Without question, one of our greatest enterprises involves the search for food. In fact, the birth of civilization depended on the ability to provide a stable water supply to raise crops. Our rabbis tell us that for God to supply the world with food on a daily basis is as miraculous as the Splitting of the Red Sea. To this day, everything associated with the food supply probably absorbs more human effort than anything else. It is, after all, something that affects our survival as well as some of our social needs.
Our Sedra this week, Sh’mini, deals with two major topics: the conclusion of the investiture of Aaron and his sons into the priesthood, culminating in the Divine Presence resting on the Tabernacle; and some of the basic Laws of Kashrut — those animals that may or may not be eaten. Is there any significance in two such apparently unrelated topics occupying the same parasha?
In examining the second part of Sh’mini, the part that deals with kashrut, it’s quite apparent that these laws are arbitrary. Attempts have been made to suggest that they have some underlying health issue; for example, the fact that pigs could carry trichinosis. However, if anything, with the discovery of better ways to preserve meat, such attempts to find a rationale has led to the abandonment of the mitzvah.
The only reason given by the Torah itself for observing the dietary laws is that the Jewish People are supposed to be “holy” (Lev. 11:44); again a somewhat arbitrary reason.
It seems then, that the Laws of Kashrut fall under the kinds of laws that are called “Chukim,” those, like the ritual of the Red Heifer, that are to be followed simply because God commanded them in the Torah. While it may be true that we would want our laws to be firmly rooted in rational considerations, the nature of mitzvah actually goes beyond the issue of legislation. Mitzvot define the essence of the Jewish People’s relationship with the Divine. We are told to “love God…” (Deut. 6:5), and anyone involved in a loving relationship has to learn, sooner or later, that part of demonstrating love to our partner, is to try to answer their needs or requests, not because those needs and requests are reasonable, but simply because they asked us. In fact, if we were only to meet our partner’s requests on the basis of their being rational, our very claim to love them would be in question.
So, it turns out that our attempts to observe these Laws of Kashrut are also an attempt to demonstrate our love of God!
While we no longer have a Tabernacle or a Temple with which to demonstrate our devotion to God in a magnificent and public way on a daily basis, the Laws of Kashrut allow us the opportunity to show devotion in an area that naturally occupies our concern on a daily basis!
The dedication involving Aaron and his sons resulted in the Divine Presence resting on the Tabernacle. The coincidence of these two topics in our Torah portion suggests that our acts which involve some self-sacrifice in limiting our diet, simply because the Torah has commanded us to do so, might achieve a similar result!
Rabbi Mordecai Miller of Brith Sholom Kneseth Israel prepared this week’s Torah Portion.