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Parashat Sh’mini (Leviticus 9:1-11:47)

“In order to distinguish between the sacred and the profane,
and between the impure and the pure.” (Leviticus 10:10)

Parashat Sh’mini describes Aaron’s ordination as kohen gadol (High Priest) and his sons’ as kohanim (priests) on the eighth day of the dedication ceremony of the mishkan, or Tabernacle. It closes with the Torah’s first of two major collections of dietary laws (Deuteronomy 14 is the second). The Torah gives no reason for why a particular animal is permitted or prohibited yet it does offer a rationale for the system as a whole: “For I the Lord am your God; you shall sanctify yourselves and be holy, for I am holy.” (Lev. 11:44)

The case of the chasida, or stork, offers an example of how kashrut (the system of kosher laws) is more than a long list of “does” and “don’ts” regarding food; it is both an ethical and spiritual practice. The Israelites are forbidden to each the chasida (Lev. 11:19). The rabbis wonder why, since it is not a bird of prey, like most of the other birds on the forbidden list. In fact, the stork is called chasida because it displays chesed, or kindness, to others by sharing its food (Babylonian Talmud Chulin 63a). Rabbi Israel Friedman of Ruzhin (1796-1851; Chassidic Rebbe in Ukraine) points out the stork shares food only with other storks, but does not extend its kindness to other species of birds. This is what makes it unfit for consumption.

Read this way, Sh’mini describes more than a Jewish way to eat. It suggests a Jewish way to live. A kosher Jewish life cannot be parochial; it requires concern for and engagement with the larger world.

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom

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