Parshat Shemini: A world of difference (II)

“And that you may establish difference between the sacred and the profane, and between the impure and the pure.” (Leviticus 10:10)

Goodness is what makes a difference between right and wrong, positive and negative, true and false, useful and useless, constructive and destructive, elevating and degrading, et al. As long as we recognize goodness as what gives sense and meaning to life, we also recognize that it is also what makes life sacred and pure. This is clear even from the simple semantics of the words the Torah uses to makes its point.

We have mentioned in other commentaries in this blog that in Hebrew the word for “sacred” means or implies “setting apart”, “setting aside” or “separate” in order to establish a distinction or difference. This distinction is characterized by traits or qualities that are not shared with anything different than them. The Torah mostly indirectly than directly points out to goodness as the moral and ethical principle that encompasses the previous definitions related to sacredness. Once we fully assimilate goodness as the sacred principle the Creator wants us to live by, with, in and for, we also realize that anything different from its ethical ways and attributes does not belong to it.

Our Sages place sacredness in contrast to two other definitions they call “profane” and “unclean”. They suggest us to approach the latter as something intrinsically evil, and therefore redeemable only by Divine intervention (i.e. by the ashes of the Red Cow), while the “profane” is what the people of Israel is commanded to transform and “elevate” through the goodness it lacks. Thus we understand that purity is the state in which there is nothing different than what it is.

In this context we approach cleanliness and purity as traits and qualities inherent in goodness as the ruling reference to guide and conduct our discernment, mind, thoughts, emotions, feelings and instincts, for the sake of goodness itself.

“You shall not make yourselves detestable with any swarming thing that crawls; neither shall you make yourselves unclean with them, that you should be defiled thereby. For I, the Lord your God, sanctify yourselves therefore to be holy, for I am holy; neither shall you defile yourselves with any manner of swarming thing that crawls on the earth.” (11:43-44)

The Torah instructs us that what surrounds us in this world is also a reflection of what we must be and must not be, have or manifest in life. We are not supposed to eat certain animals, because of the traits they represent as these verses indicate. These particular creatures are mentioned juxtaposed with the service of the priests, who are the chosen to be elevated as the closest to God, in order to serve as the elevating means for the remaining tribes of Israel.

Thus we realize that the high priest represents in ourselves the highest level of consciousness by which we relate to our Creator to make His will as the goodness He wants to prevail in all aspects, facets and expressions of life. Goodness is always what elevates us to be better and aiming for a world where we live by all that is free from impurity. In this sense, goodness is the cause of life and what sustains it in order to keep it good, for goodness is also its means and its end. Our creator reminds us this every day, as it is written.

“For I am the Lord that elevated you up out of the land of Egypt, to be your God; you shall therefore be sacred, for I am sacred.” (11:45)

About the Author
Ariel Ben Avraham was born in Colombia (1958) from a family with Sephardic ancestry. He studied Cultural Anthropology in Bogota, and lived twenty years in Chicago working as a radio and television producer and writer. He emigrated to Israel in 2004, and for the last fourteen years has been studying the Chassidic mystic tradition, about which he writes and teaches. Based on his studies, he wrote his first book "God's Love" in 2009. He currently lives in Zefat.
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