parashat shemini

The laws of Kashrut can be sourced back to this sidra – the types of animals, fish, birds and insects that we as Jews may eat, and those we may not.  There is no explanation for these laws, just as there is no explanation for what happened to Nadav and Avihu the sons of Aaron who died after offering an inappropriate sacrifice – but both stem from a system that is both rigorous and spiritual. Both are about the spiritual discipline acted out in life. Judaism creates holiness out of the ordinary. Kashrut in relation to food is partly about choosing to partake or abstain, and in so doing to show that we are not ruled by our animal instincts, but always remember that we are human beings who have been created in the image of God.

 Kashrut is also a way to make choices in order to encourage spiritual enhancement – for example treifa (meaning torn) has at its base meaning a food that has been torn from its source, either through violence or disease.  And Nachmanides teaches that the character of the animal we eat will in some way influence us – so we should eat only peaceful and kind animals, and not animals who are predatory or vicious.

 The sacredness of food – be it as an offering to be burned or waved before God, or be it the food that we consume – is a primal sense. In the bible, Jews understood about God through food – be it drought or plenty, manna or abundant fruits and grains.  Through a consciousness of food, by choosing what, where and when to eat, Jews developed an awareness of the Source of all. Food was the symbol of our relationship with the earth, and that itself is a symbol of our relationship with God. Think back to Genesis when Adam and Eve are thrown out of the garden for eating the wrong fruit – and now they are told that they must earn their own food and work the earth hard for it in order to get what God had given so freely before. Food is the medium through which we learn about our tradition and theology – matza at pesach, cheesecake at Shavuot, the seven species that grow in Israel during Sukkot and so on. Two loaves of bread at each meal on Shabbat – teaching us through food about rest – the manna was given in a double portion in time for Shabbat so that we would not have to go out searching – and working – on that day. Food connects us to the seasons, to the earth and to God. So how we choose to use it, or to abuse it; how we choose to partake or abstain – this can be an important spiritual tool for us to learn, to experience, to teach.

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