Shabbat Shmini

Parashat Parah
Shabbat Mevarchin, Rosh Hodesh Nissan
Candles 1 April 7:01pm
Havdalah 2nd 7.59pm

The system of sacrifices expands this week (beyond blood and certain fats) to the laws of what animals, birds and fish we can and cannot eat. It's a progression that makes sense. Originally according to our tradition humans were not carnivores. Only after Noah’s flood when he celebrated his survival by sacrificing animals to God, do animals feature as food for humans in the Bible. Food for the Gods, metaphorically of course, and then food for humans.

Eating therefore represents not just human growth but spiritual growth too. And it is only if we take it seriously and invest in it that we can benefit. Otherwise like everything else in life and on earth it can be taken to extremes and become destructive instead of beneficial. Just think of obesity and corrosive diets. Similarly as with animals, their lives can be humane or cruel and inhuman. I venture to suggest, impishly or wishfully, that if we have moved beyond animal sacrifices to prayer, perhaps soon we will move beyond killing animals for food!

The rules of diet in the Torah are designed to make everything holy, special, considered. They are designed to get us to stop and think before we act. The actual origins and reasons are lost in time. As a rule the Torah does not give explanations. But origins matter less than how we apply them in the present. Does it matter how using a knife and fork evolved or whether they are efficient ways of getting food to our mouths in a Western society?

In theory of course any random selection of animals might be selected to be untouchable or uneatable. What a religious culture does is to create a system that everyone who wants to, joins in with. In sharing these rules with others, we create commonality, community and facilities. A meal can bring people together. A meal as a religious occasion brings religious people together.

Just as we are meant to think about the origins of our food, our responsibility for producing and protecting it, so too we are meant to think about other human beings, to be sensitive and protective towards them; the poor, the stranger and the “other.” Even if others do not. We must.