Leviticus can be a very daunting book, especially when you limit your Dvar to a very loose free association style discussion. In previous posts I mention for this Torah cycle I want to challenge myself by not relying on more scholarly Jew’s commentaries for my weekly Dvar but Leviticus is definitely a book where commentaries can become crucial. For me at least, this week’s portion Shemini is an exception. The life blood flowing from the beating heart of these chapters is separating the sacred from the profane.
Separation is something I have always naturally been good at. I have never lived a secret life I am just really good at compartmentalizing. As a child I had my religious friends and my secular friends, outside of birthday parties the two never mixed. Fast forward to my late teens and early twenties I was thought of as basically two completely different people, this was due primarily to working full time as a ravenous wild eyed prep cook with post shift partying requirements contrasted by my life as a hardcore kid running with a pack healthy eating and clean living punks. I never lived a lie I just didn’t spin hardcore records or eat steaks at work and drinking in back alleys before all ages shows was never my thing. Same guy just really good time management skills, but that doesn’t change the fact that co-workers thought I was joking about vegetarianism and some punks seemed surprised to occasionally witnessing me drinking out of a brown paper bag. This is exactly what Shemini is all about.
In chapter nine of Leviticus a sin offering is followed by a burnt offering which is then followed by a peace offering. The sequence of these offerings is not a coincidence they symbolize the separation of wickedness, atonement, and forgiveness. If we are unable to differentiate right from wrong and why we are right or wrong then we will be forced to remain in the proverbial wilderness. The wilderness is emotional instability, mental anguish, and physical pain only by identifying our faults and actively working to correct them will we be able to leave those burdens behind and move on to something so much greater.
To illustrate the criticality of this concept is the tragic story of Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu. These sons and brothers presented a “strange” fire which Hashem deemed profane and as punishment were consumed by sacred fire erupting from the Holy of Holies. The lesson here is Nadab and Abihu were unable to completely separate their former secular lives from their current sacred lives of Priests. If they had been able to separate who knows they may have played a much more important and positive role within Judaism.
Shemini concludes with a list of Kosher versus Non-Kosher animals. What is so important about this concept of Kosher is not the permission to kill and eat certain animals but demonstrating how important things you consume figuratively and literally are. The easiest way to remember which animals are Kosher is to look at their diets and determine if they are scavengers eating what has been left by others as waste. The lesson here is do not fill yourself with wasteful things because it will only hold you down.
Shemini teaches us how not to live in the wilderness but we have to choose to make that break and enter into a promised life.
Jeremiah@punktorah.org Twitter: @circlepitbimah