Monday, April 16, 2007

A little late on the parashah ... Sh'mini!

Perhaps the most significant aspect of this week's parshah (for me) is the discussion in Etz Chayim regarding kashrut. I'm often asked why I hold on to "archaic" or "outdated" mitzvot like not eating pork or not mixing milk and meat. I have my reasons -- much like everyone else does -- and they vary from person to person. Is it wrong to not just say "Because Torah says so!" ... HELL NO. (My biggest beef with Christianity growing up was that I was discouraged from asking questions. That was also one of my biggest draws to Judaism!)

Before I talk kashrut, I want to mention a few other things in this parshah, which begins with two of Aaron's sons being consumed by flames.

In this portion of the parshah, Aaron raises his hands to G-d and blesses the people before him, which made me wonder if this is where the belief that the 'live long and prosper' hand symbol arose from the priests of Temple Judaism. Leonard Nemoy took the hand symbol (of which I'm sure everyone is familiar) to Star Trek, saying that he remembered making the gesture in shul when he was a lad. I have yet to run across anything in Torah that specifically details the hand signal, but I'm still looking out for it. Curious, nu? Here's a site with some insight: Jewish origins of the Vulcan gesture.

The debate over Nadab's and Abihu's sin (and what it was) is ongoing. Etz Chayim says "Their sin, if any, was a lack of faith, trying to help G-d in a situation in which G-d did not need their help. (Mekh.)" Sages have said the fire was the "fire of ambition" and that the boys were trying to supersede their edlers, while others have said that the brothers were motivated by EXTREME piety. That is, they wanted desperately to be close to G-d and got lost in the effort to attain extreme closeness. Even still, it has been argued that their bodies were not completely consumed and burnt by the fire from G-d, because of phrases later that say the men were carried away by their tunics. Rather, it has been suggested that their souls were completely consumed, resulting in Nadab and Abihu becoming spiritually ruined.

On the same note, within the commentary it says something that I wasn't really aware of, but it regards recent losses (death, of course). Jewish law counsels us AGAINST trying to comfort individuals right after a loss. This goes against nature, considering when someone close to us is hurting we want immediately to help them feel better. But at the same time, there's something strange about doing so ... which makes this little bit of Jewish law pointed.

NOW! For the little morsel I wanted to share. I'm perfectly solid in my reasons for not eating pork, shellfish and beef/dairy combos, among other things. But whenever I can find more satisfaction and law in my decision, I get giddy and it helps the moral effort. Etz Chayim highlights the issue as such: We are commanded not to ingest blood, thus, we should not consume animals and birds of prey that ingest blood, because this puts blood into our food system. Ta da! Brilliant! Additionally, the comments admit that keeping kosher reminds us that there is "a moral difference between eating an apple and a slice of meat." Why? Because one of G-d's creatures had to be slaughtered for the consumption of the meat. Keeping kosher creates a consciousness, which I like.

Okay, that was probably a false buildup, but I thought those two little bits there about kashrut were poignant.