Torah Weekly

For the week ending 26 March 2011 / 19 Adar II 5771

Parshat Shemini

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair -
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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 as to 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. Bnei Yisrael are commanded to be separate and holy — like G-d.


One Small Step For A Man

“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 Alpsor the Andes.

True, gazing down from Mont Blancor 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 to concretize inspiration into actuality.

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

As Jews, we may not eat what we like when we like. On Pesach we may eat no 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 that are the subject of this week’s Torah portion.

“Lest you become contaminated….” In Hebrew this sentence is expressed as one word, V’nitmay’tem. 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, one of 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 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 Eastliving on a diet of salted pork will find it impossible to achieve his goal. The view of Ganges, or the Himalayas(or his 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 doesn’t 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.”(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 help to lift us to lofty peaks of holiness.

It all starts with one small step.

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