One of the most well-known, although not the most established, precepts of the Torah is that of Kashrut. Parshat Shemini tells us about the Jewish food regulations, mentioning a long list of prohibited and permitted foods. And at this moment the question arises: Why do they have to impose on me what I should eat? Am I a better or worse person for eating or not eating this or that thing? Does it make me a better human being not to taste pork or any form of cooking of any animal that is not allowed?
We know perfectly well that it is not. We all know that there are good people who eat plenty of pork (including good jewish people) and that there are detestable people who observe the food laws of our halakhah, the Jewish law.
In principle, it would not make sense to go deeply into why each step of the kashrut regulations exists, since the precepts should not give us a logical explanation for us to decide on their compliance. The response of the People of Israel was “Naase venishma”, as we saw a few weeks ago. We will do and then we will listen to the whys, or how others interpret. First we will do and then we will study.
In any case, we can simplify in these few lines that our tradition gives us the opportunity to differentiate our human being from our animal being.
By limiting ourselves to one of the moments of greatest manifestation of our animal being, food, halakhah proposes us to dominate that instinctive passion that hunger produces in us, to give it another value. Also thanking what we eat achieves it. And we already learned that the moment of the meal refers directly to the moment of the offering in which our ancestors brought their own and ate in the Mikdash, the Sanctuary. Today, that Mikdash has been transformed into Mikdashei Meat, small sanctuaries, which are nothing more than our tables where we should sit down to eat, dedicating time to bless before, eat quietly and bless afterwards.
Limiting our menu, as Kashrut does, makes us respect what we have and what surrounds us and above all, manifest our devotion to the Creator who tells us that THAT is the right way to conduct ourselves.
How does this part of the parshah tie in with the section of it that talks about how the priests were in charge of the Mishkan and the sacrifices? What does it have to do??? Why all together?
It is interesting how the beginning of the parshah unfolds. “And it was on the eighth day, that Moshe called Aaron and his sons, and the elders of Israel. And he said to Aharon: 'Take for yourself a calf, for atonement, and a ram for an ascension offering, without blemish, and offer them before the Eternal'" (Vayikra 9, 1-3). And later: "And Moshe said to Aharon: Go to the altar and offer your sin offering and your ascension offering, and make atonement for yourself and for the people..." (Vayikra 9, 7)
The first one ordered by the Kadosh Baruch Hu to offer a sacrifice to atone for his faults was Aharon. The first Kohen Gadol. One might think that in his role in front of the people he should not humiliate himself like this. But it is exactly the opposite. Perhaps, after the enormous fault of the Golden Calf, in which Aharon did not know how to act properly, it was necessary, essential, that he himself be the one to recognize his fault and ask for forgiveness, first offering himself a sacrifice. And not just any sacrifice, but just that animal through which he committed the sin. The calf was the right one to clean up what was committed publicly, acknowledging his mistake.
Just after having atoned for his mistake, the KB”H then invites his sons, then the elders and finally the people to do so in turn. First the leader. Then those who follow him.
Each of us is someone's role model. And that place in which we are a model to someone else, is the one that we must take care of. Also in the action, also when recognizing ourselves in fault. Also in everyday life, and in simple things like eating.
Kashrut is a model of behavior of each one of us for our fellow men in a world and a society insensitive to limits and to the recognition of each being as a HUMAN BEING. Sensitive and responsible beings for the world we inhabit.
Let us be worthy examples of our behavior: on the street, in our homes and also at our tables.