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

I have a confession to share. I eat non-“kosher” meat. I don’t eat pork. Ok, by Biblical standards, I eat kosher; just not according to many who get paid to supervise the slaughter and preparation of meat. According to the Torah, though, I guess I am pretty strict; and, I believe that God has to care more about what comes out of my mouth than about what goes in. A blessing for food and sustenance is appropriate for anything we consume. Torah is not a literal monolithic document. It speaks in nuance and in hyperbole. It provokes conversation that helps us grow. If a piece of text does not spawn deeply intuitive debate, we did not pay attention.

So, this week, I read in the portion, “These you may eat of all that are in the waters: whatever has fins and scales (Lev. 11:9)”. Don’t eat something the swims in the sea that does not have fins and scales. Here is what we know. There are lots of sea creatures that have scales but no fins (ex: lobster). There are lots of sea creatures with fins and no scales (ex: sharks). There are then sea creatures that have both (ex: salmon). We are these sea creatures.

Many of us have hard shells but lack the ability to move freely and direct ourselves through life. We move where the current takes us, but struggle to forge our own path and direction. Our deeply held beliefs keep us anchored, but perhaps “too anchored.” Set in our ways, we continue on life’s journey under the guise of, “This is the way I have always traveled. This is what I know. This is all I can know.”

Many of us have fins that help us navigate in and out of the flow. We can propel ourselves in a host of directions, able to change our path and life course. Without “scales” there are no deeply held beliefs defining your aggregating knowledge and experience. Always willing and able to try something new we have no repository for substance and accumulating values.

Some of us have fins and scales. We hold our values deep; we acknowledge the sacred. Our life journey has direction, but that direction is of our choosing. Our swim through life is not aimless. Shrimp nor shark can swim upstream to give life and perpetuate the blessing of being. Our “scales” provide us protection from distraction and give us a firm reservoir in which to store and grow information and experiences.

This week is the 200th birthday of Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise. This most controversial man created American Reform Judaism in taking the growing enlightenment movement from Europe and acculturating it to American life. He created the American Reform Rabbinate and our Seminary, as well. I won’t go into the many controversies in which he ensconced himself, but I have to acknowledge that his tenacity and his faith helped us grow passed the literal dogmatism that infected “ghetto-ized Judaism” and helped restore the brilliance and diversity upon which Judaism roots and evolves. I may not eat kosher, but we read Torah at levels that transcend the physical ritual and govern our spiritual engagement. In accepting that this simplistic text of do’s and don’ts speaks to my behavior in faith I accept the obligation to live this version of kosher – and would argue that Jews and non-Jews can jump on this bandwagon together. Happy birthday, Rabbi Wise. Shabbat Shalom to us all.