Shemini – Perception, do we care or not?

Yesterday we studied parashat Shemini, focusing on kashrut. The hour flew by and we were not able to fully develop so many of the thoughts and conversations we began. Hopefully, here we can continue and allow each other the opportunity to expand on what was provoked.

Torah study begins with the peshat, the literal meaning. This was the easy part, or so we like to think. Torah tells us exactly which animals we are permitted to eat and which were not. A question came up regarding the difference between abhorrent and abomination.  As always, we must go to the foundation text, meaning the Hebrew, and see what it says. Both translated words, abhorrent and abomination are the same in Hebrew, sheketz. Therefore, immediately we have our first commentary by the translator giving two different translations for the same word, which in themselves are quite similar even in English. Abhorrent is defined as “causing or deserving strong dislike or hatred,” and abomination is defined similarly, “something that causes disgust or hatred.”

The question we left hanging at 10:15 was; While Torah is very clear about which animals we are permitted and not permitted to eat, and while we surmised that a purpose was to keep the Jewish people separate from the surrounding nations, why do we concern ourselves about perception? Why are (or are we) concerned about what someone else thinks if they see us eating in a certain manner? Or is the concern not necessarily about what others think about our actions but rather how we feel about our actions?

As I mentioned yesterday, I originally wanted to keep kosher in order that all people would be able to eat in my house. I quickly learned that this would not be possible. No matter how strict I was about using the right food products marked with the right hechsher (a marking on a product designating an item is kosher, such as OU) my house would not be kosher enough to some because I do not observe such laws as Shabbat observance to the extent that some would see as permissible. Kashrut then became more for me and my own personal reaching toward holiness.

Shemini is a text that takes us on a journey toward holiness for in four weeks (this year being a leap year) we will read parashat Kedoshim, the holiness code. It is during this portion that God reminds us that we are holy, for God is holy, and we are a part of a sacred covenant with God.

Is the question about perception challenging our own holiness because we are worried about what other people think about us? Or do we not care what others think as we struggle toward personal attainment of holiness?

I look forward to your thoughts and conversation building on what we began yesterday and that which might propel us forward as we study these next few Torah portions and beyond. Please add your thoughts in the comments below and let’s see where the conversation takes us.

Rabbi Cohen

One Response to Shemini – Perception, do we care or not?

  1. Elizabeth V Morrow April 3, 2016 at 1:44 pm #

    Simple! Abhorrent is the adjective, and, abomination is the noun.I served seafood to my orthodox jewish boyfriend as a gift for his birthday without knowing he was Orthodox and was forbidden to eat it. He ate it after looking at the dish for a short while. I see now he had to ask forgiveness from Adonai and we were both blessed that evening. Jews around the world eat what nature and locals provide although I stopped eating pork in my 20’s after hearing you are what you eat. My late husband liked pork and I had to eat it or go hungry when I got sick. Don’t believe eating Kosher or having a kosher kitchen makes anybody holy. It’s only what goodness comes out of a person either through words spoken and actions.