific numbers found in the Torah. According to the Maharal, the number 7 represents the entirety of the natural world. All the directions in our three-dimensional world - north, south, east, west, up and down – add up to 6. Add to that the physical realm of this world and we have seven. This same explanation applies to the 7-day Chagim. On Pesach, Shavuot and Succot (the Shalosh Regalim), we thank and pray to Hashem for His involvement in nature - which explains the significance of 7 in each of those Chagim.
If 7 is natural, then 8 must be on a more spiritual and “super-natural” level. When a male is born, he is naturally uncircumcised but we create his connection with Hashem by presenting him with the circumcision on the 8th day of his life, demonstrating that the child is connected to Hashem on a higher and much more personal level. Not only is he a creation of Hashem but he also has his own private pact (Brit) with Hashem. He is part of the Jewish people and is obligated to maintain the standards of their relationship with Hashem. This includes observing Torah and Mitzvot, concepts that would have been unknown in our world if it were not for Hashem’s super-natural and miraculous meeting with us at Har Sinai. This is also why we celebrate Shavuot after counting 7 weeks of 7 days after Pesach. It shows that we received the Torah on that same eighth, non-physical level of spirituality and was a direct involvement with HaKadosh Baruch Hu. Shemini Atzeret serves the same purpose to Succot as Shavuot does to Pesach, which is to show the deeper level of our connection with Hashem. The same idea applies to animals. They were created to roam the earth, living out their lives and dying naturally. Taking an animal and sacrificing it as a burnt offering to Hashem shows a connection on a personal level between Hashem and us. If you look at the word “Korban” you see that the Shoresh is “Karov”-meaning close. The Korban illustrates the spiritual correlation of Am Yisrael to Hashem. This is why the animal is acceptable for sacrifice only after the eighth day of its life.
Understanding the concept that 7 is within the natural order, and 8 is LeMa’alah Min HaTeva, we can understand the name of our Parasha in a new light. The Mishkan, the place of God’s dwelling in our world, must be dedicated in a “LeMa’alah Min HaTeva” time. Its inauguration takes place on the 8th day, symbolizing its special existence and purpose.
The Gemara (Arachin 13b) says: “The harp of the temple had seven strings, but the harp of Mashiach shall have eight strings, as the pasuk says, ‘LaMenatzeiach Al HaSheminit,’ ‘to the conductor, on the eight string harp’ (Tehillim 12:1).”. May we all live to see this prophecy come true.