Torah Weekly

For the week ending 3 April 2021 / 21 Nisan 5781

Parashat Shemini

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair - www.seasonsofthemoon.com
Library Library Library

PARSHA OVERVIEW

On the eighth day of the dedication of the Mishkan, Aharon, his sons, and the entire nation bring various korbanot (offerings) as commanded by Moshe. Aharon and Moshe bless the nation. G-d allows the Jewish People to sense His Presence after they complete the Mishkan. Aharon's sons, Nadav and Avihu, innovate an offering not commanded by G-d. A fire comes from before G-d and consumes them, stressing the need to perform the commandments only as Moshe directs. Moshe consoles Aharon, who grieves in silence. Moshe directs the kohanim regarding their behavior during the mourning period, and warns them that they must not drink intoxicating beverages before serving in the Mishkan. The Torah lists the two characteristics of a kosher animal: It has split hooves, and it chews, regurgitates, and re-chews its food. The Torah specifies by name those non-kosher animals which have only one of these two signs. A kosher fish has fins and easily removable scales. All birds not included in the list of forbidden families are permitted. The Torah forbids all types of insects except for four species of locusts. Details are given of the purification process after coming in contact with ritually-impure species. The Jewish People are commanded to be separate and holy — like Hashem.

PARSHA INSIGHTS

Keeping Kosher

“Lest you become contaminated.” (11:43)

The road to holiness does not start with lofty ideals or sublime thoughts. It does not begin with a mind-expanding revelation or a “close encounter.” It cannot be produced by psychotropic drugs, nor can it be experienced by climbing the Alps or the Andes.

True, gazing down from Mont Blanc or Everest may fill us with awe at the Creator’s handiwork. Nature can truly inspire closeness to G-d, but all this inspiration will vanish like a cloud of smoke if we lack the fundamental ingredients needed to concretize inspiration into actuality.

The road to holiness starts with a few small boring steps — such as being a decent, moral person, and controlling our emotions and appetites.

As Jews, we may not eat what we like when we like. On Pesach we may not eat bread. On Yom Tov we should eat meat. On Yom Kippur we may eat nothing. At all times, we may not eat the forbidden foods, which is the subject of this week’s Torah portion.

“Lest you become contaminated.” In Hebrew, this sentence is expressed as one word: v’nitmayhem. The spelling of this word is unusual. It lacks an aleph and thus it can also read as v’nitumtem, which means “Lest you become dulled.”

In our search for holiness and meaning in this world, our greatest assets and aids are the laws of kashrut. Kosher food is soul food. Food for the soul. Food that feeds our spirituality and sharpens our ability to receive holiness. Food that is not kosher does the reverse. It dulls our spiritual senses. It makes us less sensitive, less receptive to holiness. A Jew who tries to seek holiness sitting on top of some mountain in the Far East, living on a diet of salted pork, will find it impossible to achieve his goal. The view of the Ganges or the Himalayas (or his own navel!) may titillate his spiritual senses, but he will find no growth or nourishment reaching his core.

The spiritual masters teach that if a person contaminates himself a little, he becomes contaminated a great deal. Spirituality is a delicate thing. It does not take much to jam the broadcast from Upstairs. On the other hand, a little bit of holiness goes a long way. As the Torah teaches, “You shall sanctify yourselves, and you shall become holy.” (Lev. 11:44) A little bit of sanctity generates a lot of holiness. If we sanctify ourselves down here in this lowly world, with all its barriers to holiness, if we guard our mouths, our eyes and our ears, then the Torah promises us that we will be given Divine help to lift us to lofty peaks of holiness.

It all starts with one small step.

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