Sign In Forgot Password

Parashat Shemini

04/17/2020 12:23:11 PM


Shabbat Shalom! It is time to count the Omer!



Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments, and commanded us concerning the counting of the Omer.

היום תשעה יום שהם שבוע אחד ושני ימים לעומר

Hayom Tisha yom, shehem shavua echad ushnei yamin la’omer

Today is nine days, which is one week and two days of the Omer. The kabbalistic realm of today’s omer is strength within strength.

            Our society often values physical strength over emotional strength, and views stoicism as the truest marker of the sort of emotional strength it does value. But sometimes true strength is knowing when to wail, to cry out your aguish, to ask for help, to set boundaries with those around you.

            At the beginning of this week’s Torah portion, Parashat Shemini, we witness the deaths of Nadav and Avihu, two of Aaron’s sons. They appear to be punished for bringing a wrongful sacrifice to the altar in the Mishkan. Immediately, Moses has their cousins drag them out of the camp by their tunics, and bury them away from the camp. Then he turns to Aaron and warns him not to leave the Tent of Meeting, not to follow his kin out, not to mourn his dead children. Aaron appears to take this in stride, leaves the grieving to the women of his tribe, and stays put. As we discussed in Thursday’s Torah study, I find Aaron’s willingness to stay silent here disturbing, and believe it really highlights what a pushover Aaron really is. He is great at following directions and serving as the facilitator of these sacred rituals, because he appears to have no agenda or ideas of any kind of his own. While it may make him a strong leader in some respects, I believe true strength in this moment would have been to stand up to his little brother and say, “Of course I’m going to mourn my children! They’re my children!”

            This Monday marks Yom HaShoa, the Jewish Holocaust Remembrance Day. If we held a moment of silence for each of the Jewish victims of the Holocaust, we would be holding in our words, our thoughts, our emotions for over eleven years. What kind of tribute would that be to the 6 million? Rather, we should feel free to mourn our dead openly. To cry out our grief. To wail. To speak lovingly of their blessed memories. True strength comes in finding the words that express the depth of our love and loss, our fears and hopes, our sorrows and joys. It is such an incredibly difficult thing to do honestly, how can it prove anything other than great strength?

            May you find strength in the great expanse of your own emotions, may you find the words to adequately express them, and may you find peace in hard times.


            The second half of this week’s Torah portion, Parashat Shemini, is all about the basics of Kashrut. We get the foundations: mammals must have cloven hooves and chew the cud, sea creatures must have fins and scales, no birds of prey, nothing slithery or slimy. And we get some specifics: no bunnies, no hoopoes, no bugs other than crickets, grasshoppers, and locusts.


            While looking at this week’s parasha on Sefaria, I found a source sheet on the spirit of Kashrut, and it included this quote from Rabbi David Hartman in his “Open Letter to a Reform Rabbi”: “The Jewish people is not just a faith community; it is not merely a collection of individuals, each longing to connect himself or herself spiritually with God. Rather, Judaism is a way of life of a people chosen by God to be a medium of His vision of holiness and justice.”

            Originally, Kashrut may have been its FDA of the time. The Talmud is filled with now defunct nutritional science, and it’s clear Maimonides’ (who was a physician in addition to a rabbi, prolific commentator, and Aristotelian philosopher) view of Kashrut was that of health and cleanliness. Today, with more thorough science on the cleanliness and nutritional value of these animals, we might have a different view of the necessity of Kashrut. As modern and progressive Jews, refraining from certain animals simply because the Bible says so might feel silly or inconvenient. But as Rabbi Hartman points out, Kashrut (and ritual observances in general) are more than the sum of their parts. They are a means through which we can connect ourselves to each other, to our history, and to the vision of the world we want to build. If that means eating only Kosher meat, great. If that means keeping vegetarian because the meat industry is destroying the environment, that’s also great. If that means eating bacon but not beef because really, it’s mostly the beef industry that’s destroying the environment, this too is a form of Kashrut.

            While this week’s Torah portion gives us the foundations of healthy and ethical eating as our ancestors saw it, I believe this may also serve as a jumping off point. As long as we are thinking critically about our diets, engaging in mindful eating, and allowing the every day tasks of nurturing our bodies become holy acts that connect us to one another and the greater world, then we are fulfilling the essence of Kashrut. We discussed this in our Torah study on Thursday as well, and I am curious to know from the rest of you: What are your dietary restrictions, if any, and how did you come to decide to commit to those?

            May you nourish your body with intention, holiness, strength, and love. Amen and Shabbat Shalom.

Sat, August 8 2020 18 Av 5780