Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Healthy Dose of Torah – Sh’mini

As I age, I find that even while my taste buds long for certain foods, my digestive system hates when I give in. I never had these problems as a young person. Broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, cabbage – I love them, but they don’t love me. I do cheat occasionally. When we have Chinese food and forget to say, “No broccoli,” I somehow think that it was God’s inspiration that it would be ok. On the contrary, I always learned that it was a test – and I failed. I have empirical scientific evidence that I should not eat these foods.

“God” ordained what makes food kosher. This week’s Torah portion provides us with the Biblical God’s list of foods we can and can’t eat. No reason accompanies the lists; the text presents them as a matter of divine fiat. Ultimately, our tradition extrapolates a couple of basic precepts.

First – Some behaviors are matters of discipline. We don’t say, “We are not allowed.” We should say, “We make a choice ….” Where the text offers no rational reason for a “rule” (including matters of health that we keep trying to impose on the subject), we must accept that the decision is all up to us.

Second – Despite the breadth of “Torah truths” across our tradition, we all agree that there is no “one way to read Torah. Our diverse backgrounds yield different understandings as to the voices of the characters, the metaphors and lessons that stem from the text, and the mystical enlightenments one might glean. The “command” not to boil a calf in its mother’s milk might launch a conversation about “Mother Earth’s” response to our desecration of the environment or a warning to teachers to be careful not to poison a student’s mind with partisan/sectarian indoctrination. Any read must help us grow a stronger appreciation for interpersonal relationships.

Third – what we find at the root of any commentary on this text is quite simple: some conflicts, especially intimate ones, can be acerbically all-consuming. We must avoid consuming each other in these clashes.

World history books teem with stories involving conflicts that separate nations, communities, and families. Civil Wars have, quite literally, placed brothers on opposites sides of the trenches at the war’s front. It must take deep convictions on a matter that would drive this type of violent rift between human beings. Unfortunately, most of the time, the soldiers out front only know what their leaders tell them to know. Propaganda begins with the brainwashing of combatants.

The number of Russian soldiers who have expressed a lack of understanding of why they are attacking their Ukrainian neighbors is mind-boggling. It perpetuates as horrific as the violence because “Someone convinced me to do it” is only a nightmare. Have we learned nothing from history?

This phenomenon happens on the battlefield of weaponed combat and the battlefields of politics, religion, and education. The lies propagated by people in power wanting to maintain their control serve only to destroy the world for us all. Whether it is a partisan witch hunt, the denial of history, the creation of a finite and narrow-minded God, in each case, the lies that we perpetuate the destruction of any hope of a healed future for the oppressor and vanquished, alike.

Choosing to eat or not is a matter of discipline, but mindless killing is an anathema. The gaps in a story exist to help us create relevance in our search for blessing. When we make up the rules to fill in the blanks that serve only to secure or grow our power over others and then call it “God’s intention,” text flies in the face of a faithful scripture study.

Hence, most searches for power or expansion of influence – every act disguised as “in our best interest” that works to vest control in the hands of one human over another simply violates everything I believe faith demands of us. I may want the broccoli, but giving in creates only long-term agony.

Silence is complicity. It’s time to ask the tough questions and not blindly accept the rules that pit one of us against the other. In serving a community, how can we alienate each other? In serving a God of love, how can we justify hate? Do your ears hear the hateful rationalizations that your mouths utter? Folks – the emperor has no clothes.

Repeat after me, “The emperor has no clothes.” Only when we open our mouths for justice can we tear down the curtains of oppression and misinformation, break free from the shackles that enslave us to empower someone else’s hate, and restore hope for tomorrow. There exists no rationale for making these choices – there should not have to be.

Shabbat Shalom.