Tuesday, April 10, 2018

You Say It's A Living, We All Gotta Eat (Robert Hunter & Mickey Hart- "Fire On The Mountain")

The holiday of Passover has passed over and our kitchen has returned to normal. Perhaps the happiest person was our 10th-grade daughter who has been experimenting with vegetarianism. Her commitment to this additional dietary restriction created some difficulties for her during Pesach. Obviously, there was no regular pasta. Even though there is a Matza based pasta on the market, she did not like it. There was no such thing as a Kosher For Passover vege-burger. There was no Tofu on Passover as soybean (and all beans for that matter) are considered kitniyot (legumes) and we hold by that restriction during the Passover festival. She ate lots of quinoa and lots of fish, eggs and cheese. Throughout the entire week, her mother and I constantly worried about her getting enough protein in her diet. I even told her that it was time she acknowledges her rightful place atop the food chain and enjoys her mother’s chicken and brisket. While our daughter smiled at my joke, she will not be persuaded to begin eating meat. So whenever we do eat meat, we always make sure that she has a “vegetarian option. Despite the inconvenience for the one cooking and our perpetual anxiety about her protein intake, I actually admire her discipline.
This week’s Parsha is Shemini. It is comprised of three chapters. The first chapter tells us how sacrificial offering is supposed to work. While receiving instructions from Moshe, Aharon, his brother, and the High Priest, makes sacrificial offerings on behalf of the people. Following every instruction down to the minutest detail, and remaining in the highest state of spiritual purity, Aharon slaughters the animal, sprinkles the blood, and burns the animal. Once finished, Moshe and Aharon leave the Mishkan and come out to bless the people. V’yeirah Kavod Adonai El Kol Ha’Am-“And the glory of the Lord appeared to all the people” (Lev 9:23). Obviously, we can see how sacrifices are supposed to work. We see how God’s pleasure is displayed and the people's response to witnessing such glory. They bow their heads. This chapter essentially explains God’s response to the sacrifices. When everything is appropriate and in the proper spirit, God accepts our approach. The second chapter concentrates much more on the priests and what happens when things are not appropriate or not conducted in the proper spirit. Aharon’s eldest sons die for their inappropriate approach toward God. Moshe reminds Aharon and his remaining sons that one must be physically and spiritually pure when offering sacrifices both on their own behalf and on B’nai Yisroel’s behalf. However, what do either of these chapters half to do with Kashrut?
The discussion of Kashrut is confined to the last chapter of the Parsha, chapter 11. In it, we read a list of animals that we are forbidden to eat. Some of which I probably would not eat even if it was kosher. However the answer to why we keep kosher is provided “For I am Adonai your God-you are to sanctify yourselves and you shall become holy, and you shall not contaminate yourselves…For I am Adonai who elevates you from the land of Egypt to be a God unto; you shall be holy, for I am holy. This is the law of the animal, the bird, every living creature that swarms in the water, and for every creature that teems on the ground; to distinguish between the impure and the pure, and between the creature that may be eaten and the creature that may not be eaten.” Kashrut is merely a physical expression of our purity. God accepts offerings of all kinds. Priests purify themselves in order to make offerings acceptable to God. What about the rest of us? What everyday activity do we engage in which allows us to demonstrate our sense of purity and our own sense of holiness?  We eat! We separate animals as acceptable for consumption and unacceptable for consumption. We separate milk from meat. We separate the time from when we eat by the time when we do not eat with a blessing. We remind ourselves every day of our own sense of holiness and our relationship to God through Kashrut.
How wonderful! Parsha Shemini teaches that we all have a means to approach God. Priests make sacrifices, and the rest of us eat. By engaging in such physical activity in a manner that consists of limits to that physical activity, we remind ourselves of our relationship with God.  We are reminded that our natural state of existence is entirely physical, only when we infuse our existence with spirituality are we able to embody the sacred. However, the object is to be able to elevate every aspect of our physical existence and infuse it with holiness, even something as physical as eating. Just like God was able to make things holy, so too, are we able to make things holy as well.

Rav Yitz

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