Pesach is behind us. The days are suddenly warm and long and fragrant with jasmine. We count the Omer, the agricultural and spiritual time leading up to Shavuot, and Israeli flags fly from houses and decorate roads throughout the country.
Exactly as we break free from bondage – from Egypt and winter and Corona – we embrace, most broadly, our common identities, by remembering the horrors of the Shoah this week, and our T’kuma – the miraculous and costly rebuilding of our sovereign country, next week on Yom HaZikaron and Yom HaAtzmaut.
But our parsha reminds us that we must dig deeper to create vibrant and meaningful connections between generations.
This can only be through the framework of daily Jewish life, not just through sentiment and collective memory.
Parshat Shmini begins with Moshe and Aharon, the first political and spiritual leaders of the Jewish people, blessing the entire nation after initiating the service of the Tabernacle. After four election cycles, how we yearn for that sense of common destiny from our contemporary leaders. The Torah continues with the shocking death of Nadav and Avihu, Aharon’s sons, teaching us that even zeal “in the name of Heaven” must remain within the framework of God’s commandments.
And then, on a very physical note, the Parsha delineates the foods we may and may not eat.
God asks each Jew, not just the devout ones, to refrain from imbibing the animals, fowl, and fish listed as impure, and to not eat seafood or any “sheretz” – “prolific, low creatures that crawl and slither on the ground,” in Rashi’s words.
From the context, it is apparent that the foods we eat have both physical and spiritual/ethical influences upon us.
The laws of Kashrut were intended most simply to bring Jews of all backgrounds together, not to be a source of tension or shame among us, God forbid. It is encouraging that most Israeli hotels, event halls, and even private offices adhere to these basic laws, as well as the majority of Sephardic families. Kashrut is much less complicated to keep today, and I hope that it will become a more common, uniting value in Israeli culture.
Where politics and corruption have ironically turned kashrut into a divisive issue, there are initiatives such as Tzohar’s independent national religious supervision system, which has helped many businesses maintain both kashrut and ethical standards.
Looking around my kitchen as the wail of the 10 a.m. Yom HaShoah siren dies away, I also think that observing the principles of Kashruth in our generation is an expression of gratitude for the tremendous bounty in our lives – in stark contrast to periods of want in Jewish history, not so long ago.
May I always be awed by the fact that I not only live freely in my own land, but can separate milk from meat, distinguish between “pure and impure,” and invite many guests to my table, without going hungry.
L’Vriut (to health!) and a joyful, bountiful Shabbat to all.