Parashat Shemini – Erev Shabbat 9 April 2021
Week of 4-10 April 2021
Torah portion: Leviticus 9:1-11:47 Haftarah: 2Sam 6:1-7:17
Theme: “Ye shall therefore be holy, as I am holy.”
Although Christians are not obliged to follow the dietary laws, it can be spiritually fulfilling to consider the Divine purpose in requiring the Jewish people to do so. As so often, Nehama Leibowitz (pp. 83-84) provides wonderful insight. The laws are not intended to keep the Jews distinct from other peoples, because the Lord has already made them His own (Lev 20:24; Deut 14:2). She quotes (p. 84) from the Sages that the “true reason for the dietary law [is] the fulfillment of the will of God.” Those who obey these laws are showing their “acceptance of the yoke of Heaven.” She also points out that the first example of forbidden food “is in the story of Adam and Eve and the forbidden fruit.” (pp. 84-85) She quotes Midrash Tashde: “Why did the Holy One, blessed be He, permit [Adam] the fruit of all the trees of the garden and withhold from him only one of them? The constant sight of it would cause him to remember his creator and acknowledge the yoke of his maker…” Leibowitz continues (p. 85): “The Midrash does not seek the reason in any of the actual properties of the tree or the physical consequences of eating its fruit. The very prohibition, the self-discipline involved is sufficient reason. It would lead him to ever acknowledging the yoke of his maker. God, not man, is the touchstone of all values.”
As we recall from Genesis 3:6, our mother Eve eats the forbidden fruit because she can see no rational reason not to do so, since the tree “was good for food, and…a delight to the eyes…and to be desired to make one wise.” In other words, she was judging the fruit by her values, which are the same values used by many people today. (To find foods “to make one wise”, just search online for ‘foods good for the brain”.) Eve behaved as if her values should override obedience to her Creator. As A.J. Kolatch explains: “The rationale for [the dietary] laws is not elucidated… the laws [are to] be observed because: “I am the Lord that brought you up out of the land of Egypt, to be your God. Ye shall therefore be holy, as I am holy.” He continues: “Holiness is the only reason given in the Bible for the observance of the dietary laws”.
For Reflection and Discussion: In “Food for Thought”, his commentary on this Parasha for the year 5772, Jonathan Sacks quoted as follows from Moses Maimonides’ The Guide for the Perplexed (III:13): “[we] need not inquire what purpose is served by each species of existing things, because we assume that God created all parts of the universe by His will; some for their own sake, and some for the sake of otherbeings . . .” Sacks writes: “…the Israelites are not permitted to kill any and every life-form for food. Some species must be protected, given their freedom, granted their integrity, and left unsubjected to human devices and desires….. Not everything in the universe was made for human consumption.” Consider how societies and individuals might live differently if we truly lived according to that last sentence.
Bibliography: Kolatch, Alfred J., The Jewish Book of Why (New York: 2003); Leibowitz, Nehama, Studies in Vayikra (Leviticus) (Jerusalem: 1980). Sacks, Jonathan, “Food for Thought”, Shemini 5772 (21 April 2012), available at Shemini Archives – Rabbi Sacks
This week’s Parasha Commentary was prepared by
Anne Morton, Canada, Bat Kol Alumna 2010