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Sh’mini ~ True Humility?

April 9, 2010

In this week’s Torah portion, Sh’mini, from the book of Leviticus, there are two obvious primary thematic ideas.  First there is the inauguration of the mishkan, the tabernacle of prayer, that G-d gives the people and the death of the two eldest sons of Aaron after bringing an offering to the altar of the sanctuary.  Then there are the laws of kasruth, the kosher dietary laws; which things are ok to eat and which are not, the pure and the impure.  There are a lot of writings on these two things, especially the kosher.  I did a lot of reading and I enjoyed many of the points of view I read but I couldn’t find something that really hooked me to write about.  Until I read one comment which talked primarily about the statement in the portion that Aaron was afraid to come into the presence of G-d.  Now I should say that being Jews, even this simple sentence has given rise to a host of opinions.  Nevertheless, I plunged onward.  The next thing is that Moses says to Aaron to come near and “make your heart proud serving G-d”.  Hopefully I haven’t butchered the translation too badly.  There are many reasons that Aaron may have felt afraid, not altogether for no reason as his eldest sons did so and were killed.  Notwithstanding that tragedy, Moses tells Aaron to make his heart proud.  In our vernacular perhaps to “hold your head up”.  I particularly like the idea of one commentator that it means to have “pride in your prayers”.  There are two ideas embedded in that concept for me.  One is the idea of true humility which is not to make yourself  less or more but just what you are ~ as Moses says to Aaron, this is what you were selected for.  Two is the idea of standing up with pride for what you believe and what you are despite the efforts of others to demean it or take it.  What comes to mind for me in part is my son’s reticence to wear anything that identifies him as a Jew.  This is painful for me because I want him to be proud of what he is.  He experienced a fair amount of prejudice through his school life, especially early on, and I think this made him afraid.  I continually hope to show him by example that it is not a bad thing to be “selected” for this.  It is humble to be exactly who you are, no more, no less.  To make yourself less or more is an affront to G-d I think if we are made in G-d’s image that should be good enough for us.  The other issue was written about in one commentary in a way I won’t forget, it was about understanding the value of what others would want to take from you.  This is where that writer weighed in on the kosher laws.  They are not just rules of obligation but rules that make us more connected to G-d.  In most prisons where Jews have been imprisoned throughout history it has been important to their captors to inflict non-kosher food on them.  If it is something otherw wish to deprive you of…it must have value.  For some reason it is a means of identifying us, separating us and therefore must be stripped from us.  I don’t keep kosher and that’s ok, but there is a place in this portion where the physical and spiritual collide and it is here I think.  All the “rules”, the mitzvot, are ways of regulating society, behavior, relationships and finally formalizing our relationship with G-d.  Again there are many ways to think about them, another hundreds of commentaries and ideas, but this is mine for today.  True humility, living as you were selected to live, being who you are and living in a relationship with the G-d of your understanding, are  two central precepts of living a spiritual life.  Shabbat Shalom.

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