Friday, April 13, 2007

DVAR TORAH S2: Shemini (That ain't kosher!)

This Torah portion talks about Kashrut, not just food kashrut but spiritual kashrut. In the beginning, they finish the lengthy miluim, (inauguration of the tabernacle; modern usage means Israeli Army Reserves which men are called up 45 days each year until the age of 40) in which they install Aaron and his sons as the priests, transitioning from Moses' stewardship of the sacrificial service. Here we come to what I have dubbed spiritual Kashrut and one of the most (read: only) interesting events in the Book of Leviticus, as well as one of the few narrative proses in the book.

The this is the account of the deaths of Nadav and Avihu, the two eldest sons of Aaron. The exact circumstances of their deaths are clouded in mystery, appropriate to the the cloud of incense which mists the Holy of Holies in which they died. There are many legends of what happened, (I am not equipped to look them up, due in part to the blackout of power throughout the San Fernando Valley). Many assume that they were drunk when they offered up whatever they did as the first mitzvah that God commands after their death is that a priest is not to DUI (Duchan Under the Influence... actually it just says don't go into the Tent of Meeting, so when they are performing the Avodah of the Temple), they should never appear before God drunk. This is interesting considering the importance of alcohol in Judaism.

What were Nadav and Avihu's intentions? It seems to me that they were zealously wanting to give more to God. The ceremony was concluded and the festivities were in full swing and it seems that Nadav and Avihu, probably drunk, wanted to do more for God and offered up additional sacrifices.
A fire went out from God and consumed them (literally "ate them") and they died before the Lord.
Moses proceeds to forward on the word of God to Aaron:
Through them that are close to me I will be sanctified and before all the people I will be glorified.
This is interesting, but even more interesting is Aaron's response, or lack thereof:
And Aaron was silent.
And then we have the first example of Havdalah, separating between the holy and the profane, between the pure and the impure, both originally lines in the actual Havdalah service we say at the conclusion of Shabbat.

And then the edible kashrut forms the second act in this torah portion, continuing the theme of Havdalah. Animals were classified as pure and impure even back in the time of Noah as he loaded the ark and later sacrificed animals to God. Now animals are officially classified by name. Land mammals must have split hooves AND chew their cud to be kosher, mentioning specifically the camel and the pig as non-kosher due to their only fulfilling one of the two criteria. Almost all animals that chew their cud have split hooves and almost all animals that have split hooves chew their cud, and a Venn diagram would indicate as such, with the pig and camel families being rare exceptions excluded from the overlap. Fins and Scales are the criteria for kosher sealife, which immediately excludes shellfish and sea-mammals. Most fish are kosher but some run into special problems, such as swordfish and sturgeon which, while having fins and scales, lose their scales during their lifetime. Non-kosher birds are listed and, though not officially mentioned in the text, these birds all seem to be birds of prey. And then we come to the most mysterious category: insects. Certain grasshoppers and locusts are actually kosher (and pareve!) but Ashkenazic and most Sephardic Jews do not eat any insects, though some Yemenites (ever the guardians of Jewish tradition and language) plucked them out of the air during a "locust plague" in Israel a few years ago. Reptiles are all treif. There is a lot more in terms of purity and impurity but that is for another time. Another Havdalah statement and this portion is finished!

Shabbat Shalom!

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