Friday, April 13, 2018

Torah Thoughts on Shemini

In this week’s Torah portion, God tells Moses and Aaron to tell the Israelites what species and sorts of animals they may eat.  Land animals must have split hooves and chew their cud, sea creatures must have fins and scales, and birds of prey are not permitted as food.  These prohibitions form the basis for the laws of kashrut; keeping kosher.  Keeping kosher is important to many Jews for different reasons.  Some people feel that it is a holy act, some a spiritual exercise. Some keep kosher to identify with the Jewish people and some simply because it is what God told us to do.
People who keep kosher have to pay attention to what they are eating.  It makes us think about where our food comes from and what is in it.  Rabbi Harold Schulweis writes that “for animals, eating is a matter of instinct; only human beings can choose on moral or religious grounds not to eat something otherwise available.”  This attention may also bring us to be grateful for the food we eat. 
Keeping kosher may be an important mitzvah, but it isn’t the only one.  Rabbi Israel Salanter writes, “Only twice in the Torah are we commanded not to eat pork, yet every Jews knows that it is forbidden.  The Torah commands us many more times to refrain from gossip and harmful speech, yet many observant Jews do not sense that they are violating the Torah when they speak ill of others.”  Or, to paraphrase my friend and colleague Marc Kline, perhaps God cares less about what goes into our mouths that what comes out of our mouths.

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