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Shemini-the Eighth Day

Parshat Shemini

Leviticus 9:1 -11:46

Our Torah portion opens this week on the eighth day of dedication of the Tabernacle.  Moses dedicated the altar and the priests.  Until now Moses had prepared and made the ritual sacrifices on the altar. But now on the eighth day of Aaron, is now the High Priest and his sons begin their special role.  The eighth day is actually the beginning of the regular and special sacred offerings.  This eighth day is the beginning of their priesthood.

These initial offerings are done in front of the whole community of Israel. It is in part a teaching moment.  This is new to the Israelites.  The sacrificial system, the priesthood, and the Tent of Meeting are all new ways to encounter God.

But the sacrificial ritual alone is not the only way the Israelites find expiation from their sins or worship God.  We learn too that Aaron blesses the people. After the sacrifices and the wave offering, Aaron raises his hands toward the people. Presumably this benediction is the Priestly Benediction we find in Parshat Naso, in the book of Numbers:  May God bless you and keep you. May God’s face shine upon you. And May God’s face be lifted toward you and grant you peace.  With this blessing God appears.  Not just to Moses and Aaron but to the entire people.   “…the Presence of Adonai appeared to all the people” (Lev. 9:23).

The initiation of the new “religious observances” meaning the bringing of the sacrifices and the blessing of the people are components that bring the Israelites close to God.  They can see God. “A fire came forth from before God and consumed the burnt offering and the fat parts on the altar. And all the people saw, an shouted and fell on their faces” (Lev. 9:24). Indeed the word for sacrifice in Hebrew, Korban,  shares the same root as the word for draw near,  KRV –Kirov,

The idea is for Aaron to facilitate the connection between God and the people.  And our Torah tells us that Aaron is successful in his task.

But we have no altar. And we bring no sacrifice.  God often seems remote from our existence. Yet we still yearn for divine encounters. So how do you bring God near to you?  What can you do in our day and time to feel the holy and sacred power of a relationship with the Source of the Universe? How can you bring God near?

One answer in our Torah portion Shemini is the laws of Kashrut.  Our Torah portion also outlines those things that are permitted and those things that are forbidden to eat.  It is not for health reasons. But it is a spiritual discipline that helps us bring God closer to our lives. It is a way of looking at the world and a way of connecting to a larger system of our people.

When we have shared customs as a people we build a stronger tie to our uniqueness and our relationship with God through our fellow Jews.

Keeping Kosher is a spiritual practice designed to elevate a necessary act –eating to the rung of mindfulness. We are to be conscious about what we eat.  We are to be conscious of how it is prepared.

There are lots of variations on keeping kosher.  There is glatt kosher and Biblical kosher, eco-kosher, and vegetarianism which by definition is kosher!  Glatt kosher is a standard of scrupulousness in observance of the detail that goes beyond the letter of the law.  Biblical kosher means you refrain from eating pork or shellfish but not necessarily observing the separation of meat and milk.  Eco-kosher are mindful of the impact on our environment and so you might eat only organic meats (even if they weren’t slaughtered in a kosher meat house) or you might declare certain foods treif because of the way they treat the workers who processed the foods.

But the point is to draw God close in all we do. Even in the foods we prepare and eat.  That is the point of a religious life, morality, ethics and drawing the Divine Holy One into our lives and our life into the life of God!