Weekly Torah Commentary – Shemini April 17, 2015

NOTE: Within Israel this week, the Torah reading is Tzaria-Metzora, a double portion. Outside of Israel, because the Passover holiday ended with a two day celebration instead of one day as in Israel, the reading is
one week behind Israel’s schedule and therefore, Shemini will be read in the Diaspora. Because the vast majority of subscribers to IN TUNE WITH TORAH live outside of Israel, I am posting a commentary to the portion being read outside the Land this Shabbat.

Leviticus, chapters 9 – 11

This week’s reading opens with the consecration of the Tabernacle in the wilderness and describes the dedication service in detail. We have commented on that several times before so this time we will focus
on the ending section of the Torah portion.

In chapter 11, the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron at great length regarding clean and unclean foods. It is this chapter along with other references that provides the basis for the Kosher dietary guidelines that most Jews follow. For our purposes, however, let’s look a little deeper. Every scripture has layers of meaning which we do well to seek out for greater understanding and enlightenment.

Towards the end of Chapter 11, we read: Do not render yourselves detestable through any of the swarming things that swarm; and you shall not make yourselves unclean with them so that you become unclean. For I am the Lord your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore and be holy, for I am holy. And you shall not make yourselves unclean with any of the swarming things that swarm on the earth. For I am the Lord who brought you up from the land of Egypt to be your God; thus you shall be holy for I am holy. This is the instruction regarding the animal and the bird, and every living thing that moves in the waters and everything that swarms on the earth; to make a distinction between the unclean and the clean and between the edible and the inedible.

Given the repetitions and the emphasis in these verses, it is evident that there is something very important here and it has to do with more than food! That is not to minimize in any way the instructions of God but to underscore the importance of uncovering the spiritual application inherent in a physical commandment.

Simply put, eating is the act of taking in, absorbing and digesting something from without to promote good health. Spiritual ‘eating’ is exactly the same. What we ‘eat’ with our eyes, our ears and our minds has a direct impact on our inner health – mental, emotional and spiritual.

Deut. 8:3 He humbled you and let you be hungry and fed you with manna which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that He might make you understand that man does not live by bread alone but man lives by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord.

The food of life is more than physical nourishment which only supports a body that will last at best for several decades. The food for which we are enjoined to hunger is that which nourishes our souls, yielding the fruit of holiness in obedience to His commandment quoted above: ‘Be holy as I am holy.’

Physical food enters through the mouth and is digested through our inner organs; spiritual food enters through the eyes, the ears and the mind. If our spiritual “digestion” system is faulty, all manner of “things that swarm” easily take up residence – and there are more than enough attitudes and images swarming around us on a daily basis, begging for entry into our inner person. Well did King Solomon declare: As a man thinks in his heart, so is he.

Striving for spiritual maturity requires that we monitor our mental, emotional and spiritual diet within even greater care than we do our physical diet. In recent years, there has been a widespread movement in many countries to foster healthy eating among its citizens. The spiritual counterpart of this movement is even more important.

How attentive am I to filter what I watch, what I listen to? How judiciously do I evaluate attitudes and theories propagated by mass media, fellow workers, my society? Have I developed the habit of testing everything against the Word of God?

In short, what have I been feeding my soul?

Do I make a “distinction between the unclean and the clean and between the edible and the inedible”?

It’s good to clean up our eating habits; it’s even more important to clean up our spiritual habits.

In Tune with Torah this week = What ‘dietary’ change do we need to make in order to improve the health of
our inner being – mental, emotional and spiritual? Are we ‘eating’ enough of the Word of God on a daily basis? ‘Not by bread alone, but by every Word that comes from the mouth of God.’

Shabbat Shalom

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