Musings of an Orthodox Jew

Thoughts on Torah and the Jewish world today.

Parshas Shemini 5769- And you will be Holy

IN this weeks parsha the laws relating to Kashrut are given.  The laws start out with the statement “Speak to Moses and to Aaron”  and then in the next verse goes on to say “Speak to the childrenof Israel to say”.  Rashi states that the first verse was to show the merit of Aaron and his sons who remained silent and did not blame G-d for the death of Ndab  and Abiayu- thet they all merited to teach these laws to Bnei Yisrael.  The next verse is to show that it is not just the Kohanim that need ot obey these laws- but all of Bnei Yisrael.

With the Kosher laws, the most common question is:  Why?  Why restrict ourselves in such a fashion?  Rashi gives an answer based on these first two verses.  HE compares it to a physician that visits two patients- one who is incurable and one who can get well.  To the incurable patient he forbids nothing; after all, what would be the point, he may as well enjoy what he can while he can.  To the patient that can get well, he forbids certain things- saying frink this, eat that.  The same applies to Kashrut- to the non-Jew with the seven Noachide laws, the aim of the laws of Kashrut would be meaningless- they are akin to the patient that cannot get well in the sense that they should enjoy the fruits of this world, as their place in the world to come will be limited.  To Bnei Yisrael, with their Holy mission, their future place in the world to come has far more potential- thus like the patient who can recover they are told how to limit themselves so they will “get better” and improve themselves.

This is further reinforced by the latter statement “כִּי אֲנִי יְ־הֹוָ־ה הַמַּעֲלֶה אֶתְכֶם מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם לִהְיֹת לָכֶם לֵאלֹהִים וִהְיִיתֶם קְדֹשִׁים כִּי קָדוֹשׁ אָנִי:” For I am the Lord Who has brought you up from the land of Egypt to be your God. Thus, you shall be holy, because I am holy.”  We keep kosher not because it is healthy for us physically- but for our spiritual health!  The sickness in this case is not physical, but the impurities of this world as it comes into our body.  Essentially G-d is telling us “You are what you eat.”   Eat as I told you, and you will be spiritually healthy; neglect to do so and you are the patient who refuses to follow the advice of their doctor and gets sicker.

As I write this, we are all preparing for Pesach.  The chometz is sold, the houses cleaned.  We are all ready to do the search for chametz tonight.  And, again, we see the link between spirituality and food.  If our normal diet is not restricted enough- along comes Pesach and restricts us even further!  Out with the chometz, all the leaven- and many tasty foods along the way.  Spiritualy we are told that chometz represents hubris, pride- the swelling of our egos that leads to sin.  As we are being redeemed from Egypt, this is not the time for pride, but to realise how much we owe to Hashem, how much we are reliant upon him.  Thus, once again we are told how to change our diet to let this awareness filter through to our souls.  And this commandment is backed up by the statement that failure to perform it will be punishable by kares- spiritual excission, the worst possible punishment that any soul can experience!  Overkill for having a slice of bread or cake?  Not when you look at the implications- we are what we eat.  The laws of Kashrut are to make us holy, the lack of chametz to teach us humility and service to G-d.  When we ignore thta, when we eat chametz on Pesach- we reject that Holiness, we bury ourselves in the mundane and profane- even more, we place ourselves alongside Hashem.  No longer are we saying that it is solely with the mighty hand and outstretched arm of Hashem that we were redeemed from slavery, but that we had some part in it!  We reject the message of that first Korban Pesach- the explicit negation of idoltary and worship of other gods by placing ourselves alongside Hashem.

A Chag Kosher v’Sameach to all reading this

Note:  As always I welcome criticisms, comments, corrections or additions.


April 7, 2009 - Posted by | Chagim, Parshah, Torah | , , , , , , , , , , ,


  1. wow, your blog has come back to life, big time. Congratulations. You’ve been busy!

    As a non-Jewish person, I don’t particularly like this post of yours.
    “that they should enjoy the fruits of this world, as their place in the world to come will be limited.”
    I don’t do things that I think G-d wants me to do to better my place in the world to come. I do it because I think it’s God-like (and God-liked) and to be closer to him.
    Yet I understand your argument and if I was Jewish it would probably make sense to me, too, as an explanation.

    Comment by Diana | April 12, 2009 | Reply

    • The idea behind it isn’t that non-Jews don’t have a place in the world to come, but that their place will be limited. While they can be righteous under the seven Noachide laws, the level they can reach is limited and thus part of their reward is in this world, enjouyed under those laws that they do not have to keep. I can understand as a non-Jew that this explanation is probably not that nice to contemplate, but its the the fact that Jew shave it hard in this world that they have it easy in the world to come.

      Anyways, nice to hear from you. Go, read, catch up- and make comments.

      Comment by marcl1969 | April 12, 2009 | Reply

  2. Hey Marc,
    I thought I did get your original post but now with this one I’m not sure. You know, not every person is the same and I’m not sure you can put people in fixed categories. I’m sure there are Jews who are not interested in G-d at all. And at the same time, there are non-Jews who hmmm “delight in G-d”. I don’t think about a reward, that was my point actually. I think G-d himself is the reward. Being close to him, you know? What exactly do you mean by “limited”, by the way? Would be interesting to know as well. And what do you mean by “have it easy in the world to come”? That’s where you lose me …
    When you do Jewish mizwot, do you often think about a reward when you do that? I can’t really believe that’s your reason for doing it. Or is it probably more because you love G-d?
    Great you’re blogging again and the funny thing is I thought about the “holiness” topic a lot this week already. Someone said this week that holiness means opening more and more parts of your life to G-d. If that’s too Christian for your blog, just take it off. I just wanted to say it because I think it’s funny this topic is sort of persuing me at the moment whereever I look in all forms, shapes and sizes. Of course the idea of what holiness is is different in Christianity than in Judaism.

    Comment by Diana | April 12, 2009 | Reply

    • Way back I made a post on the concept of sin in Judaism- There I used the analogy of the mitzvot we do being the stabilisers on the arrow to let us hit the center of the target and be as close as possible to G-d. My comments were meant in that light- non-Jews with only the seven Noachide laws have a limited number of stabilisers- as such, it is harder for them to get near to the very center of the target- Jews have it easier in that with the larger number of commandments, there are a larger number of stabilisers and thus it is easier to get near to the center of the target.

      Do we do the mitzvot for the reward? Absolutely not! In fact you get various stories of great Rabbis who rejoiced at being able to fulfill various mitzvot without reward- thus knowing there action would purely be for the love of G-d.

      As for your point about people not being all the same- of course not. There are non-Jews that perform their roles in this world to near perfection and thus would be near the center of the target- and Jews who completely fail, get punished with kares and shoot past the target to be lost (kares- spritiual excission)

      Now the idea of holiness being to let G-d into every aspect of your life- that is the whole point of the mitzvot! G-d has given instructions that cover every aspect of our lives- from what to eat, to our daily conduct to how we should interact with our fellow man (Lashon hara (speaking gossip/spreading rumours) is seen as a sub-category of the law against taking G-d’s name in vain- and of being far more difficult to atone for!) From our speech, to what we eat- how we conduct our sex lives (in marriage good- outside marriage bad), how we dress etc G-d tells us how to elevate ourselves from the mundane animal sphere to the Holy- for as the parshas explicitly says with kashrus “And you will be holy!”

      Comment by marcl1969 | April 12, 2009 | Reply

  3. I have to come back to this …

    So you have made this comparison

    “He compares it to a physician that visits two patients- one who is incurable and one who can get well.” … “The same applies to Kashrut- to the non-Jew with the seven Noachide laws, the aim of the laws of Kashrut would be meaningless”

    So if I understand you right, “get well” refers to “live a holy life” or “be holy”.

    Now if I carried that thought further, it would mean that the only way to do G-d’s will* is to become Jewish.

    *G-d’s will not in the sense of “what He commanded me” but in the sense of His inner will, His “being”, His nature, sort of “be related to his will/himself”, be close to G-d in that sense, do “what G-d is all about” (I hope what I’m trying to say gets through).

    Comment by Diana | April 26, 2009 | Reply

    • Judaism postulates a difference in the roles between Jews and non-Jews. The jews have been given the Torah by Hashem and thus are chosen to represent Hashem through holiness in this world. The role of the non-Jews is no less important- but tied intot he physicality of the world; thus why Hashem states “I have taken you to be MY people.”

      So the roles of the Jews is to represent holiness, to bring holiness into the world through following the Torah- thus for a non-Jew not to be involved in that would be an abrogation of their role in the world and thus a form of sickness. A non-Jew does not have this same role thus they do not have this same form of sickness. Thus the laws of kashrut “cure the sickness” and bring the Jew into line with his holy mission, but are meaningless to a non-Jew since they do not have the same role in the world. for them, their is nothing to cure since there is no lack.

      However, the Jews being in this role is meant to be of a benefit to everyone, the Jews and non-Jews alike. In the days of the Temple, through the seven days of Sukkot seventy bulls were offered on behalf of the nations of the world- to bring them closer to Hashem and to atone for them. In the Talmud in Masechta Sukkot there is a statement that “If the non-Jews had understood how they had benefited from the Temple, they would have never destroyed it.”

      In the time of the Mashiach, we see these role becoming concretised again- the Jews will take the role of being Kohanim to the rest of the world, the spiritual representatives of the entire world to Hashem. Until then, unfortunately, the world does not understand the role of the Jews and most people do not uderstand why Jews do not seek to tell others why their is no need for them to be Jews- after all, they can be righteous within their own role and have no need to take on the role of the Jews

      Comment by marcl1969 | April 26, 2009 | Reply

  4. “for them, their is nothing to cure since there is no lack.”
    The question is what defines a lack. I do see not being called “holy” and thus not being as close to G-d and his “nature” (because he is holy and we are not)as a lack. He’s our creator as well. I love Him. So it’s a lack for me. I don’t see why it would not.

    Comment by Diana | April 26, 2009 | Reply

    • By definition every human being has an element of their soul directly from Hashem- be they Jewish or otherwise. Every human being is alike in that. thus in every human being there is a holy spark that wishes to seek out holiness- be they Jewish or non-Jewish. But Judaism sees there as being a difference when that soul is bound by Jewish laws as opposed to when they are not bound by Jewish law. A soul that is not subject to Jewish law has a different path and different responsibilities to a one bound by Jewish law- thus there are different ways for them to draw closer to Hashem- the soul bound to Jewish law through following the Torah, others through the seven Noachide laws and seeking to improve the world through the physical realm- as it is the Jews role to improve the world through the spiritual realm. Since the focus of the Jews is on the spiritual, not the physical, they have the requirement to be holy, to strive for holiness and thus have laws like Kashrus. A non-Jew can do the same thing, but it is not their role in the world- they can seek it, but following Jewish law is not the correct way for them since they are not commanded to do it and thus it doe snot have the same spiritual effect on their soul.

      Let me quote something from the Mishnah masechta Avos (also known as Pirkei Avos): Chapter 1 Mishnah 2 “Shimon the Righteous was among the last surviving members of the Great assembly. He would say: The world stands on three things: Torah, the service of G-d, and deeds of kindness. ” From this we see three things: 1) the world needs Torah to survive- the whole purpose pf the world was to bring the Torah into it, thus without the Torah the world cannot stand. 2) The second one is the spiritual purpose of the world- the role of the Jews in bringing worship of Hashem into the world through the Torah 3) Here we see the interaction between man and man is holy itself. Man, all men, is created in the image of Hashem, thus by being good to our fellow man we recognise that spark of holiness. But the Jews are a small minority in the world- less than a tenth of a percent of the entire world’s population- no amount of effort by the Jews could ever cover that amount of interaction between people. Instead, it is the role of the non-Jewish nations of the world to sustain this pillar- it is their role to sustain this aspect of the world. You can see in the Mishnah it equates all three pillars- no one is more important than the others, each is just a different focus. Thus the Jews with their focus on the avodah, the bringing of the physical realm closer to the spiritual need laws like kashrut- non-Jews whose focus is on a different one of the pillars do not have the same requirements and thus do not have a need for these laws.

      Comment by marcl1969 | April 26, 2009 | Reply

  5. I’ll have to think about this …

    Comment by simplimie | April 26, 2009 | Reply

  6. thanks for explaining so patiently again. There are still things that are not clear to me.

    So Jews complete their task by keeping the Torah. Non-Jews do it by giving to charity (plus some other basic rules).

    “Essentially G-d is telling us “You are what you eat.””
    So this does not apply to non-Jews then? Because you said there’s a holy spark in each of us. We are, then, “what we give”, so to speak or how we are charitable? And if we seek holiness, we should give to charity, which makes us holy then? Sorry, I just need to repeat you to eliminate possible misunderstandings because I think there still are. I can’t put all your comments “under one umbrella” yet.

    For example this sentence “Since the focus of the Jews is on the spiritual, not the physical, they have the requirement to be holy, to strive for holiness ….” does not line up (in my current understanding) with this one “Every human being is alike in that. thus in every human being there is a holy spark that wishes to seek out holiness”. Do we talk about two different types of holiness?

    And also, G-d is spiritual, not physical. So being close to G-d, his being, his “essence” would then automatically, in my understanting, be a spiritual thing. So does the division (Jews for the spiritual, non-Jews for the physical tasks) only apply to tasks given by G-d and the relationship with Him, the personal connection to him is the same? I don’t see a physical way here.

    I hope my repeated questions don’t bother you.

    Comment by simplimie | April 26, 2009 | Reply

    • Do the laws of Kashrut apply to non-Jews? No- but a very important corollary is- “ever min hachai”- the prohibition against deliberate cruelty to animals. In a way, this can be seen as a form of restriction on the diet of non-Jews: using this various types of food are not allowed- think of the dish (I don’t know if it is served anymore) of eating live monkey brains- or the specific restriction this is given of taking the limb of an animal to eat while it is still alive. But this prohibition is on the reflected in the role of the non-Jews in the world- it is an act of kindness tiwards the animal as much as it might be a restriction on the non-Jews. Thus the restriction of diet under this reflects the role of the non-Jews in this world.

      Even “acts of kindness” is not just charity- but the entire range of human interaction. How we deal with people through respect, through understanding- building people up rather than tearing them down all ar “gemillut chassidim”- translated here as “acts of kindness” can also be translated as “acts of the righteous”. Thus when we act righteously to other people we are giving of ourselves, doing those acts that make us righteous.

      Are there different types of Holiness? I suppose you can look at it that way. You can talk about the sanctified holiness of the sacrificial offerings and the Temple service. Where Holiness applies being seperated and sanctified through that seperation and being removed from activity in this world into the next. but you also have holiness that is tied to this world- the sanctification of marriage where a man and a woman are seperated to be only for each other; the giving of charity where we give of ourselves- time, money, love, effort or whatever else- in order to elevate someone else; effectively separating from ourselves to elevate someone else. Both forms of holiness are essential to this world- both are parts of the tripod on which the world rest- neither has a purpose without the other- thus while the Jews may be separated to be Holy in the form of the Temple service of being separated out from this world to do the work that elevates it to the next- without the partnership of the work of the non-Jews, that is meaningless, the world needs both- the holiness of the work in this world makes meaningful the work of the holiness for the next; the Torah is in both worlds- it tells us how to elevate this world to the next (the work of the Jews), but at the same time the entire physical world only exists because of it- the holiness of this world.

      Hmm, I don;t know how clear any of this is- its not the easiest of concepts to break down.

      Comment by marcl1969 | April 26, 2009 | Reply

  7. “Hmm, I don;t know how clear any of this is- its not the easiest of concepts to break down.”
    Thanks for doing it anyway. Yes, what you write is pretty clear now.
    Except for the relationship with G-d part. Do you limit the relationship with G-d to the task to elevate this world to the next / or to show acts of kindness in this world? Or is there a purely personal dimension to it (beweeen us and G-d)? Like if you work in your father’s business you have tasks but you also have a relationship with your father that is not related to work. Is that the same for Jews and non-Jews alike? It it not for everybody part of a different world, because G-d is not physical, He is not of this world, He is holy, in contrast to this world. Ok you say this world is holy as well but honestly that’s very difficult to see (I don’t).

    Comment by Diana | April 26, 2009 | Reply

    • First off- a person’s relationship too G-d: Yes, everyone should love and fear G-d. the Noachide laws include the prohibition against idoltary and the requirement to believe in G-d in some form. A non-Jew isn’t told how to relate to G-d, just that they have to acknowledge the existence of G-d and not worship idols or other G-ds (exactly what this means is the subject of major discussion in itself and often states that something is forbidden to a Jew but not to a non-Jew). Everyone can have a relationship with G-d, that is not specific to Jew or non-Jew.

      As for this world being holy- it isn’t- yet it can be if we elevate it. The purely physical cannot have a soul- that is what is meant by “G-d breathed into Adam”- he forced a connection between the spiritual soul and the physical body. As hybrid beings- having both a soul and physical body, human beings are in an unique position. We can utilise our faculties to raise something from the physical to the spiritual. It also means we can choose how we interact with our fellow human beings: Do we do it as animals? Sleeping where we like? Fighting for dominance? Grubbing for gain in this world by oppressing others? Or do we relate to them as spiritual beings: Show respect, help others, talk appropriately, use moral and ethical behaviour when interacting with people? Similarly for every other aspect of our lives- do we react and interact as animals with the physical world? Or do we react and interact as spiritual beings seeking to elevate the physical to the spiritual?

      Comment by marcl1969 | April 26, 2009 | Reply

  8. I promise this was my last question 🙂 And I want to add a comment to the last one … I think you helped me to understand something completetly different, it relates to something I’ve read two weeks or so ago ( and something that I’ve been thinking about for an eternity. If Christianity is wrong, then how can there be so many Christians (I happen to know many of that kind, I know others might not) who just seem to be angels, with a shining in their eyes, with visibly a spark of G-d in them, with love for G-d and others. Christians believe it’s the belief in their saviour who causes this difference, this change. But maybe it’s just because they committed their lives to love G-d and help others. And the belief in the Christian messiah is a side thing that does neither harm nor help in that.
    Just wanted to let you know that I got that (among what you intended to say of course and among other things I’ve read …) from your comment.

    Comment by Diana | April 26, 2009 | Reply

    • Thanks for the comment- but, umm, wheres the question you were referring to?

      And itr is always nice when we get an unexpected answer to something- its a surprise and always feels good. 😀

      Comment by marcl1969 | April 26, 2009 | Reply

  9. I actually wrote the comment while your were writing yours (nr. 13), so I was referring to the question in comment nr.12.
    So because I said I won’t ask you another question on that (I don’t want to spam your blog) take this as a comment if you want …
    “Or do we react and interact as spiritual beings seeking to elevate the physical to the spiritual?”
    It’s a bit confusing now. Elevating to the spiritual sounds the same as elevating to the next world to me.

    “its a surprise and always feels good. :D”
    great 🙂 you answered tons of my questions among which many that I didn’t ask.

    Comment by Diana | April 26, 2009 | Reply

    • Well, if there were tons of people commenting, then you could worry about spamming my blog. As it is, I may get views, unfortuantely I don’t seem to get many comments- so feel free to comment away- at least its some activity!

      Comment by marcl1969 | April 26, 2009 | Reply

  10. I had a lot of time to think about it tonight.
    Kindness is just like holiness a part of G-d’s “character”.
    So like you say when we do “acts of kindness” as non-Jews, we also can “imitate” G-d, in a different aspect, and thus be close to who He is, what He is “all about”.
    But, you say, it’s not necessary to have a relationship with G-d as a non-Jew. I think that’s like telling someone to serve food (acts of kindness) but there’s no necessity to stand in the kitchen and cook. That doesn’t make sense to me. Without knowing G-d and having a relationship to him, first knowing His kindness well there’s no kindness in ourselves. There’s kindness only in Him and through Him, or Him through us, as you want.

    Comment by simplimie | April 27, 2009 | Reply

    • Umm, where did I say it is not necessary for a non-Jew to have a relationship to G-d? I specifically pointed out that a non-Jew has to acknowledge the existence of G-d and forgo idoltary- what I did say is that the type of relationship is not defined. Its like this: Jews are told there is behaviour Type A that is acceptable- the rest are not; fr a non-Jew behaviour types B through K are fine- do what you are most comfortable with – as long as it is not behaviour types L through Z. In specific language: Jews are told the onl acceptable way for them to have a relationship with G-d is through the Torah, it has its advantages, but it is more restrictive and harder. A non-Jew can approach G-d and spirituality in any form or way that does nto violate the Seven Noachide laws. Those ways are forbidden to Jews since they have only one specific and allowed way, but are acceptable for others.

      Comment by marcl1969 | April 27, 2009 | Reply

  11. I also acknowledge Michal Jackson’s existance and don’t insult him, that does not mean I have a relationship whatsoever with him. He is not even aware I exist, I haven’t ever spoken a word to him. So I interpreted that as not a (necessary) relatioship.

    Comment by simplimie | April 27, 2009 | Reply

  12. A relationship is when there are two people (or a person and G-d) and both of them listen as well as speak and also do things for each other.

    Comment by simplimie | April 27, 2009 | Reply

    • Ok, lets answer these two questions at once: The Noachide laws are the MINIMUM requirements- in Mishneh Torah Rambam breaks then down into 60 subcategories, each one showing a higher level of commitment to the Noachide laws and thus a higher lvel of righteousness. Included in there are what you are looking for- loving G-d and fearing G-d. The difference between the requirements of a Nachide and a jew are the way in which they formulate their image of G-d and how they worship him. For a Noachide a wide variety of practices are allowed as long as they do not commit idoltary. Along these lines Rambam specifically addresses Christianity stating a belief in the trinity is like idoltary for a Jew, but not for a non-Jew i.e. a Jew becoming Christian is commiting idoltary since it is a prohibited form of worship to Jews to see G-d as three, but for a non-Jew it is allowed as they only need to acknowledge G-d in some form- even a three in one entity is allowed. And this wasn’t simply Rambam making nice to his rulers- he lived his whole life in Muslim countries!

      In short- a non-Jew can have a relationship as you define it with G-d- there is nothign in Judaism that precludes that idea. The only thing Judaism does is differentiate between the prescribed way Jews must relate to G-d and the open way for non-Jews to relate to G-d, based on their respective roles in the world.

      Comment by marcl1969 | April 30, 2009 | Reply

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