Our drash this week is brought to you by the number eight, also known as Shemoneh. Shemini, the name of our Parasha, is the pronunciation of the ordinal number. We read about some of the dietary laws (Kashrut) given to us in the Torah, for example, identifying kosher animals and distinguishing them from non-kosher. There are multiple references to holiness and sanctity and how they inspire our choices. We have free will, so we have choices to make about how we live, how we interact with others, and what we eat.
I remember when, many years ago, I was working at FedEx, and a co-worker was heading over to the sandwich shop to pick up some lunch for all of us. She asked me what I wanted to eat. At the time I was not a vegetarian as I am now, and I ordered a roast beef sandwich with NO cheese. As you may guess, I received a roast beef and cheese sandwich. Seeing my consternation, the co-worker asked what the problem was. I decided to try to explain Kashrut to her, and that mixing meat and dairy was forbidden. Her response to that was “Why don’t you just go to another church”? Back then I am not sure what my answer was, I am guessing it was some sort of “huh?”
What I would say now is that eating can be a mundane and thoughtless process but eating mindfully and thinking about what I eat and what I do not, reinforces who I am, the path I have chosen, and how I am required to act in the world. Kashrut reminds us again and again that Jewish spirituality is inseparable from our daily, physical lives. It teaches us that Jewish spiritual practice is about taking the most ordinary of experiences–in all aspects of our lives–and transforming them into moments of meaning, moments of connection.
We human beings become holy when we become mindful decision-makers, when we recognize and act to honor boundaries. In Hebrew, the word for holy is kodesh – designated, differentiated or set aside for a purpose.
In Vayikra (Leviticus) 19:2 we are commanded to be holy: “You shall be holy, for I, the Lord your Gd, am holy.” This is followed by how we are to behave. Being holy is not defined by synagogue attendance or outward signs of piety. It is not completed by ritual practice or personal attitude. Holiness blooms in our relationships with other people; it is revealed when we are just and compassionate, respectful of others, and ethical in our behavior. Holiness is reflected in the choices we make, knowing what the boundaries of Judaism teach about what is “allowed” and what is “forbidden.”
Whether or not you observe the Jewish dietary laws, or any of the other laws within Judaism, I invite you to think about how your choices and boundaries inform who you are in the world, and how you and others see you.
Rabbi Debi Lewis