Your Shul at the Jersey Shore

Shabbat Parshat Shmini 5779

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Sancitity and Kashrus

Adapted from Rabbi Braun’s sermon in 5767

At one of the JSOR meetings last year there was a restaurant owner who was interested in converting his treif restaurant into a kosher one. After discussing the requirements for certification and all of the other details that would be involved and necessary this person turns to the group of rabbis and says, “You should know rabbi that by going Kosher I am doing you a favor because a fair share of my clientele is your congregants who come in to eat fish.”  Not that we needed it but that was pretty good incentive for us to help turn the restaurant over.

I am not interested this morning in going through the detailed halachot as to why eating fish out is not allowed, rather, I want to highlight one aspect of why we keep kosher and it is one that I believe is glaring at us as we read the parsha of shmini this morning.

To fully appreciate the point we need to look not only at the verses that speak directly to the prohibition of eating certain types of foods and those details, but we must look at the parsha as a whole. Here, context is just as important if not more important as the text itself. As we read through the psukim we need to be asking ourselves: “why are the laws of kashrus given in the book of vayikra at all, I mean they are not kohen or temple related?”  And secondly “why do they follow the story and laws in the first half of the parsha?To better appreciate that question let me give you the quick overview of the parsha.

The parsha basically breaks down into 2 major parts:

  1. Begins vayehi basyom hashmini- behold it was on the eighth day. The eighth day of what? It was the eighth and final day of the Milium, or the consecration of the temple, or more correctly- it was the day after the 7 days of consecration. The last half of the book of Exodus dealt with the construction of the mishkan, the first two parshiot in the book of Leviticus taught us how to offer the sacrifices in that mishkan and now that we know that we can actually go ahead and consecrate it.
  2. The second half of our parsha details the halachot of which animals can be eaten and which animals may not be eaten and also teaches us about the which animals are tahor or spiritually pure and which are Tameh, or spiritually impure.

We can now better formulate and understand the question: “why does the Torah juxtapose the laws of kashrus with the consecration of the mishkan? What does one have to do with the other?” To answer that question we have to take our division of the parsha a little bit further & subdivide the first half into three parts:

  1. The command regarding the consecration of the mishkan and the execution of those commands.
  2. The story of the death of the Nadav and Avihu, two of Aaron’s four sons which interrupts the narrative. In this section I would also include the laws of mourning that are learned from the verses telling Aaron what not to do following the death of his sons.
  3. This is the possibly the most instructive- the transition between the two halves of the parsha is a short episode in which a few halachot are given by Moshe to Aaron and his son’s and Moshe then questions the performance of Aaron’s other two sons and receives a response from Aaron.

In chapter 10 verses 12-15 Moshe gives the kohanim instructions as to how and where to eat their portion of the flour mincha offering and the shoulder and the breast of the shlamim offering. Then we read:

16. And Moses diligently sought the goat of the sin offering, and, behold, it was burned; and he was angry with Eleazar and Ithamar, the sons of Aaron, who were left alive, saying,

  1. Why have you not eaten the sin offering in the holy place, seeing it is most holy, and God has given it to you to bear the iniquity of the congregation, to make atonement for them before the Lord?
  2. Behold, its blood was not brought inside the holy place; you should indeed have eaten it in the holy place, as I commanded.

Aaron then gives a cryptic response which either means that we did eat from it and you did not see or it was not appropriate for us to eat from it following the death of our sons and brothers. And Moshe acquiesces.

This of course is the perfect transition between the eighth day of the milu’im and kashrus and let me tell you why. The last seven parshiyot have dealt nearly exclusively with the mishkan. That is where you serve God. We have detailed commands and instructions that regulate every aspect of our behavior within the confines of the temple. We are told who can come in and who cannot. We are told exactly how, what and when to sacrifice. We are told who may sacrifice and when. And we are told exactly what parts of the animals may be eaten and who may eat them.

Of course, that many commandments and regulations make sense in the holiest of places. In the Mishkan, in God’s house, we would expect to have our conduct super regulated. That is why Moshe is so upset with Aaron’s other two sons. You might have thought “what in the world is Moshe so angry about?” It is not like they ate something they should not have; they simply did not eat something and burnt it instead. But that would be wrong in God’s house. There- instructions must be followed to the “T”.

Now comes the $64,000 question. After all of the hype and buildup for the mishkan, what about the non kohen and the non Levi? What about life outside of the mishkan? Is there no sanctity there? Are they no regulations? In the mishkan we are told exactly what we can‘t eat and what we must eat- what about outside of the mishkan? That is where the laws of kashrus come in. We are given laws, albeit less detailed and less rigorous than in the Mishkan, that tell us what we can eat and what we can’t eat. We are given a code – instructions as to how to live a life of sanctity outside of the mishkan.

That is why that little paragraph about what the kohanim can eat and the critique regarding the lack of eating of Elazar and Itamar are the perfect transition from the consecration of the mishkan to the consecration of our daily lives via the laws of Kashrus. We go directly from what can be eaten in the mishkan to what can be eaten outside of the mishkan.

And our parsha thus fittingly concludes, “I am hashem who took you out of the land of Egypt to be your God, and you shall be holy… these are the laws of the animals, birds and crawling creatures… To separate between the pure and the impure and between what you may eat and what you may not!

We keep kosher to introduce some spiritual regulation into our daily lives and thus live a life of kedushah, a life of sanctity.