Shemini 5773 – Gilayon #793
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And fire went out from before the lord
And consumed them and they died before the lord.
And they died
before the Lord – Because they thought that they did something favorable
(Ibn Ezra, ibid. ibid)
…There is no doubt that their intention was desirable;
for they were called "those close to me" even after their sin. Their desirable
intent finds expression in the words of the Torat Cohanim: "They too were
in a state of joy; upon seeing new fire they rose up to add love to love".
But the fact remains: At the very hour that the nation merited
revelation of God's closeness, they felt the need for a special offering
of their own; from this we see that their hearts did not pulsate with the true
sprit of priesthood. The priests of
have no status of their own; their very essence is that they stand in the midst
of their people, and this is the essence of their position before God. We see
that their very coming close had an element of sin.
Some thoughts on kashrut
A few years ago I overheard an amusing conversation. It went, more or
less, like this:
A: "Eat the salad, it's not fattening, it's only lettuce."
B: "But it's from … [name of a politically controversial area]!"
C: "Exactly, it's not politically kosher".
A: "Why not? Lettuce from there is ideologically choice produce."
D: "Oh, forget politics. The important thing is that no bugs are
ever found in this lettuce"
B:"What's better – bugs or all the chemicals
that kill them? In my opinion, all those chemicals are not kosher".
E: "Not only that, this lettuce is also much more expensive."
C: "Well, what about [name of foreign company which manufactures
food products] which employs children? Is that kosher?"
The conversation rolled on and the participants continued to present
arguments in the spirit of those mentioned above. This conversation is
informative. It shows that considerations about what and how we should eat are
complex and sometimes contradictory, and that ideological, economical,
aesthetic, health-related, and many other issues – such as social justice – have
to be taken into account. We Jews call this kashrut.
In Parashat Shemini
we find the first formulation of the kashrut laws. The parasha
enumerates the criteria for an animal's kashrut
These are followed by the kashrut of "all that
are in the water" (9-12). In
the case of fowl, the parasha provides a list of the tamei [ritually
unclean] birds (13-25) and forbids
consumption of "the swarming-creature that swarms over the earth" (41). An additional version of the kashrut
laws appears in Parashat Re'eh. The kashrut principles listed in the Torah have been,
throughout the ages, subject to considerable expansion. The classic example of
this is the command: "You may not cook a goat in its mother's milk",
which appears thrice in the Torah (although not in our parasha). It has
been understood, post factum, as a prohibition against the mixing of
meat and mild, a prohibition leading to separation of dishes and discussion of
time required between the eating of meat and milk, etc.
Sometimes the intensive occupation with details prevents us from seeing
the whole picture. While we find in the State of Israel stringency and
extremism in all the ritual, political and technical aspects of kashrut
and of supervision, we see less and less interest in the profound sense of kashrut.
Stringent reforms merit popular praise, and whoever is more stringent is considered
to be superior, and the lenient are scorned. The hechsherim [kashrut
certificates] considered "mehudarim"
[de luxe] cause splits between friends and
relatives who can no longer dine together, not because of questions of kashrut
but because of disagreements on hechsherim (kashrut
The original meaning of the term kosher is that which is apt
or appropriate. If we look about us, we cannot but conclude that many
who those who deal with kashrut matters have forgotten what kashrut
means at its core. Despite an inflation of issues of kashrut
supervision, the dealing with kashrut itself has become narrow,
technical and lacking inner essence. Still, many Jews consider these processes
with dwindling satisfaction. More and more do we hear the question What is kashrut –
what makes food kosher, moral and fit for consumption? Following are some
thoughts on kashrut issues.
A Torah of
Life and Kashrut of Life
What does it mean to eat kosher?
Is fast food, which is saturated
with fat and cholesterol and is detrimental to our health and feeling, kosher?
Is food prepared by
Are animals raised brutally and
slaughtered insensitively kosher?
Is warmed-over frozen food served
perfunctorily to children staring at the TV screen kosher?
Can food eaten with anger and
shame to compensate for all that is missing in life be kosher?
Our parasha provides the rationale for
the obligation to observe kashrut: "For I am the Lord your God and
you shall hallow yourselves and become holy, for I am holy" (Ibid, ibid. 44). From this we understand that
the reason for strict attention to the way in which we sustain our lives and
are joyful in our nourishment should assist us in our obligation to sanctify
our lives. And the reason we have to sanctify our lives is to strive to imitate
God, to have Godliness in our lives: "Sanctify yourselves and be holy, for
I am holy". The demand for a life of sanctity goes beyond the demand for
observance of the accepted kashrut laws; it is an aspiration to approach
the sublime and to relate to the Eternal.
I should like
to suggest a tentative list of ten parameters for examination of food kashruth,
not including the rules of halachic kashrut in the limited sense of the
1. Social justice, concern for those who lack: "It is to
share your bread with the hungry" (Isaiah
2. Preservation of nature and avoidance of waste: "You
shall not destroy" (based upon Devarim
3. Decent attitude to animals: You shall not cook a kid in its
mother's milk" (Shemot23:19)
4. Fair employment: You shall not oppress your fellow and you
shall not steal" (Vayikra
5. Health and preservation of the body: "For your own sake,
therefore, be most careful: (Devarim 4:15)
sense of gratitude: "Let all that breathes praise the Lord, Hallelujah"
7. Family: "How good and how pleasant it is that brothers
dwell together" (Psalms 133:1)
8. Community: "And the people went to eat and drink and
send portions and make great merriment" (Nehemiah
9. Taste and pleasure: "Honey and milk are beneath your
tongue" (The Song of Songs, 4:11).
10. Moderation: "If you find honey, eat only what you need,
lest, surfeiting yourself, you throw it up" (Proverbs,
Perhaps not everyone considers part (or all) of these criteria to be kashrut-related,
but in my opinion they go back to the basic and fundamental meaning of kashrut,
as a measure for determining what is right and proper to enter into our bodies.
Some of these criteria are self-understood, some are less obvious. But in a
world where children gobble up ready-made food in front of a TV, it is
important to stress eating together as a family – even as a community – as a value.
In a society where so many people suffer from various eating disorders, it is
important to emphasize both the need for pleasure from food and the need for
Some of these criteria complement each other, but some stand in tension
and contradiction. For example, food created under conditions of fair trade are
guaranteed not to have been created under conditions of exploitation, but it is
likely to be markedly more expensive then comparable products and is therefore
socially problematic. Organic food is said to be healthier but some of the
companies which produce organic food employ workers under unfair conditions.
Insistence upon family meals can sometimes be at the cost of variety and
refinement of the menu. Waiting for food in a restaurant which employs mentally-impaired
workers can be trying. Use of single-use utensils can make for easier halachic kashrut,
but is not beneficial to the environment, etc. Our Torah is a Torah of life,
and the food with which we nourish and pleasure our bodies should conform to
Indeed, there are no easy solutions to the critical questions regarding
the food we put into our mouths. But the differentiation between kosher and not
kosher lies at the foundation of Jewish thought. Conscious eating is essential,
because that which we put into our bodies becomes that which we are, and
therefore we should be extremely careful with our nourishment. Even if we do not
come up with clear solutions to all these questions, and even if it is not upon
us to complete the labor in this matter, we are not free to desist from the
Towards the end of our parasha and the discussion on kashrut,
we are commanded to be holy: "For I, the Lord your God is holy, and you
shall hallow yourselves and be holy for I am holy" (11:44), and further on" "For I the Lord and He who brought
you up from the land of Egypt to be your God; you shall be holy for I am
holy" (11:45). The exodus from
which we are currently celebrating, and the entry into the Land, are
accompanied by ascendance. This ascendance and the obligation to be holy are
tied by their umbilical cord to the consciousness of freedom of man redeemed.
Dr. Dalia Marx teaches Liturgy and Midrash
The Laws of Slaughter and the
Restrictions on Eating Meat are Stages Towards a Higher
the creatures that you may eat: It begins by permitting certain types of
meat, (and so with grasshoppers and fish), implying that it would be best not
to eat any living thing at all. That is why it had to begin: Speak to the
Israelite people thus: these are the creatures that you may eat –
the permissibility of meat-eating is a new idea that must be explicitly set
(From the Hatam Sofer's Torat Moshe, as quoted by Prof. Nehamah Leibowitz
in her Iyyunim Hadashim BeSefer Vayikra, pg. 127)
scholar – a spiritual man – regularly engaged in the slaughter and sacrifice of
animals? This does not jibe with the heart's pure feelings. Even though it
remains necessary to practice the slaughter and consumption of living beings,
in any event it is proper for this work to be performed by those who have not
yet refined their emotions. It is fitting for ethical, knowledgeable, and pious
scholars to supervise and see to it that the animals are not killed in a
barbaric manner, so that a noble light may enter into the whole
matter of meat-eating, a light which will, in time, illuminate the entire
world. This is truly bound up in the laws of slaughter.
(From R. A.I. Kook ZTz"L's Iggrot HaRAYaH, #178)
The World Goes On As Usual – A Person's
Fate Is Evidence Neither of His Righteousness Nor His
the death of Aharon's two sons"
– Rabbi Shim'on opened [his discourse] with:
"The same fate is in store for all: for the righteous and for the
wicked." "The righteous" – this is
Noah, regarding whom it is written (Bereishit
6) "A righteous man". Said Rabbi Yossi the
Galilean, When Noah went out of the ark, a lion bit him and maimed him, and he
was not fit for offering sacrifices, and Shem, his son, offered in his place.
"The wicked" – this was Pharaoh Necheh, who
desired to sit on Shelomo's throne; he was
unacquainted with his customs, a lion bit him and maimed him. This one died a
cripple and this one died a cripple, bearing out what is written "The
same fate is in store for all: for the righteous and for the wicked, for the
good and pure and for the impure". "For the good" – this
is Moshe, regarding whom it is written (Shemot
2) "And she saw that he was good"; Rabbi
Meir said that he was born circumcised. "And to the pure" –
this is Aharon, who devoted himself to the purification of
as is written (Malachi 2) "He
served Me with complete loyalty and held the many back
from iniquity". "The impure" – these
are the spies; some spoke in praise of Eretz Yisrael and some spoke
derogatorily; neither these nor these entered the Land, as is written "for
the good and pure and for the impure"… "For him who is pleasing
and for him who sins" – "For him who is pleasing" – this
is written (I Samuel 16) "So
they sent and brought him… and he was of pleasing appearance". Said
Rabbi Yitzchak, He was pleasing in Halacha, and all
who saw him recalled his study. "Him who sins" – this
was Nebucadnezer, as is written (Daniel 4) "Redeem your sins by
beneficence". This one built the
and ruled forty years and this one destroyed the
"the same fate is in store for all." …An alternative
exposition: "The same fate" – these are the sons of
Aharon, of whom it is written (Malachi 2) "Served
me with complete loyalty". "for
the wicked – this is the Assembly of Korach, of
whom it is written (Bemidbar 16) "Move away from… these
wicked men" – these entered in order to offer in a state of
discord, and were burned and these entered to offer not in discord, and they
The Death of the Righteous is Troubling for the Holy One blessed be
He and Effects Atonement
R. Abba bar Avina said: Why is the
story of Miriam's death placed next to [the passage regarding] the [red]
heifer's ashes? To teach that just as the heifer's ashes atone, so too the
death of the righteous atones.
R. Yudin said: Why does [the story
of] Aaron's death appear next to [the story
of] the breaking of the Tablets? To teach that Aaron's death was as troubling
for the Holy One blessed be He as was the
breaking of the Tablets.
R. Hiya bar Abba said: Aaron's sons
died on the first day of Nisan, so why are their deaths mentioned in connection
with Yom Kippur? This is in order to teach that just as Yom Kippur atones, so too
the deaths of the righteous atones. From whence do we
know that Yom Kippur atones? Because it is said, For on
that day [He] will atone you to purify you (Vayikra 16). And from whence do
we know that the death of the righteous atones? Because it is written, And they buried Saul's bones and it
is written, After that, God responded to the plea of the land (II Samuel 21).
(Vayikra Rabbah 20)
Was the Holocaust a Preface and Condition for Redemption
In the past, stern statements were made with regard to the
Holocaust: There were those who claimed that the Holocaust was a preparation, a
kind of price that the Jewish People had to pay in exchange for the creation of
the State of Israel. There were those who clamed that the State of Israel serves
as a kind of compensation for the Holocaust. They also claimed that this was
the only way to cause the Jews, or rather to force them, to emigrate to the
These are very grave words, which are difficult to tolerate.
(From Harav Yehudah Amital's "Af al Pi shemeitzar umeimar li", quoted
in M. Miyah's Olam Banuy, Hareiv, Uvanuy, pg. 64)
There is no accomplishment or blessing in this world that
can compensate for the burning of those multitudes of innocent people. All of
these words about the creation of the State in the wake of the Holocaust – they
are hollow words. Neither the actual State of Israel, which occasionally must
bleed to survive, nor the ideal State of Israel described in the prophecy
of each man beneath his vine and beneath his fig-tree can
begin to justify what the Jewish People went through during the years of the
(Harav Amital's lecture
on the Yom Kaddish HaKlali
– Ot Ve'Eid, Perek Iyyun Ve'Meida, quoted
in Miyah op cit pg. 64)
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