Shemini 5771 – Gilayon #695

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Parshat Shmini

This is the statute of the teaching that the Lord has

charged, saying:

Speak to the Israelites, that they take you a perfect

red cow

that has no blemish and on which no yoke has been put.

(Bemidbar 19:2)


This is the statute of the

teaching. The rites pertaining to the red Heifer were designed to

discourage association with the dead, prompted by the bereaved's

often excessive love for the departed. Alternatively, that people should not

make a practice of consulting the dead or familiar spirits, the text pronounced

the defilement of the dead person as more contaminating than all other modes of

defilement, making it the prime source of uncleanliness,

defiling both man and vessels and defiling as through overhanging (ohel).

Also on account of human respect,

that people should not come to use human skin for coverings and human bones for

articles of use as we use the skin of animals to make waterskins

and carpets, from the bones we make utensils, as we make from the leather and

bones of animals, for this is to dishonor people. And so said our Sages: Why is

man's skin declared impure? So that a man not make

floor-coverings of his father. Why are the bones of man impure? Lest he make utensils out of his parents' bones. And the

degree of impurity is proportionate to their importance …And so with regard

to their purification they took more stringent measures, demanding the use of

the heifer's ashes which were very dear.

(Rabbi Bechor Shor Bemidbar 19:2)


This is the statute of the

teaching that the Lord has charged. The crux of the mystery is its property

of contaminating the pure and purfying contaminated.

Perhaps we may catch a little of its significance in our attempt to understand

the observance …one of the fundamental requirements is that the heifer had to

be completely red. The prophet has explained that sin is described as red; cf.:

"though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as

white as snow". (Isaiah 1:18)

We should bear in mind that the Torah

recommends the golden mean – all extremes are undesirable …there is no better

way of rectifying misdoing (the crooked), of regaining the middle way than veer

to the other extreme. The cedar symbolized pride, the hyssop, the opposite. The

scarlet thread between symbolizes that both are sinful. It has been said that Saul

was punished for not caring about his own dignity (erring on the side of


Thus though this precept is a

statute which is not to be questioned, possessing without doubt a s sublime

meaning known to the King who commanded it, it contains an allusion to the way

of repentance to be followed by every sinner – that he should tend to the other

extreme in order to regain the middle path and be purified. But while this

corrective measure is beneficial and purifying for the sinner, it is wrong and

defiling for every pure heart.

(R' Ovadya of Seforno, ibid. ibid.)



The Forest and the


Debbie Weissman

Dedicated to my mother, Sylvia Weissman,

of blessed memory,


passed away on 21 Adar 5756

Most of the

Jewish dietary laws are found in our Torah portion, especially in chapter 11 of

Leviticus. Through my many encounters with people of other faiths, I have

learned something new about Kashrut. As

someone who grew up in a Christian environment, I always felt that keeping Kosher

was strange or at least different. Christians don't have rules like these.

It's true that during the period of Lent that precedes Easter, some Christians,

particularly the Orthodox, refrain from eating meat – as was once customary

every Friday – but there is no one food that is defined as "forbidden"

all year long. Because of that, I thought that our dietary laws were simply hukimthat is, laws we must follow without

any further rationale or explanation.

And then, I

began to meet Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and members of other traditions. In

most of those religious cultures, if not all, there are rules that limit the

consumption of certain foods. Muslims don't eat pork, Hindus don't eat beef, Jainists are total vegans who won't

eat even onions or garlic, because eating them involves pulling their roots out

of the ground, which the Jainists perceive as an act

of violence. All of these groups are expressing their religious and spiritual

values through their consumption of food – or lack thereof. Thus I saw that in

this regard, it is the Christians who are the exceptions among members of the

various faith-communities.


exceptionality of the Christians with regard to their lack of forbidden foods

began with the beginning of Christianity. It is likely that Jesus as a Jew of

his time observed the dietary laws from our Torah portion. The person who

introduced the idea of freedom from these laws was Paul. In his mission to the

Gentiles, he exempted them from the practical commandments between people and

God. Thus there arose in the first century two kinds of Christians – that is,

believers in Jesus – the Jewish Christians, who continued to observe the

commandments, and the Gentile Christians, who based their religion on faith

alone and not on "works."

This situation

created a rift in the first Christian communities. These two groups could not

sit down together at the same table and eat as one group. It is this theme – called

by Christians "table fellowship" – that formed an important

foundation in their spiritual lives. In his Epistle to the Romans, Paul turned

to the new (Gentile) Christians and requested that they compromise their

beliefs and respect the customs of the Jewish Christians, although those

customs were strange:" (19) Let us therefore make every

effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. (20) Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food… (21) It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do

anything else that will cause your brother to fall." Thus Paul

based his request to respect the laws of Kashrut

on the demand for charity and mercy towards the Other

and the pursuit of peace within the fledgling Christian community.

The subject of

the "parting of the ways" between Judaism and early Christianity is

very complex and we can not go into it in this limited framework. Contemporary

scholarship shows that the process took several hundred years. However, in the

end, the Church Fathers decided against keeping the dietary laws as part of the

new religion, even as a gesture towards the Other.

Without a doubt, one of the most blatant signs of religious Judaism, as it

developed through the generations, is the meticulous observance of the laws of Kashrut. But in my humble opinion, sometimes

this meticulousness – or at least "the wars of the hekhsherim

(certificates of Kashrut)" – appears

even to a religious Jew to be somewhat exaggerated. (I jokingly call this

phenomenon "Jews for cheeses.") In effect, this extra-stringent

observance prevents many Jews from eating in each other's homes, or even eating

with each other. I wonder if we shouldn't think about mercy towards our

fellows. I don't mean – heaven forbid! – that we

should actually violate the laws. But I will quote an American Orthodox rabbi

who told me, more than 40 years ago, "If your friends are going to a

non-Kosher restaurant, and the only thing you can have there is a glass of

cola, sit there with them and drink the cola." For him – as an Orthodox

rabbi – to be involved with other people is also a value – not at the expense

of Kashrut, but together with it. He obviously

thought less of the issue of "Mar'it Ayin" (keeping up appearances.)

I would like

now to bring three vignettes from my own life in recent years. They relate to

the theme of "meta-Halakha"

regarding the appropriate connection between the details of the laws and their

broader meanings.

First scene:

I teach groups of Christians who come to Jerusalem

from throughout the world. I teach them about Judaism and about Israel. Half a

year ago, I tried to teach a certain group about what is Midrash,

what is Mishna, what is Halakha,

and something about the Jewish calendar and festivals. One of my students, an

Australian Catholic, asked about what he called a "strange tension"

within Judaism. Almost immediately, he changed his definition to "a dance"

between two poles. One pole, according to his words: You Jews always want "to

get it right;" to serve God in the most "correct" way possible.

It's important to you, for example, what the correct dimensions of the Sukkah should be, when it is Kosher and when it is

unacceptable, and so on. But, he continued, you also play with Judaism, you

laugh, you enjoy.

I think what

he was referring to primarily was that sometimes the Midrash

tells us: "Don't read the text this way, read it that way." For

example, "don't read banayich, 'your

children' but rather, bonayich,' your

builders.'" (Masekhet

B'rakhot 64a on Isaiah 54:13.) I don't

know if he was fully aware of what we do on Purim or on Simhat Torah. To the best of my knowledge,

there is no other religious culture in the world in which innocent tomfoolery –

that is, without orgies – Purim-Torah or a Purim-Spiel – is part

of the religion itself. We serve God by poking innocent fun at His Torah. We

dance with it, we have fun with it. In this context, we can bring in the

wonderful story that appears in Masekhet Ta'anit 22a, in which Rabbi Beroka

asks Elijah the Prophet which of the people going around in the market-place is

destined for the World-to- Come. Elijah points to two people who say, "We

are happy people and we make those who are sad, happy." The Aramaic word

for "making others happy" is m'vadhin,

parallel to badhanim, the jesters or jokesters

known to us from Jewish folklore. To laugh and make jokes can be a religious



scene: Last fall, a wonderful man who was a dear friend and colleague of

mine in inter-religious dialogue, passed away. His name was Professor Brother

Jack Driscoll, of blessed memory. Jack was a devout Christian who loved

Judaism. He especially appreciated the character of our Sabbath and the Midrashic method of reading texts. Once we were talking and

I said that sometimes Jews have such an obsession with Halakhic

detail that we lose for the forest for the trees. He replied, "But at

least you have trees;" to me, that is again a kind of dance or tension

between two poles.

Third and

final scene: I have already mentioned the well-known Midrash

about children and builders. Almost two years ago, I watched on television the

Israel Prize ceremony. Psychologist Professor Mordecai Rotenberg went up to the

dais to speak on behalf of the Prize laureates. He gave his own interpretation

to this Midrash. Children, he said, are heirs

to the past; their task is to receive the tradition from their parents and

preserve it. But the term "builders" implies that they take the

tradition, build on it, and shape it for the future.

We have

inherited from the past the laws of Kashrut

and the rest of the Halakhot in all

their details. In our day, we must be faithful to the tradition of our

forefathers and mothers. But together with that, in my opinion, we should be

creative and courageous in interpreting and applying the Halakha,

in different areas. Organizations like "Ma'aglei

Tzedek" in Israel and their counterparts

abroad are already trying to influence our perception of the meaning of Kashrut to include employer-employee

relations and making restaurants accessible to those with physical

disabilities. Innovations like these are actually in a more stringent

direction. Creativity is not always in the direction of leniency. But if

over-stringency means that we can no longer live together with our fellow Jews,

perhaps we should think this through again.

May it be God's

will that we find the right balance in our Halakhic

lives, that we dance between seriousness and laughter, the straight path and

the joy, the forest and the trees, tradition and innovation.


Debbie Weissman, a member of Kehilat

Yedidya in Jerusalem,

serves as president of the International Council of Christians and Jews (



On Love which Distorts


"This is the thing that the

lord charged, you shall do, that the glory of the Lord

may appear to you." (Vayikra 9:6)

…Already in Moshe's day there were groups in Israel that

yearned for God's love, but not within the parameters which Torah had

established, and, as will be explained in Parashat Korach, this was the primary sin of the two hundred and

fifty men who were perfectly righteous men but sinned against their hearts in

that they condemned themselves to death through the holy yearning, to achieved

love of God through the incense, even though it was the way of the Torah which

ordained that only Aharon and his sons should offer

incense …Moshe already knew that these groups were beginning to materialize,

but that the time had not yet come to burst forth… this is why Moshe said to

Israel, that this is not the proper way; rather remove this evil inclination

from your hearts, for this yearning – even though it's purpose be to perceive

the love of God in holiness, in any case if this does not conform to God's

will, it is only the way of the evil inclination to mislead and to deceive the

great of Israel.

 (Haamek Davar Vayikra



This is the dividing line between

Judaism and idolatry; idolatry wishes to enslave the god via the sacrifice – that

he do man's wish. But Israel's

offerings bid man to the service of God, so that he accept

upon himself the yoke of His commandments. Therefore all the sacrifices are

performed according to the format of a commandment, and he who offers vows to

make the commandment a lamp unto his feet. Therefore sacrifices fabricated by

man's imagination undermine that truth which the sacrifice is supposed to

express. They anoint subjective arbitrariness to rule, rather than obedience to

the voice of God and the acceptance of the yoke of his commandments.

(R' Shimshon Rafael Hirsch, Vayikra 10)         


…meaning that

the intention to worship God may become an obstacle, if one intends not to

fulfill his obligation but rather to find ways to satisfy his feelings and

urges, even though his feelings and urges are ostensibly pure. These

words are actual also for us …point to the matter of transforming human urges

and drives into matters of holiness, including such drives as: nationalism, politics,

love of the land, love of the nation, etc., drives which exist to gratify needs

and interests, and all this, as we have said, constitutes "strange fire"'.

(Y. Leibowitz: Seven Years of Discussions on

the Weekly Parasha: p. 472)


'And Aharon

Was Silent' – Silence of Pain or of Acceptance

His heart became as a silent

stone and he did not raise his voice in crying and eulogy as does a father over

sons, nor did he accept condolences from Moshe, for no breath remained and he

could not speak.

(Abravanel, Vayikra



The text does not say "va'yishtok ["he was silent"] because

the holy tongue distinguishes between the synonyms "quiet" and "silence"

[in the vernacular, "to shut up"]; "silence denotes only

refraining from speech or crying and sighing and ceasing all other external

movements, such as: following "they reeled and staggered like a drunken

man" (Psalms 107:27) the psalmist

says "they rejoiced when all became silent"; but "quiet"

includes the calm in the heart and the inner serenity of the soul …therefore

the text testifies that Aharon, God's sanctified, not

only became silent, but also "he was quiet", that his heart was also quiet

and inwardly his soul was peaceful, because he did not at all question God's

attributes, but he justified the sentence.

(Rabbi Eliezer Lipman

Lichtenstein – "Shem Olam", quoted in "New

Studies in the Book of Vayikrah" by Prof' Nechama Leibowitz)


The most outstanding identifying

factor [of impurity] among fowl is, predation for every predator is always

impure, because the Torah distanced us from them for their blood is hot because

of their cruelty and black and coarse, and gives rise to black and burnt gall,

and implants cruelty in the heart and there are in all the world no predators

among birds other than those mentioned in our parasha,

and therefore we can know that any predator belongs to the class, and if it is

certain that the bird does not prey, it is certainly permissible …here, then,

is the reason for the prohibition of certain birds, because cruelty is

hereditary, and it may also be the case with animals, because among those which

chew the cud and have split hooves there are no predators to be found, whereas

all others prey.

(Ramban Vayikrah



"These are the creatures

you may eat from": He began with the permissible foods, including fish

and grasshoppers, implying that it would preferable that no animal be eaten,

therefore it was necessary to begin "Speak to the Israelite people thus:

These are the creatures that you may eat" because the new law consisted of

granting permission.

(From "Torat Moshe" by the Chatam Sofer on the weekly parasha)


To be a 'talmid

chacham' (scholar), a spiritual person, and at the

same time one who slaughters and kills animals is inconsistent with the pure

emotions of the heart, even though ritual slaughter and meat-eating must

continue to exist in the world, in any case it is proper that this work be

executed by people who have yet to reach that stage of emotional refinement,

and the scholars grounded in morality, knowledge and religion, they are

suitable to make certain that the slaughter of animals not be done in

barbaric fashion, imbuing the entire process of eating meat with a noble

light which can light up the world. This, indeed, is contained in the laws of

ritual slaughter and treyfut.

(From Rav Kook's Letters, Vol. 1, Letter 178)



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